Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Need for a Great Awakening

Several people have asked for the statistics about the decline of Christianity in America. I thought it might be helpful to post the information here.

Today, the Christian Church is experiencing its greatest expansion in history. More people are becoming Christians everyday than at any other time in history. Because of the success of the world missions movement, today there are more Christians in Asia, Africa, and Latin America than there are in North America and Europe. Furthermore, the growth of the church in those regions is continuing at a staggering pace.

However, while the church throughout the world is growing, the picture is not as rosy at home. In fact, we are facing a looming crisis. If current trends continue, the evangelical church in the United States is in danger of becoming culturally irrelevant in fifty years. We will be like the Amish—together in our own little enclaves virtually ignored by the world around us.

Why do I say that? How can I make such an outlandish claim that the church in America is headed for irrelevancy? Because we are losing our young people and have so for the past few decades.

In my lifetime, the United States has moved from being a nation that was predominantly Christian, or at least a nation where the majority had a Christian worldview, to becoming a post-Christian nation. This is not just my opinion. Here are the facts:
  • There are 195 million unchurched Americans
  • For every one church being started, 3 are closing
  • In 1958, 50% of all people Americans attended church regularly. In 1996, that number had dropped to 37%.

When you break down the numbers by generation, the picture becomes even more disturbing.

Who Attends Church in America Each Weekend

Generation Birth Years % Attending Church
Builders (Born before 1946) 51%
Boomers (1946-1964) 41%
Busters (1965-1976) 34%
Bridgers (1977-1994) 29%

Over 70% of people between the ages of 11 and 28 do not attend church. Now, when we consider that 85-90% of people who become Christians do so before the age of 18, then it seems apparent that we have already lost, not one, but two generations of people.

Wait. It gets worse. Anywhere from 88%-95% of Christian young people abandon the faith during the college years.

We live in a post-Christian nation. Unless God sends a revival that surpasses that of the Great Awakening and the Protestant Reformation, things will get worse before they get better. Those of you who are older may not sense it as much because the majority of your peers are either Christian or share a Christian worldview. However, that is not how it is for our young people. They feel this everyday. They live in a world where Christianity is viewed, not only with skepticism, but with cynicism and deep suspicion.

Despite its reputation as a religious city, Colorado Springs is not immune to these national trends. Even though Colorado Springs is known for its religious institutions, it is more unchurched than either California or New York. The Colorado Springs Business Journal states “according to The Quality of Life indicators published recently by the Pikes Peak United Way, El Paso County has a lower rate of membership in religious congregations than does Denver County, Pueblo County, Colorado and the United States. Additionally, while other areas show an increase in membership from 1990 to 2000, only El Paso County residents’ and the U.S average membership decreased. That decrease, from 38.9 percent in 1990 to 37.1 percent in 2000, was much different than Denver County’s increase, 39.3 percent to 50.2 percent of members of religious congregations.”

Because the world has changed so radically from the 1950’s—or even the 70’s and 80’s—how we as Christians engage the world must look different as well.

Denis Haack, in his article, “Living a Magnetic Faith in a Post-Christian world” compares two cities.[1] One is Jerusalem. “Dominating the city was the Temple where priests offered sacrifices for the sins of the people. Jerusalem was home to the covenant people of God who defined its life and shaped its society. The calendar was marked by a series of feasts that celebrated God’s grace in the history of His people. The legal system was rooted in God’s revelation in the Scriptures, the law, and the prophets. Though non-believers lived there, every aspect of Jerusalem’s life and culture was centered on God and his Word.”

The other city was Babylon. “The greatest military and economic force of its day, it was a pluralistic society. Races and religions from every corner of the world could be found there. And, while God’s people were in the mix, they were given no advantage. They could achieve positions of influence, as long as they were careful not to offend the ruling elite. The art and literature of the Babylonians was pagan, colored by their belief in sorcery and magic. It was very different from Jerusalem, especially in the ways that matter most.”

He goes on to conclude that we live in Babylon. “Our postmodern world is profoundly pluralistic—far more so than ancient Babylon. The religions we used to hear about only when missionaries visited are now next-door, and growing. The public square is a cacophony of competing truth claims. Increasingly our closest neighbors and co-workers do not share our deepest values and convictions.” He goes on to say, living like we are in Jerusalem while we are living in Babylon will not work. Getting angry at the culture, judging the culture, or dreaming about the old days of our culture will not transform the culture.

Furthermore, the change in the American religious landscape means that we cannot continue on with business as usual. We must be more aggressive in reaching out with the gospel, engaging with people, and planting new churches. These have to be priorities for the church if we are going to be faithful to the mission that Christ has given us.


Some of these stats are slightly different from what I used on Sunday. I have seen different numbers from different sources--all very similar--these seem to be more reliable.

On Sunday, I said that no county in America has a higher percentage of Christians than it did a decade ago. I heard that at a church planting conference but have not been able to verify it. According to one source cited above, the percentage of people attending church in Denver has increased.

[1] Actually, he compares three. The third one being Samaria, but, in order to keep the illustration simple, I only am mentioning two.

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