The news media the last few days have told us about the recent ARIS (American Religious Identification Survey). In this survey, people stating no religious preference grew from 8% to 15% in the United States, since 1990. The number of Christians dropped from 86% to 76% since 1990. Only Catholics and Baptists have a higher percentage than “none.” Even then, both of these groups have also declined, even given Catholic gains from immigration. That is a significant drop. This is also in spite of the few mega-churches that pack in people by the thousands and in spite of all of our evangelism attempts. It would seem that the US is becoming secular like Europe.
In one generation, those claiming to be Christian dropped 11%. The gainers include: Muslims, “Spiritualists” (whatever that means), Wiccan, and Mormons. More Christians are identifying themselves as non-denominational. Maybe that’s a sign that one day we all maybe one.
Barry Kosmin, co-author of the study said, “Today religion has become more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment for many. If a personal God says, ‘Thou shalt not’ or ‘Thou shalt’ (people) see these a certain way, you’d take it very seriously. Meanwhile, three in 10 people aren’t listening to that God." Certainly, the mega-churches were designed for these kind of people. But it doesn’t seem to be working. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek now acknowledges that the traditional mega-church model is not making disciples. So, he is changing how they do church.
Twenty-seven percent indicated that they would not have a religious funeral. This jives with what I see in the obituaries in our local paper. Only here, I would say that the majority of people do not have a religious funeral. (But then again, California has always been al little godless.)
Some people in the survey identified themselves as evangelicals. It was unknown what that exactly meant. It seems that everyone has their own definition of being an evangelical. I know that many are Calvinists, but some are Armenian. So there would not be a theological conformity among all evangelicals.
Evangelicals are quicker to adapt to the culture than Anglicans. We are bound to a prayer book, which leaves little maneuvering room. And then when we do change the prayer book, all hell breaks loose. People wonder why the Episcopal Church continues to lose members. Well, the above study results are one factor. Another factor is that we resist making prayer book changes. There other factors as well.
For all Christians, the ARIS results should be a wake-up call. We are not getting our message over to people. Even people who grew up in the church are leaving, believing that we are irrelevant to their lives. I think we need to be more explicit in sharing the message of God’s love. God loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. Christians need to exhibit unconditional love for, at least, other Christians, if not all people. But we cannot even love other Christians. We fight. We call each other names. We are less than kind. We sue each other. We condemn people. Then we wonder why the number of Christians in the US is declining.