As a pastor, with recent data in hand, I’m not sure which hat to put on in response–that of cynic, salesman, or circus ringmaster. Apparently, 2009 AMERICA FINDS OUR NATION POSSESSING THE SMALLEST PERCENTAGE OF CHRISTIANS WE’VE EVER HAD. While the drop hasn’t been precipitous, to say that it has only been slight would be significantly breaking the 9th Commandment (ironically, something fewer and fewer people can identify).
So, here are the numbers. According to the American Religious Identification Survey conducted by Trinity College in Hartford, CT, three out of four Americans (76%) call themselves Christian. And while that number may still sound particularly high, it’s dropped by a ten-spot since the original survey almost 20 years ago (86% in 1990).
This survey (a polling of 54,461 Americans between February-November 2008) found that–among religious affiliations–only two groups’ numbers went up. (People saying they were non-denominational and those people declaring they had “no” religion at all.) Now, these are two groups that I can really get into.
If you forced me to be honest, they’re the two groups I actually feel most comfortable with. For the one, it may seem a tad obvious–I AM THE PASTOR OF A NON-DENOMINATIONAL CHURCH. For the other, the “nones” (as the survey’s researchers labeled them), this is the group for whom I most live. I love the “nones.”
More about them in a minute.
You’ll notice from the title, “Finally…fewer Christians,” that it sounds like I’m sort of glad that there are fewer people who identify themselves by that term. This may seem a bit odd … coming from … well … a Christian. Label lovers, don’t be alarmed. I haven’t given up my commitment to the life-giving message and faith-guided way of Jesus. It’s just the terminology that isn’t really necessary.
Here’s what I mean–just because 86% of Americans in 1990 (and even more before then) called themselves “Christian” doesn’t mean that America was all that more “Christian.” (I don’t know if you know this or not, but the name “Christian” isn’t even a term that “Christians” called themselves. Non-“Christians” came up with the name as a term of derision for the growing number of followers of Jesus…a little more than a decade after Jesus’ resurrection). Apparently, CHRIST-ians didn’t really feel the need to have labels–just love.
So, somebody else slapped the UPS label on us with “Christian” at the top of the address line. (Lucky they didn’t call us “Jesus-ites,” “Nazarenees,” or a mouthful of something like “Messianic Monotheists.” Truth be told, the goofball labels I love the most are Jesus freaks, Bible-thumpers, Religious Radicals, and Holy-rollers. You’re very welcome to e-mail me even better ones than those if you’ve got a few of your own.)
True followers of Jesus never asked for a label, so we shouldn’t be all that concerned when the one given us loses its luster. You see, a name like Christian or Catholic or Lutheran–or even the clunky term “non-denominational” that has gotten affixed to our church’s signage–doesn’t really mean all that much. They’re just more terms that confuse (and even sometimes anger) the “nones.” Add to the list “born-agains,” “evangelicals,” “mainliners,” “Protestants”–and the list could go on and on.
There are fewer of THEM today in America than 20 years ago. It’s official. Is anybody surprised? I mean, come on. Nobody–and I mean nobody–would believe that my wonderful hometown of Mokena, IL, (2007 population: 16,669) had 13,000 people show up for church this past Sunday. (That would be slightly over the 76% who claim to be “Christian” in America.)
Nobody’s surprised. If we had 76% of Americans TRULY being followers of Jesus’ way of life in America, do you imagine that we’d have as many difficulties in our society and across the globe as we do?
I know this article is a tad rough…but hopefully good people appreciate someone who will speak honestly. Of course, every team wants more “fans”–the Bears want more. The Sox want more. The Cubs want more. The more people going to games and wearing jersies, it gives the impression that there is widespread fan-dom. But Jesus wasn’t ever about expanding His fan base. He was about transforming human souls so that He could make the world better through them. That there are fewer people wearing the “Christian jersey” means there’ll finally be FEWER GAMES. Can I get an ‘amen’ for that? But, then again, if you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir.
[ARTICLE ONE OF TWO]
To go to the 2nd half of this...click here .