by Ed Stetzer
Globally speaking, the church is at a significant crossroads right now. We’re watching the geographical epicenter of our faith shift from its centuries-old epicenter in the West to the Global South, where it continues to grow at encouraging rates.
In his book The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, professor Phillip Jenkins argues that 60% of the world’s population of Christians right now live in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
By 2050, we’ll see these numbers shift even further; estimates indicated that there will be approximately 3 billion Christians in the world, 75% of whom will live on the aforementioned continents otherwise known as the Global South.
Despite this newfound reality, many have long considered Christianity a western religion—it’s been associated with American culture, ideals, and practices for many generations. Alexis de Tocqueville, upon his visit to the United States, observed in his famed work Democracy in America that “there is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America.”
These words, originally written in the mid-19th century, might not ring quite so true to us as they once did over 100 years ago. Given Christianity’s dramatic shift from the West to the South, many worry about the future of the Christian faith in America.
Some find themselves asking: In light of the changing life of the church, what exactly will the nation look like ten years from now?
Let me briefly mention to trends that will grow more prominent in years to come: the rise of secularlism and the diversification of evangelicalism.
The rise of secularism
Few would doubt that America is becoming increasingly secular.
In the 2014 Religious Landscape Study, the Pew Research Center found that the number of adults who consider themselves religiously affiliated shrank 6% between 2007 and 2014.
Most notably, younger generations—the infamous ‘Millennials’—aren’t praying or attending church with the same frequency as older generations. Based on survey data, their acceptance of traditional Christian doctrine—belief in God, heaven, hell etc.—is also lower.
What does this say about what American society will look like down the road? I believe that this rise in secularism will likely make it harder for followers of Jesus to engage the culture. In short, the culture will continue to look more and more post-Christian as the years progress.
There will be fewer people who self-identify as Christians, of course, likely making it more challenging for believers to maintain ‘lukewarm’ faith convictions. Those who claim to follow Jesus are going to have to answer some hard questions about what they believe and how much they really believe it.
For this reason, apologetics will likely come in to play as believers and church leaders who choose to share their faith will likely have to address hard topics and questions. If anything, this will force individuals to think critically about their commitment to Christ which, in some ways, should produce a more grounded, less flip-floppy culture within the church.
Christians will surely represent a smaller but more serious part of the population; this, I would argue, is not such a bad thing.
Like Christians living in more heavily contentious regions around the globe now, believers living in America ten years down the road are going to have to consider the cost of following Jesus. The culture will only become farther removed from the tenets of our faith; because of this, pressures to conform, as Paul writes in Romans 12, “to the pattern of this world” will be at an all time high.
But my hope and prayer is that believers will stand firm amidst a whole host of temptations and choose to live distinctively Christian lives. Our neighbors, family members, and friends should be able to tell, not just by what we say, but what we do that something about us is different because of our faith.
I can’t help but consider the relevance of Jesus’ words to the crowds during the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
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Source: Daily Mail