Last Sunday you heard me talking about religious trends in our land, especially among younger Americans. A study released on Tuesday by Pew Research in Washington D. C. put an exclamation point on some of our recent considerations.
Generally, with Millennials much less interested in practicing their faith–what faith they have–religion is weakening overall in America, trending toward the future. A new report from the Pew Research Center shows the percentage of Americans who say they believe in God, pray daily, and attend church regularly is declining.
May I cite and comment on some findings? Of course, they all affect our ministry.
- The share of Americans who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists has dropped 8%, from 71 percent to 63 percent since 2007, the last study. Comment: a poorly phrased question. Some doubts are normal and even healthy. At times we feel God’s presence, other times his absence, like all relationships. “Absolute certainty” sets up a false ideal, especially in that faith is much more than cognition; even more importantly, it’s trusting God.
- The percentage of adults describing themselves as “religiously affiliated” has shrunk 6 points since 2007, from 83 percent to 77 percent. Comment: six percent might sound like nothing, but this is a sizeable shift in 8 years. A lot of this is the ‘spiritual, but not religious’ phenomenon. Amazingly, so many imagine faith is the one area of life where practicing doesn’t matter, unlike brain surgery or ballroom dancing. And no, praying over a putt on Sunday, as we skip church for golf, doesn’t qualify as ‘practicing our faith.’ Neither does hanging crystals on the rearview mirror or tattoos in Chinese.
- The shares of our adult population who consider religion “very important” to them, pray daily and attend services at least monthly have declined between 3 and 4 % over the past eight years. Comment: this also constitutes a relatively dramatic shift, given the few years. It is anecdotally confirmed by nearly all pastors that I confer with. What makes “regular attendance” was, say, three Sundays per month within recent memory. Now “regular attendance” means those who come 1 or 2 times per month.
While some of the changes can be attributed to “nominal Christians” either giving up or being more honest (however you choose to explain it), the simple truth is we are swimming upstream against the demographics to make our church vital. All this means the impact of members with deep commitment matters even more.
I keep returning to words of theologian Walter Brueggemann, “the world for which we’ve been so carefully prepared has been removed from us…Glory be to God!”
Or in the words of REM, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, it’s the end of the world as we know it, it’s the end of the world as we know it…..and I feel fine.”
Stay tuned, everyone, as we defy demographic trends, empowered by the Spirit.