Many say it’s been a tough decade for us evangelical Christians. The media says that Christianity is in great decline. Jon Meacham wrote a 2009 Newsweek story declaring the “End of Christian America” (and, unrelated I am sure, Newsweek ceased being a print publication in 2012).
Michael Spencer (now with the Lord) wrote an article called “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” that same year, published in the Christian Science Monitor. We heard that most young adults dropped out of evangelical churches and that everyone hated us.
Yet the actual numbers tell a different story for evangelical Christians. The American Religious Identification Survey, which led Meacham to make his proclamation in Newsweek, pointed to an overall decline of self-identified Christians. But when those numbers are categorized into groups, we see a steep decline among those who identify as Mainline Christians, but actually a growth pattern for evangelicals.
This shift is very telling, and there may be several factors that contribute to it. The recent rise of the Nones (those who do not affiliate with any religion) has definitely made a difference in the overall spiritual make-up of America. But the fact that so many groups may see their members defect in favor of checking “none” only shines light on just how remarkable any rise at all in evangelicalism really is.
However, I do think we are in challenging times. The last 10 years have brought us to that reality. There have been a few distractions along the way. The emerging church came, promising answers to evangelicals for a “third way,” but now is largely the avant-garde wing of (declining) mainline Protestantism.
Some tried to withdraw from culture, but culture just kept coming. Some slowly replaced regular gospel proclamation with moralistic, therapeutic deism — being good makes you a better person, and that makes “the man upstairs” happy. Still others were so driven by pragmatism that they eventually began to look like a collection of programs and strategies, devoid of the message of Jesus.