Are we witnessing the decline of Christianity in America? When you examine all of the most recent poll numbers, the answer is inescapable. Christian churches in America are losing members rapidly, and this trend is especially dramatic among young Americans.
According to a stunning new survey by America’s Research Group, 95 percent of 20 to 29 year old evangelicals attended church regularly during their elementary and middle school years. However, only 55 percent of them attended church regularly during high school, and only 11 percent of them were still regularly attending church when in college.
Those numbers have got to be incredibly sobering to the evangelical Christian leadership in the United States.
The reality is that young Americans are deserting the Church in America in droves.
The other day we came across an article in Advertising Age that blew us away. The article was discussing marketing and religion, but what impacted us so profoundly were some figures from the American Religious Identification Survey by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture at Trinity College.
According to that survey, 15% of Americans now say they have “no religion” which is up from 8% in 1990.
That would be bad enough news for evangelical Christianity.
But there is some more news from that survey that is much worse.
In that same survey, 46% of Americans between the ages of 18 to 34 indicated that they had no religion.
Forty. Six. Percent.
It is important to realize that not all of those 46 percent are unbelievers. According to a survey by Bohan Advertising/Marketing, the Barna Group and the United Methodist Church, 62 percent of Americans in that age group consider themselves to be “spiritual”, and 43 percent of them have prayed to some higher power in the last 2 months.
But what it does mean is that almost half of all Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 do not identify themselves with any particular religion.
And when you look at more recent poll numbers for Christianity in particular, the numbers become even more staggering.
Another new survey by the Barna group reveals that less than 1 percent of all Americans between the ages of 18 and 23 hold a Biblical worldview. This new poll data clearly demonstrates that the youngest adults in America are clearly rejecting traditional evangelical Christian teaching.
The Barna survey defined “a Biblical worldview” as holding all of the following six key beliefs:
1) Believing that absolute moral truth exists.
2) Believing that the Bible is completely accurate in all of the principles it teaches.
3) Believing that Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic.
4) Believing that a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or by doing good works.
5) Believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth.
6) Believing that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.
So what do all of these poll numbers mean?
They mean that evangelical Christianity has totally lost almost an entire generation of American young people.
Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor recently published an article about the “coming evangelical collapse” that they believe is coming. They openly predict that “within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants.”
The reality is that nearly all Christian denominations are rapidly losing members at this point.
The most recent American Religious Identification Survey demonstrates this fact very clearly. According to that survey, the percentage of Americans who call themselves Christians has dropped more than 11% since 1990. The survey also reports that Catholics, Baptists and other mainline Protestant churches have seen very large drops in numbers.
However, Islam, Wicca and eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism showed large gains in the survey.
The long-term trends look even more frightening for the churches in America. According to LifeWay Research, membership in Southern Baptist churches will fall nearly 50 percent to around 8.7 million Americans by the year 2050 if current trends continue.
But even more bad news for evangelical Christianity in America is that those who still call themselves Christians do not necessarily hold to traditional Christian beliefs any longer. Two other recent surveys reveal that the majority of American Christians believe that accepting Jesus Christ as savior is NOT the only way to eternal life.
USAToday recently reported on an almost unbelievable new survey that found that 52 percent of American Christians believe that eternal life is not exclusively for those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior.
A different survey that was taken last year by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 57 percent of evangelical Christians in America believe that “many religions can lead to eternal life”.
That shocking study revealed what many evangelical leaders have known for a long time – large number of “Christians” in the United States are throwing traditional Christian doctrines into the dumpster.
Evangelical Christians have traditionally been those who follow the teachings of the Bible most literally. But these new surveys indicate that even a majority of them do not believe in the most fundamental precepts of the Christians faith any longer.
For example, in John 14:6 Jesus says the following:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
If there was another way for our sins to be forgiven, then why did Jesus need to die on the cross? If there were other ways to salvation, then Jesus could have come down to earth, pointed out a bunch of other ways to get to heaven, and then could have gone back up to heaven without having to deal with the cross.
But the reality is that there was no other way for our sins to be paid for.
And yet these new surveys reveal that a majority of American Christians now believe that there are plenty of other ways to get to heaven.
The Pew survey referenced above also revealed that 45% of Americans say that they seldom or never read their religion’s holy books.
Perhaps if more American Christians were actually reading the Bible they would know what is truth and what is error. Instead, American Christians have surrounded themselves with preachers and self-help coaches and “feel-good” ministers who tell them what they want to hear, who always make them feel comfortable and who never, ever tell them about sin, holiness or the judgment of God.
The current situation in the churches of America reminds us of 2 Timothy 4:3…..
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
The reality is that past generations of America faithfully filled up churches across the nation that were preaching the Word of God, but today the vast majority of Americans stay home from church each week, and many of the churches that are still drawing crowds are watering down their messages as much as they can in a desperate attempt to hold on to the people who are still there.
Dave Olson, the director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, has done some really interesting research into the church attendance patterns of Americans.
Olson’s research found that the percentage of Americans that regularly attend church is only 18.7%.
In addition, his research shows that if current trends continue, the percentage of the U.S. population that attends church each week in 2050 will be about half of what it is today.
All of these polls and surveys tell us the same thing:
Christianity in America is in a serious state of decline – especially among young people.
Many Christian leaders who read this article will try to deny it or will try to make excuses.
But all of these polls are not lying.
The truth is that we need to examine ourselves.
Is God moving where you worship? Do our churches look like the authentic Christian movement that we read about in the book of Acts? Are our lives significantly different from what we see in the world? Are our services lifeless, joyless exercises in futility? Do we truly have great love for one another and a passion to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ?
If we want any chance to win back the next generation, then we are going to have to get back to the real thing. If you do not have “the real thing” in your church, then it is time to start asking yourself some really hard questions.