Pew Research released a new demographic study yesterday declaring that in America’s changing religious landscape, the Christian population is declining sharply. This caught the attention of many major news outlets, including the New York Times, which reported that “71 percent of American adults were Christian in 2014, the lowest estimate from any sizable survey to date, and a decline of 5 million adults and 8 percentage points since a similar Pew survey in 2007.”
The decline of self-identified Christians shouldn’t be surprising, as Pew reported in 2013 that the “nones” - those who say they don’t identify with any religion - was on the rise. Many millennials are among the nones. According to Pew’s Religious Landscape Study, “About a third of older millennials (adults currently in their late 20s and early 30s) now say they have no religion.”
I am an older millennial and I am an ordained minister of the Gospel, so this report is of both personal and professional importance to me. Some of the common responses I saw yesterday included fear and anxiety. I understand that. Times of change are times of naturally occurring anxiety. We may wonder about what the future of the church will look like. Ministers may wonder about our future job security. Families may wonder what it means to relate to each other in shifting faith patterns. These are natural curiosities.
In our curiosities, let me offer a pastoral word of hope from Scripture that we hear over and over again: do not fear. Remember when the resurrected Jesus first appeared to His disciples. They were huddled together in fear, behind locked doors. Times were changing and they were scared. The first words the resurrected Jesus offered to them were these: “Peace be with you.” Sometimes when our anxiety is big, we need to be reminded of the peace that Jesus offers.
I believe this is an incredibly exciting time to be a minister of the Gospel of Jesus.
Deep within my core, where some of my best decisions are made, I believe this is an incredibly exciting time to be a minister of the Gospel of Jesus. This feels a little subversive to say as a millennial and a minister. The way forward will take creativity and it will take the living Christ leading us. The Christian life isn't for the fainthearted. The future will be collective. We will need to lead together with courage and prayer, forgiveness and mercy, love and justice.
As we wonder about what these findings mean, and as they have real implications for our churches, let us not forsake joining together in prayer. Let us not neglect in meeting together in worship. Let us not neglect in the breaking of the bread. Let us not neglect in sharing our sacred stories from the Scripture we love.
In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss. In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving. You are our mother, brother and Savior. In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvelous and plenteous grace. You are our clothing; for in love you wrap us and embrace us. You are our maker, our lover, our keeper. Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. Amen.
May God be gracious to you and to me as we follow Christ in the way forward.