Christianity is on the decline.
It’s a message you’ll hear from a number of different voices – whether it was the public radio segment on the rise of the “nones” [those claiming no church affiliation on their census surveys], to the hand-wringing among Christians crying out: “How can we reach the Millennials?”
If this is news to you, don’t worry. Most pastors gladly preach the truth of Christ on Sunday morning, rather than publicly fret about the future of God’s Church.
But what of these concerns? The Millennial generation seems to be the most un-churched in recent popular memory; Boomers and older probably recall (and long for) a time when our country and culture seemed to be more Christian or more aligned with a generally Judeo-Christian ethic. Popular news outlets (whether with feigned alarm, or poorly-disguised glee) note that the “nones” are on the rise while the Christian church crumbles.
Among Christians, the same alarm is being met by two basic approaches: a cry for leadership training in our congregations, or a murmur & clamor to change the worship service so that the young people will be interested in attending.
Granted, that oversimplifies the present state of affairs – but whenever and wherever the Christian message isn’t met with resounding success, cries of “What should we change?” aren’t very far behind.
Before addressing these very real concerns, there’s one small caveat - one small fly in the statistical soup. The 1950s were a decade of unprecedented church attendance. At the outset of the nuclear era, after a second World War (and many alive who remembered the first World War), America longed for a return to normalcy. Part of that return to normalcy was a return to the churches; and indeed, the churches in America experienced record attendance numbers - which coincidentally fuelled the addition of new congregations in suburbs and cities.
Comparing today’s church to the 1950s (or to our recollection of the 1950s) would definitely lead to the conclusion that Christianity is waning. And yes, to a degree, those conclusions are correct; every measurement of Christian knowledge, every statistic, every metric would tell you that the majority of Americans have little or no knowledge of the facts of Christianity.
So . . . should we wring our hands, circle the wagons, cry that the sky is falling and that American Christianity is withering? Definitely not!
Should churches run after every new business fad, every promising leadership program, every bestselling book promising the solution to church problems? That’s not the answer either.
The solution is simple: Encourage people to read the Word of God. Open it up for yourself, and you’ll find a God who is terrifyingly holy – and overwhelmingly gracious. Re-discover that you & I, by nature, stood under God’s wrath; yet apart from anything good we could have done, God had mercy upon us.
If the church is in decline, perhaps it’s because we’ve lost sight of that unique truth. Every other message that a church might preach (social reform, environmentalism, morality, and many others) is a message that can be found elsewhere – and usually with fewer strings attached.
But the message of new life . . . from the only One who is holy, given freely to those who were his enemies – that’s a message which will remain (and remain relevant) until the end of time, a message that God has used to build his Church in every era and location.
Millennials need to hear it. Baby Boomers need to hear it. New babies need to be baptized into it, retired people need to be reminded of this beautiful truth.
So, please…next time you hear cries that the Christian sky is falling, close your ears to those gloomy proclamations – and open your mouth to speak of God’s free salvation!