The Decline of Christianity in the U.S.: Bad News or Good News?

By Nate Powell

One of the largest research firms in the US (Pew Research) has released a new study regarding U.S. Trends in faith identification and worship attendance among the general population of our country (which currently numbers more than 327 million people). You can click here to view the full report, but here are a few highlights of said report:
  • In the last 10 years, the number of US adults who identify as Christian has gone from 77% to 65%.
  • In the last 10 years, those who call themselves religiously unaffiliated have increased from 17% to 26%.
  • In the last 10 years, those who identify as atheist have increased from 2% to 4%.
  • In the last 10 years, those who who attend church at least monthly have decreased from 52% to 45%.

There is much more that I could share from the report, but I think you get the picture. Those who claim a Christian faith are decreasing in number, and those who are known as “nones” when it comes to religion are increasing in number.

So, is this bad news? Certainly. Anytime we watch a retreat from Judeo-Christian values, we recognize this is a bad thing and will carry bad consequences. Anytime less people are going to church, we know that we as a people overall will stray farther from God’s will and ways. These are hard trends to watch.

Yet, I’d like us to consider that there is some good news in what is taking place here. When we as a country lay aside a “cultural Christianity”, this can be a good thing. For many decades of our existence, it has been an assumed truth: that to be American is to be Christian. Yet deep in our hearts, as we read our Bibles, we know this cannot be the case. To be Christian without repentance, confession, growth or love, is to not be Christian at all. Jesus noted that we know trees by their fruit (John 15:1-11), and it seems that the trees are doing a better job these days of self-identifying the fact that they don’t wear the name of Christ or bear fruit. This type of honesty is refreshing, and it should give us hope.

It should give us hope, because we have the ultimate good news in what Christ has done. Because Christianity is losing some of that favored status it has previously held, followers of Christ will have to truly WANT to bear the name of Jesus, along with the derision or mockery that it may bring us. And it will help us better identify our neighbors who don’t know Christ. They won’t simply tell us that they belong to a church to which they don’t actually belong or rarely/never attend, but that they honestly are not Christians. This will give us reason to once again speak of the good news that has been given to us, and pray for our neighbors to come to Jesus.

So, in the face of these reports and numbers, don’t lose hope. Numbers and polls are temporary. Christ and his word are eternal. Remember Paul’s words to encourage the church and fix their eyes on Christ and eternal things, found in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”