That sound you hear is the mainline Protestant church in a panic. Actually, it probably most Christian groups in the United States. The Pew Forum, which is a leading research institute, just released a study of American religious trends. Here’s a spoiler alert- on the surface, it’s not particularly good. You can read the whole report at http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/. Here are some of the numbers that stand out to me
14% of Americans identify as Mainline Protestant Christians
34% of Older Millennials are unaffiliated
36% of Younger Millennials are unaffiliated
In fact, religious “nones” have been the biggest benefactors of people switching groups in the surveys. Essentially, “none” is the fastest growing religious group in America today.
So what does this mean? Over the next few days, many will try and answer that question, while many will also sound alarm bells. .
People are turning away from organized religion because they feel safer asking the deep questions of faith outside of the church environment. I actually think the Church has a unique opportunity in that people may very well be more interested in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit than at any time in human history. The disconnect comes when people feel like the church is not a safe place to ask deep and sometimes difficult questions or a place to share together in the tension of uncertainty.The Church should take the lead on issues of justice, peace, and unity with efforts rooted in the God of love and grace we find in scripture. As a pastor, this is a question I need to be asking myself more about the church I serve.
You may have heard that American Idol is ending. I remember the summer of 2002, sitting on the couch on summer nights and watching Kelly Clarkson become a star before our very eyes. (I can’t believe I just admitted that). American Idol was the most popular show on television for many year. It was unfathomable that one day its ratings and influence would sink so low that it would not be needed anymore. Well, that day has come. American Idol will be disappearing from the American cultural landscape.
It was probably unfathomable at one point that only 14% of Americans would be Mainline Protestants or that over 20% of Americans would have no religious affiliation. But here we are. This is an opportunity for the American church to remake itself, to reclaim its voice of love and grace. People are hungry for personal transformation and social change. This data can be a gift, one that reminds us in the Church that we need to be better at following Jesus, that we need to do a better job of taking scripture seriously, and we need to better at caring for and loving those whom God loves.
We are the body of Christ and we are not perfect. God is not done with us yet, in fact God may be at the very beginning of what God is doing with the Church.