I recently came across the CBS News article “Christianity in the U.S. is quickly shrinking and may no longer be the majority religion within just a few decades, research finds”, published on 9/14/22. I believe the article is definitely worth the short read, and the ~28-minute video is also good. However, I find the content concerning, as it underscores the current trend of diminishing Christianity within the US. Since the early 1990s, more and more people (mainly young adults) are leaving Christianity/the Church and becoming “nones” – one of no religious affiliation, mainly atheists and agnostics.
In the early 1990s, 90% of Americans stated to be Christians. That number fell to 78% by 2007 and to 64% in 2021. Since 2007, “nones” increased from 16% to 29%, which illustrates that much of this decline has happened within the past 20 years. This is further evidenced by the fact that only 19% of 24-year-olds attend church on a weekly/nearly weekly basis, down from 33% in 2002, according to Gallup. So, I believe it’s very clear that a large number of people are abandoning Christianity and leaving the Church and that there is a strong bias toward the Millennials and Gen Z.
I am very saddened by this, but unfortunately not surprised, as I have been fully aware of the decline of Christianity in the USA. What also concerns me is so many dropping all religious affiliations (i.e., becoming “nones”). This tells me that more and more believe in no God at all.
I believe all this is a consequence of a number of things:
- The news media’s negative portrayal of Christians – as if all we do is spread hate, yet we all know the opposite is true. God is love, and we are all called to spread His love. I wish I could offer a way to change this perception.
- The politicizing of Christianity. Again, I believe the root is in the media. The media doesn’t like the Republicans, and it has the Church tied to the Republicans. What the media doesn’t tell us about is the many, many Democrats who are also Christians.
- As Christians/the Church, we need to be careful to not exclude certain groups of people, such as the LGBTQ+ community. Yes, many churches don’t support same-sex marriage nor the lifestyle, but we are all still called to respect, accept, and love all people and leave the judging to God.
- We need to be careful with Christian Nationalism, at least as depicted in the video. I think it’s great that we are one nation under God and that such makes us the great and wonderful nation that we are. However, we need to make sure we don’t look down on others. Remember: Jesus said: “Go forth and make disciples of all nations”. Jesus did not say to make disciples of only Americans. Hence, we need to show the world the wonderful things God will do for a country if that country would only give God the chance. Instead, we sometimes brag on ourselves based on what He has done for us. Although it’s all true, we should not claim “…because we’re special”. Instead, we should lead by example.
- We need to open ourselves more to unity among different denominations (e.g., Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, etc.). Remember, we all started out as the one Church that Jesus stared with His apostles. It was due to humankind and corruption/divisions within the Church in subsequent generations that we became separated. Regardless of our divisions, I believe we should focus on unity. I.e., focus on that fact that we are ALL Jesus’ disciples, not “my church is better than yours”. When others see this infighting between denominations, I’m sure it’s a big turn-off, as I believe it must be obvious that it is so what God doesn’t want. (For more information on Christian unity, please see my page on ecumenism.)
- Since the trend is happening mainly within the youth/young adult generation, we need to do a better job in meeting them where they are. As a layperson catechist and youth minister myself, I know that youth are leaving the church partly because we are trying to answer questions that they aren’t even asking. Their basic questions are “Who am I?” and “What is my purpose here on earth?” I have found that meeting them on these grounds and showing a genuine interest in them versus taking the approach of “we are adults, and we are here to ‘fix’ you” really incites them to open themselves to God. Youth are constantly seeking adult mentors/role models who are in their corner. Once this relationship is established and they discover God, our jobs become incredibly easy, as God takes it from there! He converts them, they tell their friends, and the church grows while we hardly have to lift a finger (but I always want to do more anyway 🙂 ). I see it happen day in and day out at my parish.
We have a twofold issue:
- The news media and politics have definitely taken their toll on Christianity within the US, and we need to somehow stop having Christians/the Church portrayed in negative light.
- We (us Christians/the Church) need to get busy ourselves to make the church a warmer and more welcoming place in which people find genuine friendship and spiritual growth and guidance.
By doing #1 and #2 above, I am 100% convinced that we could at least slow down the ongoing negative trends and, Lord willing, maybe even eventually reverse this trend if enough of us act accordingly.
Also, in closing, I constantly notice that, by serving God/His people, many of us have found this is how our own needs are met in often wonderful ways, as we simply cannot outgive God – in love, in service, in charity, etc. And I love it when God plays this game of “one upmanship” with us! 🙂
What are your thoughts?