For the first time in U.S. history Protestantism (aka: anyone in the Christian tradition who is not Catholic) has fallen below 50%. The primary reason for this shift is the increase in those who claim no religion.
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released an analytic study today titled, Nones on the Rise. It shows findings now that almost one in five Americans (19.3%) claim no religious identity. This is an increase from 15 percent in the last five years.
“Part of what’s going on here is that the stigma associated with not being part of any religious community has declined,” said John Green, a specialist in religion and politics at the University of Akron, who advised Pew on the survey. “In some parts of the country, there is still a stigma. But overall, it’s not the way it used to be.”
Here is an info graphic that uses a picture to show the breakdown of religious identity in America.
So why is this happening?
That is the big question. If I had a definitive answer I could write a best-selliing book and change the world. But until that happens, let me just postulate some brief observations from my ministry experience.
- Insincere faith will not pass down through the generations. – Teenagers and children know when something is really important to their parents. They can read between the lines and see the real motive of the heart. If church is just another activity in the week, or just a social outing, the children in that family will begin to take on that value system for themselves. God understood this and placed the responsibility firmly on the parents for a sincere faith. Deut. 6:4-7 says: 4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
- The next Generation does not understand the tenets of biblical faith. – If people think Christianity boils down to a list of rules (that didn’t really matter to their parents) they will discard it as another social construct meant for control. If they never grasp the reality of our spiritual condition and the hope of the Gospel and the life of purpose that flows from giving control to God, of course they will try to find a way on their own. If the bible was taken seriously this generation would see that it truly is a guide for life that works in today’s culture!
- Churches may become more concerned with entertaining it’s members rather than teaching the Gospel. – While I already submit that parents have the ultimate responsibility for passing on a sincere faith to their children, churches are there to support this process. In student ministry, the wrong assumption is that we are all about pizza and games. If that becomes the focus, you raise up a uninformed, spiritually weak generation. As that generation of church goers has become the leaders in churches, the emphasis is taken away from the Gospel and placed on being “cool”. When a rocking band and a preacher with tattoos (while these things in themselves are not wrong) are more important than solid doctrine, you can expect people to see through this shallow version of faith and either (1.) give up, claiming no religion, or (2.) church hop from one place to the next looking for the best entertainment.
May all of us; children, parents, and church members, reconnect with the truths of scripture and make it the authority in our lives. May our faith be sincere and evident to everyone who sees us. Only then would we begin to see a change in the negative spiritual trend now on us. God bring revival! Wake us up! But whatever happens, God be glorified. Remember the words of Habakkuk.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
He enables me to tread on the heights.
God has a plan and we must trust in Him. Stay focused my friends. Your fellow worker in the field, Adam.