Dose of Truth
Easter is the Sunday more people attend church than any other. However, despite significantly higher numbers last Sunday, many believe the outlook for the American church is bleak. In recent years pastors like me have been increasingly alarmed by headlines like these:
Washington Post: “Christianity Faces Sharp Decline as Americans are Becoming Even Less Affiliated with Religion”
National Public Radio: “Christians in U.S. on Decline as Number of ‘Nones’ (defined later) Grows, Survey Finds”
New York Times: “Big Drop in Share of Americans Calling Themselves Christian”
Huffington Post: “America is Getting Less Christian and Less Religious, Study Shows”
Some of these headlines were prompted by the Pew Research Center’s 2015 report entitled, America’s Changing Religious Landscape. The study’s central finding is that the number of Christians has indeed declined sharply as an overall percentage of the American population. In addition, those unaffiliated with any faith, often called “nones” have increased dramatically. The most eye-catching part of the report was the fact that those who call themselves Christians declined eight percentage points in just seven years. At the same time those who did not identify with any faith tradition or religious institution increased over six percent.
However, according to researcher Glenn T. Stanton, the situation for American churches is not nearly as dire as the headlines suggest. In his comprehensive and well documented 2019 book, “The Myth of the Dying Church: How Christianity Is Actually Thriving in America and the World,” Stanton explains only a segment of churches is in steep decline. According to the Pew Study, between 2007 and 2014 mainline churches, those who have walked farthest from their traditional beliefs, lost five million members and the numbers may even be significantly higher.
During the same period “evangelical” churches gained between 2 and 5 million new members. Much of the new growth is among non-denominational churches who do not report attendance numbers to a denomination.
Let me be clear, my purpose in this column is not to attack churches who are losing members, in fact, I am part of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the only conservative denomination seeing significant losses.
My point is that Christianity is doing better than most believe. Philip Jenkins, one of the world’s leading experts on the global church, estimates Christianity will not merely keep its current 2 billion followers but will likely gain another billion in the next 20 years. He is convinced Christianity will remain the world’s largest religion for at least another 80 years.
Why are churches doing better than expected? Because people need God. Jesus made that very point when he said, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” (Matthew 9:37, NLT) Jesus recognized people are searching for the hope only God can give. This week I want to encourage my fellow believers, do not lose heart, even as things change – God remains God. He is always at work and the future is much brighter than reported.
has been a pastor for 37 years, serving five churches, including his current church, The Refuge in St. Louis, which he founded. He and the congregation minister to those who are hurting and do their part to expand God’s kingdom. Tim and his wife Kelly have five children. “A Dose of Truth” which he has written for more than 25 years appears in 13 newspapers. His book, “Thriving in the Storm: Discovering God’s Peace and Perspective in Turbulent Times,” is available from Amazon. Feel free to contact him at email@example.com. Photography is another of his skills. Pastor Tim photos may be viewed at https://flickr.com/photos/pentaxpastor.