A little over a week ago, Pew Research performed a study on the changing religious landscape of America. For Christians, the findings may be troubling. As a group, we naturally want more people to agree with and identify with us, but it seems that just the opposite is happening.
The most significant finding of this survey was that the religiously unaffiliated in America have grown dramatically (up to around 23%). This demographic includes atheists and agnostics as well as people who are “nothing in particular”—which by far accounted for the largest percentage. Christianity, on the other hand, has lessened in the last seven years by the same percentage that the unaffiliated have grown (down to about 70%). These unaffiliated, while having significantly less marriages, are also generally wealthier and more educated than Christians. Within Christianity, Evangelical Protestantism has had a slight growth in numbers unlike other branches, but has still suffered a decline in percentage of the population. On a slightly positive note, in Christianity there is a greater minority presence, and greater diversity in religions overall.
Regarding my own faith tradition, the Church of Christ, I was interested to see how it compared to Christianity as a whole. In general the CoC is poorer and less educated than the rest of American Christianity. On the flip side, our rate of divorce or living with a partner unmarried is moderately lower. We are also slightly younger, which is both surprising and promising for the fellowship.
So what does this tell us? Well obviously, it tells us that America is less Christian. While we still have significantly more Christians here than any other country, Christian influence is in decline. On the other hand, this tells us that Americans are uninterested in religion (and probably uninterested in most things). For some, being of no religion is a deliberate choice of rebellion, but for most it is an act of indifference. Lastly, this study tells us that the “societal elite”—the richer and smarter—are more likely to be unaffiliated. This makes us think that religion, and specifically Christianity, has nothing to offer—it has nothing to offer that thousands of dollars cannot buy and it has nothing to offer intellectually.
So what should we do? First, we should reject the idea that Christianity has nothing to offer. Certainly we are aware that it has greater things to give than money could ever buy, but I think as we accept more-and-more that Christianity is intellectually inferior to secular philosophies and science, we ourselves help people turn away from the faith. I appreciate the work of David Bentley Hart who constantly reminds that Christianity is intellectually rich and that debates between it and other philosophies are far from dead.
We should also strive to reignite interest in religion and Christian spirituality. Americans may be largely apathetic, but their capacity to be fascinated is not gone. We must show them there is something here worth participating in—namely the life of Christ. And we must not lose heart in the decline of Christianity in America (though, let’s not joke like it’s gone—it is still extremely present). It is a good feeling to have influence and power, but the religion’s decline provides us an opportunity to move forward with humility. Beginning with the least of these, we can show people the Light of life.