The problem today is that many churches are simply dying. One of the latest reports out shows that the number of people in the US that declare themselves Christian has fallen by 11 percent since 1990. It was 86 percent but is now at 75 percent. This despite the fact that the US population has grown by 50 million. The number of people not connected to any religion has doubled since 1990. That number has grown from 7 to 15 percent! They do not declare themselves ‘atheist’ but are not connected to any organized religion. The survey shows that evangelical Christianity is on the rise. Mainline congregations (Episcopal, Lutheran, etc) are continuing to decline. 1 in 3 Americans are Evangelical and more are choosing mega churches rather than smaller churches. In 1990 less than 200,000 went to a mega church and now it is at 8 million.
In the survey, one in five Americans said they have no religious identity or did not answer the question, and more than one in four said they do not expect to have a religious funeral.
The percentage of Catholics in the United States has remained steady at about one in four since 1990, while the percentage of other Christians has plummeted from 60 percent to 50 percent. While Muslims in the US are still a small number they have doubled since 1990 (from .3 to .6). Mormons remain steady as the population grows. Those who follow the Jewish religion rather than declaring themselves Jews as ethnicity is falling.
As a Baptist it is interesting to also notice the number of people saying they are Baptist has dropped and the South is no longer as strong as a Baptist Bible belt! From 19.3 percent to 15.8 declared themselves Baptists. The largest Baptist denomination is the Southern Baptist Convention and while being second largest Christian group in the US the SBC membership has dropped rather than grown. In fact baptism rates in the SBC are not growing and may be worse when you consider those who rebaptize members who are already baptized in a Baptist church but have been rebaptized due to a religious experience (this is not uncommon in some of the ultra-conservative Baptist churches).
Now consider that the Christian church in Africa, South America, and other new growth areas is exploding. 70 percent of Evangelicals live outside of the West. In the US there are just over 2 million Episcopalians (US Anglicans) but in Uganda alone there are 8 million!!
Europe was once a Christian going place but it and England have fallen to very low numbers (as low as 4 percent in some European countries) and so the question is, “Is the US next?”
I can’t answer that but as one commentator said, “God goes where he is wanted.”
The Christian church has lots of work to do. As a Baptist I wrote about the ‘foundation’ of Baptists last time. But if all we do is know what we believe and have good ideas but do nothing we too will be museums and parking lots. We have to put feet to our words. If we are building a building we need to put up the walls, windows and doors.
The door for a healthy church is outreach/evangelism. If a church doesn’t read out then we are doomed to die. We can do this without being in your face and annoying. We need to provide opportunities for people to explore their questions and spiritual concerns. And the basic reality is that each church member knows dozens of people who are unchurched. We really need to do a better job of this.
The windows that make a church healthy are mission/service, education and worship.
Mission/service is essential and is more than simple ‘soul winning’ or evangelism. This is about meeting the needs of the poor, hurting and needy. Part of what we do is to speak for those who have no voice and to help those who are hurting. We are called to do this for those within our church and on the outside.
Another window is education. A learning church is a strong church. Currently there is a basic Biblical illiteracy that is growing. People might fight about the Bible but the really don’t know the Bible or even read it. We have to do better. Sunday School was created to help children learn basic skills in England and this grew into a strong Bible study program. Baptists have had elaborate education systems within their Sunday Schools. This worked for a long time but has been waning in many places. In churches that have Sunday School there is more studies on how to have a good marriage, parenting, and other life skills than solid Biblical education. Those life skills classes and programs have been successful in doing good work but in reality have led to more Biblical ignorance. We need to do better. The original idea of a seminary was for the minister to learn then to come back and take that theological training to the pew. Church members need to know the Bible, theology, church history, and deal with tough issues.
And of course the window of worship! Worship is communication with God. We speak to God and God speaks to us. It is a time of transformation and commitment. Worship is giving God praise and love and is a time for God to renew us.
The church has a long history and once we are reminded of who we are and our purpose (our foundation) we need to then get busy and do what we are supposed to be doing. The church is not just another charity, fellowhship, or do gooder club. We need to be the body of Christ in the world today!