Guest Blogger Michael Bell (The Eclectic Christian) returns for his second round of statistical evaluations of “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.”
1. Denominations will shrink, even vanish.
Much to my surprise, the decline in evangelicals in the U.S. has already begun. The Association of Religious Data Archives (ARDA) lets you generate maps to visibly see the changes. The maps shown here show the difference in Evangelicals between 1990 and 2000. Note how the colors have lightened over 10 years, particularly in the south-east.
You can visit the ARDA site to create your own maps on a national, regional, and/or denominational level.
When we look at the age composition of churches in the data from the American Religious Identity Survey (ARIS), it is clear that those who will be impacted the most will be those denominations who call themselves Baptist. The most significant growth is coming from those Christians who say they have no denominational affiliation. Two thirds of these are under the age of fifty. It is clear from the data that there is and will be a move away from denominational identification.
2. Fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.
According to the National Congregations Study 50% of churches in the U.S. now (2006-2007) have a congregation fewer than 75 on a Sunday morning. This is down from a median of 80 in 1998. While these figures are for all churches, and not just evangelical ones, the data from Canada shows that Evangelical Churches have similar attendance ratios to all Protestant churches. The issue is that as Evangelical churches go through the generational horizon that we see is about to happen from the ARIS Data, those churches will become less and less viable.
I read a study a number of years ago that showed that when a church hired a second (associate) pastor, that the related increase in attendance and its accompanying tithing paid for the second pastor on average within 18 months. (I was graduating from seminary at the time, and tried to use the study to get churches to hire me. 🙂 ) The converse is also true. Once a church starts a slide and is forced to lay off pastoral staff, or go to part-time or lay pastors, it is an extremely hard trend to reverse. Churches are going to have to make some difficult decisions, and for some it is going to mean closing their doors.
3. Two of the beneficiaries will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions
According to the ARIS report, Catholics have grown by 24% between 1990 and the present day. This growth was very regionalized and fueled by immigration as the following quotation shows:
Catholic numbers and percentages rose in many states in the South and West mainly due to immigration from Latin America. Catholics increased their share in California and Texas to about one-third of the adult population and in Florida to over one-fourth. In terms of numbers they gained about 8 million adherents in these three states in the past two decades. At the same time the proportion of Catholics was eroded in other parts of the country, mainly in the Northeast Region, where Catholic adherents fell from 43 percent to 36 percent of the adult population. New England had a net loss of one million Catholics. Big losses in both the number of Catholic adherents and their proportion occurred also in Massachusetts, and in Rhode Island, the nationâ€™s most heavily Catholic state where the proportion of Catholics dropped from 62 percent to 46 percent. New York state lost 800,000 Catholics and they dropped from 44% to 37% of the adult population.
The age composition of the Catholic church is virtually identical to the general population meaning that they are not facing a generational horizon. So the Catholics will benefit from the Evangelical collapse in that they should have stable numbers over the next decade and will become a larger proportion of the Christian community, and thus will have a larger voice from within that community. (Please do not get into arguments over the definition of Christian here, as it is really tangential to the purpose of the post.)
The question of whether they will be beneficiaries of the evangelical collapse numerically would still be open to debate. The previous ARIS study of 2001 as reported at ReligiousTolerance.org showed that in the dynamic movement of individuals in and out and between denominations, Catholics lost twice as many adherents as they gained. Unfortunately the question that generated this data was not asked during the current ARIS study, so we do not know if this number has changed.
Orthodox Christians still represent a tiny percentage of overall Christians in the U.S., but the data that has been supplied by ARDA shows some significant growth.
4. Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity will become the majority report in evangelicalism
According to ARIS, Pentecostals / Charismatics have grown from 5,647,000 to 7,948,000 over the last 18 years, an increase of 41%. Their growth however has slowed somewhat over the last 7 years and they too are facing a generational horizon. Their horizon however, is not as bad as the Baptists. Numerically they will be hard pressed to be the most significant group in the Evangelical American world in forty years, but they will certainly be much stronger in relation to groups like the Baptists than they are today.
In one sense however, they are already the majority report, and that is in the area of worship. While I do not have the numbers for this, I am sure that most readers have seen that the vast majority of churches in the U.S. have adopted a more “charismatic/contemporary” style of worship. These days you would be hard pressed to differentiate the worship style between many Baptist and Pentecostal churches.
5. Evangelicalism needs a “rescue mission” from the world Christian community.
Michael is not alone in this thought. Consider some of these thoughts and statistics as compiled by the Navigators organization.
According to George Barna: “With its 195 million unchurched people, America has become the new mission field. America has more unchurched people than the entire populations of all but 11 of the world’s 194 nations.”*
According to Lost in America, by Tom Clegg and Warren Bird, 2001: “The unchurched population in the United States is so extensive that, were it a nation, it would be the fifth-largest on the planet. . . . Researchers and analysts describe North America as the world’s third-largest mission field.”
According to Os Guiness, in World Evangelization, Vol. 18, No 65, 1993: “The three strongest national challenges to the Gospel in the modern world are Japan, Western Europe, and the United States.”
According to George Gallup in 1997, only ten years ago: “More than 44% of American adults 18 and over are unchurched; 120 million Americans have no substantial Christian memory.”
Barna affirms Gallup. Consider: “America’s secularization has gone from only 15% in the 1950s up to 40% in 2001; and headed for 60% percent by 2010!” (Secularization means basing the decisions of one’s life on a secular humanist, relativist moral world view. Judeo-Christian values and the Bible are no longer the moral foundation of decision making in life for the vast majority of Americans.)
According to America: An Emerging Mission Field in World Christian Encyclopedia, Second Edition p.27: “In 2000, the United States sent out 118,200 missionaries, but it also received 33,200. Ironically, the world’s largest missionary-sending country has now become the world’s largest missionary-receiving country.” Not to mention:
o The world’s largest Buddhist temple is located in Boulder, CO, USA!
o The world’s largest Muslim training center is in New York City, USA!
o The world’s largest training center for transcendental meditation is in Fairfield, Iowa, USA!
According to Leighthon Ford, evangelist and Christian leader, “North America is now the largest mission field in the English-speaking world” (Cities’ and surrounding areas’ concentrated populations make them obvious targets for sharing the Gospel).
The number of churches in Chicago has decreased by 900 in the last 10 years! In many cases what were once churches are now condominiums.
I wrote these two posts in support of Michael, not because I, nor he for that matter, take any joy in what is going on. I hope that these can help serve as a wake up call to the Evangelical community that the status quo position is not a viable one. Many have asked where is the role of God and the Holy Spirit in all of this? Well I for one see this as a wake up call to pray, and to seek God’s direction and guidance in all of this. We believe in the good news of Jesus Christ and we want to see his name continued to be honored and lifted up.
Your thoughts and comments are welcome.