Don't put your head in the sand! Michaela@Pixabay
Did you ever watch “Debbie Downer” on Saturday Night Live? Played by Rachel Dratch, Debbie would show up at various celebratory events – weddings, holiday dinners, even Disney World – and immediately depress everyone with tales of disease, murder, and gloom and doom. She sucked the air out of the room. Wah-wah. Fortunately, it was pretty darn funny.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Pew Research deserves the “Debbie Downer” award. Sadly, it’s not meant to make you laugh.
Citing their report, the Washington Post blasted the headline: U.S. Christian Majority Could Fade in Decades, Models Find. By 2070, “If current trends continue, Christians could make up less than half of the population — and as little as a third — in 50 years.”
Granted, some people will think this is fine and dandy. They think the church has done enough harm and that it’s time for Christians to take some big steps back and out of the limelight.
I don’t agree, but fair enough.
The current Pew numbers already show a downward trend for Christianity in the U.S. Pew estimates that in 2020 64% of Americans, including children, identified as Christian. Earlier, in their landmark 2014 study, Pew found that 70.6% identified as Christian. Of those, 14.7% identified as “mainline Protestant” (e.g., United Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, etc.), not including Historically Black Protestants (6.5%) which was a separate category.
The trend is no surprise to anyone who has been watching. The fastest growing group? The religious “nones” (not to be confused with “nuns” whose ranks are not growing). The Pew people call the phenomenon that is currently going on in the United States, “religious switching”; moving from a childhood religion to the nones: atheists, agnostics and “nothing in particular.” In 2014, 22.8% of the population identified as “none.”
Researchers are quick to say regarding the long-term prognosis of Christianity in the U.S. that, “…they are not meant as predictions of what will happen. Rather, this study presents formal demographic projections of what could happen…”
Statistics and statistical projections can be depressing. Or…they can be motivating.
We need to be willing to face the potentially bad news straight on and refuse to put our heads in the sand.
The warning flag is flying. What will you do? Here are some suggestions:
- Discuss with your leadership: Why would someone want to be part of your congregation? Here are my two favorite videos to get that conversation started: Know Your Why and How Great Leaders Inspire Action.
- What makes you different? How is your congregation’s voice unique?
- Are you stuck in the “let’s-keep-doing-church-the-same-way-because-it-worked-for-me” mentality? That’s a straight “yes” or “no” answer. Be honest with yourself.
- Read the current Pew study along with their Religious Landscape Study. In the latter, you can even look up your state for stats. Discuss with your leadership team what this means for your congregation and its future.
Unlike the people in the old Saturday Night Live skits who eventually walk away from Debbie Downer (who wouldn’t?!), ignoring hard things about the future of the church isn’t a great option for you or your congregation.
Use the Pew study as a point of reference to be re-inspired about
- who you are as a people of God,
- discerning where God is calling you, and
- how you and your congregation can be a light unto the world.
The world needs you.