Some of you might have seen recently an article that was published by the Pew Research Center describing the current landscape of religion in America. Every time a religious survey like this is published, it tends to be all over the news, because more often than not they are used to describe how life in America is developing and changing. People feel a certain level of investment in these surveys because they want to see where things are going, how things are changing, and what direction we’re heading in. Here’s the thing though – if you read these surveys, they will leave you feeling some combination of depressed, panicked, and concerned, because they usually have nothing good to say about the state of religion in America, particularly our brand of religion. Every time one of these surveys comes out, they are quick to point to the fact that Mainline Protestant faith is in the midst of a sharp, sharp decline, that really shows no sign of slowing down. In 2007, Pew Research found that of the 78.4% of Americans who identify as Christians, 18.1% of those folks were Mainline Protestants. As on 2014, now only 70.6% of Americans identify as Christians, and of that percentage 14.7% were Mainline Protestants. It was the sharpest degree of change across all of the categories surveyed, and so I have heard from friends, from the news, from a wide variety of sources this resounding panic: our version of Christianity is dying. Not only that, but the identity that is growing the most is the unaffiliated, the “nones,” those with no church/faith identification. And thus, with these revelations, we find ourselves panicking. What will become of us?
Here’s the thing though – when these surveys come out, we rarely turn the questions around to ourselves to wonder what has happened that has caused this to happen. We are quick to criticize and rail against the latest generation that doesn’t have their priorities in order or that are too ambivalent about faith. We are quick to point out all the things that are pulling their attention away from the church and faith. Yet, we are rarely quick to point out the fact that we are part of this equation. We don’t want to ask about why people are drifting away from the church, particularly mainline churches. We don’t want to turn the questions inward and wonder what we could do to help figure out what WE can do to help spread the gospel more effectively to those who have decided the church isn’t for them. We don’t want to ask what we might be able to do to change this trend. We want to remain who we are, but we also want people to come back to the church. One of my friends recently preached a sermon comparing our current world to the world of the early church, where faith in Jesus was a minority opinion, where the church struggled to remain alive and vibrant and relevant. He said if we looked around at our world, we could start feeling a bit like the first disciples, fighting an uphill battle to make our faith heard. But then he asked if the disciples let the reality of things being hard keep them down…if it made them turn inward and hole up together and simply be the church amongst themselves, and he said resoundingly, “NO.” They went out amongst the people and they spread the gospel through words and actions. They brought Christ’s love into the world, even when it was difficult and scary and probably felt fruitless some days, because that is what Christ commissioned them to do. They realized that maybe they weren’t “of” the world, but they certainly were “in” the world, and it was into this world that Jesus sent them, knowing it wouldn’t be easy, but knowing it was their mission. We are no different. Living authentically in our faith on a daily basis can be difficult and it can feel like an uphill battle, however, this is what we are called to—being God’s people, in God’s world, no matter what that world looks like. Faith isn’t going anywhere, because GOD isn’t going anywhere, and as long as we remain dedicated to our call to discipleship, and as long as we’re willing to ask who we are called to be to THIS world, then we’ll be ok. Truly.
Peace it Together,