The church is not dying.
Yes, the church in the West—the United States included—is in transition right now. But transitioning is not the same as dying, particuarly if you hold the belief that Christianity is represented by people who live for Christ, not check “Christian” on a survey form.
While I believe we need to understand reality inside our ranks, I don’t believe the situation is quite as dire as many are making it out to be. Actually, no serious researcher believes Christianity in America is dying. Not one.
Instead, I believe this current cultural shift is bringing clarity that will assist in defining who we are as Christians, and that is a good thing in some ways.
I have talked about this before, but I think it bears repeating, if for no other reason than to encourage us in our shared mission once again.
In the American context, 2009 was a turning point in regards to the perception of Christianity’s health in the United States. That year, the results of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) caused quite a stir. In its wake were several articles in prominent national publications touting the coming demise of Christianity in America. And Americans bought in.
The ARIS results showed the percentage of self-identified Christians had fallen 10 percentage points, from 86 to 76, since 1990. It also showed that the “Nones”—those who claim no religious affiliation—rose from 8 to 15 percent in the same time period.
Following the release of the results, Newsweek ran a cover story titled “The End of Christian America.” Earlier the same year, Michael Spencer—the Internet Monk—penned “My Prediction: The Coming Evangelical Collapse” that was picked up by the Christian Science Monitor. The settled narrative became that Christianity was in precipitous decline. The sentiment has continued to grow ever since.
An October 2012 Pew Research Study added fuel to the fire, stating that the “Nones” had increased more than 5 percent in the previous five years alone. A cursory look at the numbers may very well lead people to frightening conclusions, and the numbers are only going to get worse when you look at people who call themselves Christians.