For those who have any doubts about the health of Christianity in the U.S., I thought I would share some facts and thoughts with you.
Mainline Protestant churches, as a percentage of the American population, have decreased by 47 percent since 1968. It does not take a genius to figure out where this trend is going. Not only is Christianity growing smaller, it is also getting older. In about 15 years, due to our advancing age, mainline Protestantism will drop off a mesa, with a plunge similar to what would happen if you threw a turkey out of a plane. Christians should worry more about this decline than about losing their Social Security.
On the other hand, evangelical Christian groups have grown by 48 percent since 1968. This sounds encouraging, until you realize that they have also been in decline since 1986, losing some 6 percent of their population compared to U.S. growth. Most of this growth has been in mega-churches in Texas, the Southeast, and California. With the present migration patterns of the North to the South, the days of the large mega-evangelical churches will probably be curtailed to a degree, making this decline even more rapid.
And not to be exclusive, the Roman Catholic Church lost 3 percent of its population in relationship to America’s growth, not to mention the loss of influence due to many recent scandals.
Here’s the bottom line: Christianity is losing market share every year and thus is becoming a sideline force in this country. Now, I know that some will say, ‘But the religious right voted in President Bush.’ But that is pure nonsense. That is like saying the liberal left could have voted in Kerry.
Whether we like it or not, Christianity is a losing force in the West. If you still have doubts, consider what happened to Christianity in Europe and then Canada. The same thing is happening to the U.S. In another 50 years, Christianity will have about the same influence in the U.S. as it does in Canada or in Europe. Do we really want that to happen? Have you seen the empty cathedrals that remain open only because of state taxation or huge endowments?
The same thing is beginning to happen in the U.S. Eighty percent of our churches are on a plateau or they are declining. Many stay open only because they have built up reserves over the years.
I have a theory as to why this is happening to us. It is because of our lack of courageous leadership. Pastors put up with so much crap, knowing full well that such behavior is not indicative of being a follower of Jesus. But they put up with it anyway—afraid to take it on. They allow the church to continue to be less than a church. Instead, leaders ought to stand up for what we believe. Christians should love one another as well as reach out to those who do not know Christ. The church should be an incubator of faith rather than a place of conflict! No wonder we do not make more disciples than we do.
What is it going to take to wake us up? Are we willing to watch Christianity become like a stagnant pool of dirty water where only the foulest of God’s creatures dwell? Or are we going to stand up for what we believe the church ought to be?
Christianity is in trouble because we have allowed our churches to cease being churches. Are we happy with that? Does it cause us to lose sleep at night? Are we content with the mess that is found in the vast majority of our churches, especially those with under 200 in worship, which is over 80 percent of all churches in the U.S.?
I have been listening to e-mail conversations now for more than six years. Most of them break my heart. The bulk of them are about conflict in the church. That alone sums it up and explains why the church is dying. It is not societal change that is killing Christianity in the U.S. It is the churches themselves.
So what should leaders do to make the church the church again?
- Make a commitment to be what God called you to be, no matter who is ticked off. Remember, on that day, God will not want to know if you “pleased the people.”
- Resolve to make the church a haven of spiritual peace and fulfillment. This means focusing your time and energy on the spiritually alive people rather than the controllers, the complainers, and the generally all-around mean spirited folks.
- Resolve to be more courageous in your faith. Keep in mind that often when folks are confronted openly with their sin, they hide, like vampires, because they cannot stand the sunlight.
- Stop putting up with the nonsense and start holding people accountable for their actions, even if it costs you your job. If you are called to ministry, there will be another church. Or why not go out and start your own church?
- Start preaching Christ and Christ crucified to the lost who are sitting in your church every Sunday. Make your messages more focused on adult conversion. God knows, many of the people in our churches act as if they have never met Christ.
- Begin spending more time with the unchurched, dechurched, never- churched, and non-Christian than with your flock. Very few of these folks ever darken the door of your study, so why spend so much time at the church? You need to find the key that unlocks your ministry to the world around you. Every city or town has a key (or two) that leads to those who are in need of Christ.
- Start personally leading people to Christ. Talk with non-Christians about their faith, with the intent of forming such a strong relationship with them that, in time, you can help them accept Christ into their lives. Escape the four walls of your building and learn what it’s all about in the real world.
- Focus everything the church does on the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Make a list of what you do that has nothing to do with either of these and quit doing it. Ask yourself which of these two grabs more of your attention.
- Develop your spiritual life to the point that just being around you causes people to want to know more about your faith.
Isn’t it time to barbecue our sacred cows and make the dinosaur dance?