Christianity is not dying, as I’ve often said; nominal Christianity is.
Pew Research Center released a report yesterday (May 12) drawing a variety of headlines — everything from “Christianity faces sharp decline as Americans are becoming even less affiliated with religion” to “Pew: Evangelicals Stay Strong as Christianity Crumbles in America.”
So what are we supposed to think of Christianity in America?
The big trends are clear: The nominals are becoming the nones, yet the convictional are remaining committed.
In other words, Americans whose Christianity was nominal — in name only — are casting aside the name. They are now aligning publicly with what they’ve actually not believed all along.
The percentage of convictional Christians remains rather steady, but because the nominal Christians now are unaffiliated, the overall percentage of self-identified Christians is in decline. This overall decline is what Pew shows — and I expect it to accelerate.
Not one serious researcher thinks Christianity in America is dying. What we see from the Pew Religious Landscape Survey is not the death-knell of Christianity, but another indication that Christianity in America is being refined.
As such, let me share three takeaways from the data.
1. Convictional Christianity is rather steady.
Evangelicals are not the only people who call themselves Christians and a good proportion take it seriously, but since this is an evangelical publication, let me share some data from there with one caveat. You might say that I have a vested interested in evangelicalism’s success. However, as an author, the opposite is true. If I announced the death of evangelicalism and Christian faith, I’d sell a lot more books, I assure you.
But facts are our friends and math is math, so let’s take a look.
First, from 2007 to 2014 the number of evangelicals in America rose from 59.8 million to 62.2 million. Evangelicals now make up a clear majority (55 percent) of all U.S. Protestants (in 2007, 51 percent of U.S. Protestants identified with evangelical churches).
Within Christianity, the only group retaining more of their population than the evangelical church is the historically black church.
One of the primary reasons it appears as though “American Christianity” is experiencing a sharp decline is because the nominals who once made up (disproportionately) Mainline Protestantism and Catholicism are now checking “none” on religious affiliation surveys, and this is why their numbers continue to sharply decline.
For those who have only ever considered themselves “Christian” because they’ve been to church before or because they aren’t Muslim or Hindu, it is starting to make more sense to check “none” on religious identification surveys.
Yet, church attendance rates (though overreported) are not changing substantially.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press