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Christianity in America is not dying!


Published: 1 March 2018 (GMT+10)

We’re used to hearing that religion is dying in America, secularization is inevitable, and that young people are leaving the faith in droves. But a new Harvard research study has great news for Christians. Previous research typically focuses on the massive increase in the proportion of people who claim atheism or ‘no religion’. But these reports generally don’t address where the decline is happening. This new research demonstrates that the decline is in ‘moderate’ religion. So it turns out that ‘religion’ isn’t dying, but the differentiation between believer and unbeliever is becoming clearer.

Researchers make the distinction between Christians who attend church regularly, read the Bible multiple times a week, and pray frequently, in comparison to those that would claim the Christian label, but not practice church attendance, Bible reading, and prayer. The latter group has declined, like the ‘mainline’ churches that are hemorrhaging members. But the former group has held steady over time, and is even growing. As the abstract of the paper states, “rather than religion fading into irrelevance as the secularization thesis would suggest, intense religion—strong affiliation, very frequent practice, literalism, and evangelicalism—is persistent and, in fact, only moderate religion is on the decline in the United States.”1

It is understandable why professing but not believing ‘Christians’ would leave the church in today’s climate. It’s no longer socially advantageous in many circles to have the label Christian. In today’s culture, Christians are not thought of as intellectually sophisticated or tolerant of other lifestyles. The exclusive claim that Jesus is the only way of salvation is seen as bigoted. So if one doesn’t really believe and practice Christianity, it can be easier to just come out as an atheist or a ‘None’.

This study reinforces why some churches and denominations are dying. But a wide variety of denominations are healthy and even growing—and they have one crucial thing in common. They believe and unashamedly teach that Jesus is the only way for salvation, that God has revealed Himself through Scripture, and that the Bible is an inspired, sufficient guide for every area of life.

How can parents help their children fall into the category of serious Christians whose faith can withstand the detrimental pressures of society? One obvious consideration is to ensure they are evangelized in their years at home, because no one is born a Christian. Parents can make sure their children grow up in an environment where the Gospel is taught not only as a series of intellectual statements one should assent to, but as a reality that affects all aspects of life. One source states “of young adults who left their faith, only 11 percent said they had a strong faith in childhood while 89 percent said they came from a home that had a very weak faith in belief and practice”.2 If Mom and Dad model prayer, Bible reading, and church attendance as important, kids will get the message and are far more likely to develop that in their own life than if Mom and Dad are just paying lip service to it.

At CMI, one reason we are so clear about the authority of Scripture in all areas of life is that we have heard time and time again about the heartbreaking results of children leaving the church once they leave home. The sad reality is that in many of these cases, the kids left the church because their parents’ faith never became their faith at all, and once they were free to display their unbelief, they simply ‘left the faith’. Some of these kids come back later in life, but many do not. So parents should make the most of the childhood years with not only Scriptural training and effective apologetics, but also personal behavior and habits consistent with the precepts of God’s Word, providing ‘good soil’ that can help children develop a faith that will survive university.

So as Christians, we should be encouraged by this report, but we should not become complacent! This report should spur us on to be purposefully diligent that the children in our families and churches grow up knowing that the Bible is God’s Word and it is trustworthy and accurate, from the very first verse!

References and notes

  1. Snabel, L, Bock S., The persistent and exceptional intensity of American religion, a response to recent research, Sociological Science 4:686–700, 2017. Return to text.
  2. Stanton, G., New Harvard research says U.S. Christianity is not shrinking, but growing stronger, thefederalist.com. 22 January 2018. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Noah D.
Its hard to unconvert from an encounter with God. =-)
Thea E.
God will always preserve His people.
Sandra K.
So encouraging! Let us keep persevering in the fight like Jesus said.
G.S. M.
"One source states “of young adults who left their faith, only 11 percent said they had a strong faith in childhood while 89 percent said they came from a home that had a very weak faith in belief and practice”."

One thing to be careful of is how this compares percentage wise to the starting conditions. If most churches are moderate then we would expect as a null hypothesis that a proportional percentage would "leave the Faith" from those churches.

So say 75% (to give a nice round number for illustration) are merely cultural Christians, and 75% of those who "leave" are cultural Christians, then the absolute values would be higher, but the proportions would be the same.

But these numbers are really encouraging! I want to learn more!
Darryl P.
Very good article. I suspect the same can be said about Australia. It's not popular to be classed as a Christian in Australia & it's politically correct to be quiet about your faith as the agenda of Evolution is spoken out loud & clear. Our media makes the point that since Atheism is growing that Christianity must be in decline but as the article stated, the people who are leaving the faith never had a real faith anyway. The churches that stand on the word of God & evangelise are still growing. The Gospel is always enough to those who are lost, we don't need to add anything else
Dan M.
Kids aren’t stupid!
If the only reason you go to church is because you want some moral teaching for your kids but don’t live it out at home because you really don’t believe it; they’ll see the hypocrisy and reject Christianity.
Either things happened the way the bible says it did or it didn’t? If I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t waste my time with Christianity. But as the scripture says, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”, Heb 4:12. That’s why I believe!
God Bless
P.S. There is such a thing as objective truth.
Mark F.
Two things were important in helping our 5 children to strong faith, that I believe are as important as regular attendance.

First, was regular reading of Christian or Christian friendly boods to young children. We wore out a number of books reading for more than 20 years to our 5 children. We used the Chronicles of Narnia, the Laura Ingals Wilder books, and the blue Bible story books. The kids really looked forward to our nightly reading.

Second is to model teaching and outreach to others. We did Sunday School, Children's Church, and out reach to various groups. I involved my two youngest in my 10 year involvement with the outreach to elementary school children in the poorer section of town (Bible lessons combined with game time on a week night).

This kind of modeling work with all the children involved with their own area of ministry.

Outreach and Evangelism is also a characteristic of most of the growing churches, as opposed to the ones that are losing members.
Eddie C.
Something else that I have observed is that many of the Protestant denominations are dropping the denominational name. I see less and less churches that say Baptist or Pentecostal on the signs. I believe this is allowing us to see our similarities rather than just our differences. Many of these churches get Salvation right and hold the Bible as the infallible Word of God. Many of their members are part of the Universal body of Christ and I hope I don't speak prematurely when I say, I believe the real body in the US in unifying.
The separation of believers and unbelievers has become very obvious now though. There are two different cultures in America. It's very clear that cultural Christianity is dying.
It's going to be interesting to see what God does with this struggle, but there is a spiritual battle being waged in America now, I would find few Christian that would not believe the heart and soul of this country is in turmoil.
James K.
Praise the Lord! This is a timely article, and a very big encouragement.
Scott L.
I have suspected something like this for quite a while... I am very thankful that a study like this was finally performed by qualified researchers.

It seems that a shadow of Matthew 25:31-46 is underway in America. Now more than ever... it is time to choose what you believe and what you are willing to do for that belief.
Steven F.
So good to hear, Ms. Cosner! I suspected so, but now it is confirmed. I grew up in the ELCA. It was more like a social club than a Christian church. Not many people there really believed. Now I go to a bible believing interdenominational church where they believe the word of God and strive to live it out. It is thriving and growing.
ziyu Z.
it's really encouraging and heartwarming to hear this article, although the number of people is of little relevance to what is true.
it seems many christians are afraid of openly professing their faiths, So the liberalists' intolerance is really prevailing, it's a parody of leftists.
What is worse is that the evolutionsits use science as a pretext to propagate atheism while in fact evolutionism is unscientific pantheism and based on many storytellings, which is another irony of secularism.
How trecherous are some evolutionists who don't admit they also have preconceived assumptions and a pre-commitment to atheism. That evolution is purely science is just a disguise and misleads myriads of people worldwide.

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