Friday, December 20, 2013

A Decline in Evangelical Christianity in America--Why?

Jim Hinch has an article in the American Scholar that explores reasons for the fact that the percentage of Americans calling themselves "Evangelical" is declining.  Pew Research polling has shown a drop from 21 percent of Americans five years ago to 19 percent in 2012:

Secularization alone is not to blame for this change in American religiosity. Even half of those Americans who claim no religious affiliation profess belief in God or claim some sort of spiritual orientation. Other faiths, like Islam, perhaps the country’s fastest-growing religion, have had no problem attracting and maintaining worshippers. No, evangelicalism’s dilemma stems more from a change in American Christianity itself, a sense of creeping exhaustion with the popularizing, simplifying impulse evangelical luminaries such as Schuller once rode to success.

Prominent figures in the evangelical establishment have already begun sounding alarms. In particular, the Barna Group, an evangelical market research organization, has been issuing a steady stream of books and white papers documenting the erosion of support for evangelicalism, especially among young people. Contributions from worshippers 55 and older now account for almost two-thirds of evangelical churches’ income in the United States. A mere three percent of non-Christian Americans under 30 have a positive impression of evangelical Christianity, according to David Kinnaman, the Barna Group’s president. That’s down from 25 percent of baby boomers at a similar age. At present rates of attrition, two-thirds of evangelicals in their 20s will abandon church before they turn 30. “It’s the melting of the icebergs,” Kinnaman told me. Young people’s most common complaint, he said, is that churches are too focused on sexual issues and preoccupied with their own institutional development—in other words, he explained, “Christianity no longer looks like Jesus.”
Read it all here.   As the member of a church (the Episcopal Church) that has seem sharp drops in membership over the last decades, I need to be careful about drawing too many conclusions.  I do think, however, that the singular focus of many evangelical churches on issues like gays has hurt them a great deal.  Indeed, I think it has even hurt churches--like my own--that take a decidedly different take on these issues.  It hurts the entire Christian "brand." 

I have been fortunate, however, to belong to two congregations in the last decade--Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix and St. Alban's in Annandale, Virginia--that have shown huge increases in membership, participation, and vitality.  Why?  The focus is on the gospel of Jesus in an inclusive way--resulting in surprising interest by young adult members.

What do you think?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did your two thriving churches push back against the evangelical agenda? I am an active member of a mainline church which is welcoming, but it's onthe QT. Very little pushback against the evangelical agenda, and I think that has an erosive effect. It has on me, as i've gone from committed Christian in youth and young adulthood to cynical disengagement (with American Christianity) in later middle age.