Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Worrisome Stats from LifeWay Research

Yesterday I read an article by Cathy Lynn Grossman on the USAToday website that referenced the work done by LifeWay Research in August of 2009. Cathy's opening comments caught my attention:

"Most young adults today don't pray, don't worship and don't read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows. If the trends continue, 'the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships,' says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In the group's survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they're 'really more spiritual than religious.' Among the 65% who call themselves Christian, 'many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only,' Rainer says. 'Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith.'"

From , accessed April 27, 2010.

Here are some comments that caught my eye from the LifeWay site:

"Two-thirds of American 'Millennials' – those born between 1980 and 1991 – call themselves Christian, but far fewer pray or read the Bible daily, attend weekly worship services, or hold to historical positions on the Bible and its teachings. . . . One in four Millennials attends religious worship services once a week or more, but two out of three rarely or never visit a church, synagogue, mosque or temple. . . . 'The research shows us that religion and its practices are decreasing and becoming increasingly privatized among the Millennial generation,' said Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. 'With fewer people attending worship services or praying with other faith adherents, it is not surprising that the religious landscape of our culture is changing with the maturation of the Millennials.'"

From , accessed April 27, 2010.

Some thoughts about these worrisome stats:

1. Our American culture has dramatically changed for the worse in regard to evangelistic receptivity and church life. I was saved during my tenth grade year (1971-72) during the height of a big Jesus movement in America. The SBC's largest baptism total was achieved in 1972. In 2008, the SBC baptized roughly half the number of teenagers baptized in 1972. Some of my friends went to Explo 72 in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas that year to hear Billy Graham preach to a stadium full of teenagers and young adults. I remember the excitement about Jesus in churches among young people at that time. We were unashamed of the gospel. We enjoyed traditional churches, and it didn't take much to get us there. (Pizza, other teens, choir practice, etc. were enough.) Our parents made sure we were at church on Sunday morning. (Many parents no longer require church attendance on Sundays.) We loved going on choir tours, mission trips, summer camps, etc. I think technology has affected things dramatically. We were lonely and bored outside of school in the early 70s (only four TV channels, no computers or cell phones). Church was both a social and spiritual outlet for us. Today, high tech gadgets and numerous cable TV channels make possible a virtual reality type of social and spiritual world that is totally engrossing for teenagers and young adults. Also, there was the fear of nuclear annihilation in the early 70s. There was great interest in Christ's second coming. We were motivated to live vibrant Christian lives. We saw traditional churches as being relevant in the grand scheme of things. I don't sense such an attitude today.

2. If this trend continues, the future for evangelical growth in America is bleak. Many of our churches now are funded by the older generation. As they die, churches will die, and as Thom Rainer said in the quote above, "'the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships." This phenomenon will definitely affect church planting. Many church planters have tried to build their churches around young adults and have utilized contemporary music, etc. Most church plants in the future, however, may involve older adults who have moved to a new area and are looking for a local church. Our church plant constituted on March 21st of this year with 21 charter members. All of them are over 45 years of age except for my associate pastor and my older son (who leads the singing). I expect to see many more church plants like ours in the future. Generally speaking, denominations and conventions in America will likely continue their decline (see the Pew Survey online). Our nation seems to be heading in the same direction as Europe. We may see more and more churches that are "niche" churches. In other words, churches of the future may not try to be "full-serve churches" that try to do everything that typical traditional churches try to do. They can still meet the biblical definition of "church," but they may not look like traditional churches. For example, they may not have any young people, although they are certainly open to having them. They may be like Starbucks. Starbucks is a franchise that fills a niche; it doesn't offer everything that a traditional full-serve restaurant offers, but it does a few things very well. Similarly, I believe that many churches in the future will not offer everything that some full-serve churches do now, but they will do a few things well and fill an important niche in their cultural context.

As ministers of the gospel, we must remain faithful to God's word and not compromise any biblical principles in order to bring more people into our churches. Our success should not be judged on numbers, especially now.