October 23, 2017

The Evangelical Collapse: A Statistical Analysis Part II by Michael Bell

Guest Blogger Michael Bell (The Eclectic Christian) returns for his second round of statistical evaluations of “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.”

As I was time limited when taking my first statistical look at “The Coming Evangelical Collapse“, I wanted to follow up with a few more observations about some of Michael Spencer’s statements:

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.

U.S. Evangelicals 1990
U.S. Evangelicals 2000

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 nation’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.

Conclusion

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.

Michael Bell

Comments

  1. I take joy to a point Mike, the rise in non-denominationalism may herald in a new time of reduced fractionalization in the Bride. The evangelicals do not now nor have they ever been the be all and end all of the Christian church, regardless of their opinion. In the North East it is hard to believe Roman Catholics will rise, they are selling off churches at an amazing rate and the priest to parishioner ratio is ridiculous.
    I never understood Evangelicalism until i read imonks posts, and from the sounds of it, it is better dead. The horror stories the survivors report make it sound like organized spiritual Abuse, and while it may revolve around the Gospel, it is not centered on it.
    rejoice in what the Spirit hath Wrought.

  2. willoh:

    Whoa!

    I would never say evangelicalism some die. I pray for thousands of new churches and I rejoice in thousands of good churches.

    I would never say evangelicalism is organized spiritual abuse. No way. There are abusive churches, but evangelicalism can’t be described as such.

    I want evangelicalism to be centered on the Gospel, and to strengthen what remains. Not die.

    peace

    ms

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I notice that the darkest area (greatest Evangelical density) of the 1990 map corresponds pretty closely to the Confederate States plus border slave states, and the 2000 map continues a similar pattern at decreased density.

    Which makes me wonder if the original distribution is partially an artifact of the American Civil War.

  4. I’d like some folks opinion. In regards to the need for new churches. I’m prayerfully considering a church plant. I hate to say “aimed at”, but the demographic I’m going at are those who still want a theologically conservative church but with a very formal worship, or formal for baptist anyway. A community that is connected to the larger Christian tradition, but one that is distinctively baptist in doctrine.

    I have met a good number of folks, mostly younger couples with kids, who want sound, straight preaching, and a welcoming atmosphere, but who also are not entirely comfortable with contempary worship practices.

    I’ve never considered myself a church planter.

    Any ideas, opinions, or suggestions.

  5. “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.)”

    This is what should concern us all. I would have to say that even many in churches are prone to make decisions according to secular criteria.

  6. Will:

    As I mentioned in my post, the North East is where the Catholics are doing the poorest.

    Being centered on the Gospel is what the core of Evangelicalism should be all about. It is certainly what I have tried to focus on at Eclectic Christian.

  7. Willoh,

    I’ve been to five churches as an adult (one SBC, one nondenom, one military chapel, two E Free (Baptist for Norwegians–all the theology, half the emotionalism!)). Every single one had preachers who preached from the Bible every Sunday (even the mini-mega, even if the series was topical). Every one interspersed hymns with their kicking praise team and worship babes (love that term; thanks to whomever first posted it). None preached prosperity–all preached sufficiency of Christ. Come to think of it, none had traditional altar calls, either. All would be considered Evangelical. None were particularly liturgical, and none felt any subsequent loss.

    Anyway, I have another question. The last two churches I’ve been to have been pretty heavy with spiritually mature Christians. The one we go to now has one pastor, but two or three other seminary grads and two seminary students (adult). But neither congregation had more than 80-100 people. Is there something inherent in a body that either attracts the scholars or the masses, but not both? Our current pastor’s messages are verse-by-verse, but they’re not particularly academic.

    That’s interesting about the correlation between losing a staff member and not being able to recover. Shortly after we started coming to this present church, they lost their youth pastor/worship leader. The positions are filled with volunteers, but the seats in the pews (well, folding chairs–but at least we have padded ones, now) have remained pretty stable.

  8. Beth writes: “Shortly after we started coming to this present church, they lost their youth pastor/worship leader. The positions are filled with volunteers, but the seats in the pews (well, folding chairs–but at least we have padded ones, now) have remained pretty stable.”

    That is where anecdotal evidence falls short. Every church is going to be different. I have been in two very small churches where we lost our pastor for almost a year. One became very unified, grew together as a family, and was ready to thrive when the new Pastor came. The other became divisive, came apart at the seams, and closed. Some churches, have such a strong foundation, that you would barely notice that the pastor wasn’t there, others have a very different experience. On average though, if you look at enough congregations, you will see that what I have written holds true.

  9. *Secularization means basing the decisions of one’s life on a secular humanist…*

    Yes.

    *…relativist moral world view.*

    No.

  10. Austin,

    Is the church you’re considering planting going to be a Baptist church in terms of denominational affiliation? Or is it going to be unaffiliated but with Baptist ecclesiastical and theological leanings?

    Also, what part of the country are you in? In my city in Texas there are still a lot of Baptist churches that are pretty traditional in terms of music, etc. Granted, they’re largely a 60+ demographic.

  11. perfessir says:

    Re. Relativism

    Looking for ideas I could use teaching in Lithuania I visited the Acton Institute. After 30 minutes they discovered I am a “relativist” and spent the next 2 hours hammering me; telling me what I believe, and otherwise not listening to a thing I said.

    (“I traveled up here to ask your help and you spend 2 hours just attacking me?”)

    As a sociologist/anthropologist with a hermeneutical flair how could I be anything else?

    Being a “relativist” does not mean that (1) I don’t believe in “absolute truth” or (2) I think that “anything goes.” As a Taoist I don’t revere the “law of non-contradiction,” which they were convinced meant that I am incapable of rational thinking and probably hell-bent.

    I first heard about the Tao from CS Lewis (The Abolition of Man) by the way. But they assured me that Lewis didn’t really mean it!

  12. Obed,

    That’s the thing we are running into. It is going to be baptist in both ways. There are a good deal of traditional churches out there but they are mostly 60plus, and while that is not a bad thing per se, the years of institutional baggage they carry tend to make it hard for new folks to come in.

  13. quote: “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.)”

    I have to question some of Barna’s findings here. Church attendance in America peaked in the 1950s and early 1960s at just under 50%. It declined shortly thereafter and has remained stable in the high 30s and low 40s since then. I grant that regular church attendance doesn’t say everything. But it is basic barometer.

    So what does that mean? It means even in the 1950s something like 50% or more of people in America didn’t attend church on a regular basis. If one never darkens the door of church, one is only a nominal or cultural Christian, which doesn’t mean much. What I really don’t buy is that only 15% of Americas were ‘secularized’ (however one defines this) in the 1950s. I’d say that the church attendance figures alone indicated that it had to be much higher than that, though it was probably more socially acceptable to describe oneself as “Christian” in the 1950s.

    The problem with this whole recent “decline of Christianity” and “secularization” narrative that has been featured on this blog is that it assumes that more Americans were Christian in the past than probably were in reality. What we may be seeing today isn’t so much “secularization” or “decline” of Christianity, but the erosion of cultural Christianity. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the 15% of Americans who now list “none” under their religious affiliation would have been nominal or cultural Christians in the 1950s. Perhaps people today are simply a bit more honest about their faith or lack thereof.

    bwl

  14. H.U.G. – I would suggest that the distribution has to do more with factors such as who first settled which colonies, and the effects of the First and Second Great Awakenings on the distribution of which denominations.

  15. A few other thoughts. If indeed my suspicion is correct that what reports such as the recent ARIS survey really reveal is that “cultural” or “nominal” Christianity is on the decline, I would argue that this has three main causes. First, the political polarization of the Bush years and the identification of conservative Christianity in general and Evangelicalism specifically with Bush. Second, the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. Third, the continued and bitter disagreement over issues arising from the sexual revolution (abortion, gay marriage, etc.).

    I don’t think that it is a giant leap of logic to conclude that these issues led a number of people who are nominal or cultural Christians to stop checking the “Christian” box in surveys and check “none” instead. Of course, many nominal or cultural Christians rarely if ever go to church, don’t know much about the Christian faith, and certainly don’t practice it. So in many respects, they are actually more honest if they check “none.”

    If I am correct about this recent erosion of cultural Christianity as opposed to Christianity itself, it is worth pointing out that many of the factors that led to it are temporary and that Americans have a short memory. Bush is gone and one doesn’t hear much about the sexual abuse scandals anymore. Only the sexual revolution issues will remain in the long run. Also, the church may be graying, but so is the rest of society.

    Finally, some young people may be turning away. But young people often come back when they get married and have children. And today’s young people who hate Bush may hate the Democrats 10 years from now because of crushing taxes, debt, and entitlement (Social Security, Medicare) expenses that will certainly fall on their backs. Remember the baby boomers turning away from church and the whole “Death of God” discussion in the late 1960s? It didn’t turn out to be as dramatic as people said it was.

    It is possible that we will see a real decline of Christianity in the next 20 years. But the information we have now is only a snapshot. I’d be hesitant to draw too many firm conclusions one way or the other right now.

  16. I’ve been to that “world’s largest training center for Transcendental Meditation” in Iowa many times. I love the place. There are people there of all religions who practice TM, and find that it enriches their faith and deepens their religious understanding, whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu or whatever. There is a universal basis to all religions, a transcendental field of pure awareness that underlies all the universe and unites all humanity. Experiencing this is what all religions should (and someday WILL) be about. To see the direct effects of experiencing this field of pure awareness twice daily, see the scientific research presented by doctors and scientists at http://www.doctorsonTM.org.

  17. *There is a universal basis to all religions, a transcendental field of pure awareness that underlies all the universe and unites all humanity. Experiencing this is what all religions should (and someday WILL) be about.*

    Conservative christian apoplexy in 4, 3, 2, 1 . . .

  18. … 1, 2, 3…

    Matthew 6:33 — But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

    Me 10:51 am — The kingdom of God is within. This is where TM is compatible with Christianity. It helps open the doors to the kingdom of God within.

  19. *And today’s young people who hate Bush may hate the Democrats 10 years from now because of crushing taxes, debt, and entitlement (Social Security, Medicare) expenses that will certainly fall on their backs.*

    Why “certainly”? Even leaving out Hoover, the net economic history of the 20th century has been Democratic president = prosperity, Republican = notably less prosperity. Top-bracket income taxes are substantially lower now than they were when Eisenhower (yes, THAT Eisenhower) *raised them* to 59%. And yet, we remain unsocialist.

    As regards debt, well Reagan and Bush 2 accumulated more between them than was ever spent before. Whose presidency actually got us out of debt–for the one and only time in the second half of the 20th century? Clinton.

    And you guys are *still* hung up on cutting entitlements? All indications are that Obama will do that too. He’ll have to spread it out a bit and certainly he wants to get government involved in the provision of health coverage more broadly, but it probably would be a mandate/block grant rather than “another entitlement” as is often bugabooed. It’ll be like Massachussetts’ plan (y’know, the one ROMNEY championed?) where everyone is *required* to buy insurance and people who can’t afford it get a boost, much as most states now require car insurance. Otherwise, uninsured people are an economic danger to themselves, their families, and everyone around them.

    Face it guys: This isn’t socialism. The world is not ending. Obama is neither a/the antichrist nor Hitler nor a crypto-muslim (want the proof? here it is). Your grandchildren will, as it happens, NOT be “paying for this forever”. Go for a walk or pet a kitty-kat or something but in general, CALM DOWN.

  20. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the idea that everyone in the world is going to Hell except for Christians (and maybe then only “saved” Christians, or those Christians who believe the “right” things) has got to be a factor in the decline.

    “Who knows what happens in the last seconds on the deathbed?” / Thief on the Cross rationale is really a stretch.

  21. Joseph,

    Not likely. If so we would see liberal churches doing much better than conservative churches, but the converse has been true.

  22. laughing crow and J

    Meditation has long been a part of the Christian experience. Especially among certain communities. It is the Transcendental variety that we don’t buy into. (Not that many do.)

    And I was able to write this without feeling apoplectic. 🙂 Great word by the way. 🙂

  23. Do liberal churches preach universalism? I’ve never been in one that confronted the issue head on from the pulpit.

    John 3:16 ought to be on the dollar bill, it’s so ubiquitous. It’s essentially the tagline, the branding statement, for American Christianity. Believe in Jesus or Go to Hell.

  24. quote: “John 3:16 ought to be on the dollar bill, it’s so ubiquitous.”

    In light of our nation’s recent woes, I’ve argued that 1 Timothy 6:10 should be on the dollar bill instead:

    http://anevangelicalinrome.blogspot.com/2009/01/small-suggestion-for-american-currency.html

  25. *Do liberal churches preach universalism? I’ve never been in one that confronted the issue head on from the pulpit. *

    The one that consistently does–Unitarian Universalism–is actually very slowly growing, just as it has for 30-some years now.

  26. Joseph,

    “Do liberal churches believe”…

    “Mainline” involves a lot of different theological perspectives.

    To clarify, I was not trying to make a comment on what liberal churches believe, but rather what Evangelicals hold to strongly. For Evangelicals, proclaiming Salvation in Christ alone is more important than it is in Mainline churches. So if Joseph was right, you would see Evangelicals doing much worse that Mainline churches. This however, is not the case.

  27. Austin, advice… go for it with the plant. I’m not a church planter but began a home group in June now meeting at a skate park downtown on Sunday mornings seeing people coming into the fold and growing in discipleship. I’m a lot like you in our desire for doing such a thing; a lot of churches around here but even more baggage – we think too much to bother with as far as real outreach is concerned here (in the St. Louis area on the IL side). We also wanted a conservative, bible believing, baptist (mostly) and Reformed plant since there is no sound Reformed witness in our area (a couple of dying PCUSA church’s but I don’t personally count those). I would say good luck but as bible believer’s we aren’t supposed to. Godspeed.

  28. I expect this has been pointed out before here, but since I’m new I’ll just say that your “demise of the evangelicals” is a pretty wacky take. Tent thumping evangelicals managed to survive and even thrive in the Soviet Union. They’re harder to kill by the government because they don’t have a centralized church system to co-opt and intimidate, unlike the mainstream religions which tend to swing with the political currents. Evidently this is something you manage to do quite well. And you’re being rewarded for it with national media attention. My sincere congrats on your worldly success.

    The second thing I would point out is that this country was founded by persecuted sects escaping to find someplace else they could worship in peace. The basic principles of conservatism try to keep that “freedom thing” intact so that freedom of worship can remain in the face of an oppressive centralization. It’s a shame that seems to get your panties in a bunch.

  29. Mike Waugh says:

    IIT IS FAITH IN GOD. True and accurate knowledge. If you can not do that, you will ultimately fail. Read the book and quit having someone tell you about it.
    No matter anyway, we all get a second chance. Oh, you probably missed that
    part.

  30. Evangelical Collapse… Ok, but let’s keep planting churches since that seems to be the way the kingdom is growing right now. I used to get upset about churches growing old and dying off wanting to see them revived somehow but I don’t anymore. Let’s keep planting and then buying the buildings for sale from those that close. It’s a buyer’s marker for real estate now anyway.

    Seriously though (just a little bit), our church plant meets in a skate boarding park and I don’t care if we ever own property, get notice or are labeled properly by the local press or a venue like this or whatever. I really want us to have our day building the kingdom, go away, and then let some other group of believers have theirs. I don’t even care if the group that follows us agrees with us in non-essential theology (God forbid!). If we can build the kingdom without being bogged down by a denomination while avoiding the building of a brick memorial to ourselves that some old people will plant flowers around 40 years from now then we will have succeeded. The rest of the church landscape in this country and elsewhere is really Christ’s business, not yours or mine. Discussing it is fun but building the kingdom in real terms is just more important.

  31. K,

    Michael Spencer pointed out in an earlier post that “I did not say that evangelicalism is dying. I said it is going to decline quickly to a smaller, more chastened, more diverse, less influential form.”

  32. K:

    Demise of the Evangelicals must have been a different post on another blog.

    ms

  33. Paul Whiting says:

    Excellent piece… I would only add that the Holy Spirit is moving in Latin America as well as in Africa and Asia. My understanding is that there now are more Christians in the South (I don’t mean Dixie!) than in the North. Reverse mission, South to North, will help revitalize here in the North.

  34. *Reverse mission, South to North, will help revitalize here in the North.*

    Mmm, yes. Because we’re going to take advice on how to live our lives and look at the universe from people from the poorest, most corrupt, most war-torn, most uneducated, most nakedly superstitious nations on earth.

  35. Paul Whiting: There have been Christians in Latin America for centuries. Hello. Catholics.

  36. rampancy says:

    @Julie: Catholics are Christians? That’s news to me…read Michael’s post on how Baptists feel that us Catholics are “unreached”.

    http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/when-the-reached-are-unreached

    Thankfully, since moving to Baptist-packed New Brunswick, I’ve not encountered that level of anti-Catholicism, save for the occasional Baptist student at my VCF group who bashes Catholics as not being serious Christians while I grit my teeth and restraining myself from whacking him over the head with a copy of St. Augustine’s “City of God”.

    Er. Not that I’d ever actually do such a thing. Er, yeah…

  37. J,

    You’re right. Most Americans wouldn’t be interested in advice from these people. In recent years, they’ve been too interested taking advice from the likes Oprah, Hollywood stars, and Wall Street charlatans. We’re too rational and wise to be bothered with advice from all those ignorant people in other nations.

    bwl

  38. Mike Waugh says:

    I find this interesting. You are discussion how we practice your religion but not the source. Most people will eventually seek out faith. Their success at the faith depends upon, themself, the influences of the world around them and the source that they use for their faith. They may move around from one church to another. They may leave it all behind. Secularism rules in Europe. It is easy to follow, almost no rules. There is going to be an assault on Christianity, because we do not like being told what to do. Government does not like religion because they want to be the conscience of their society.

  39. Mike Waugh says:

    John 3:16 is ubiquitous? Too many bumper stickers and not enough real reading of the Bible.

  40. Catholic bashing? What in the World am I supposed to do? There was a priest on EWTN the other day claiming his “conversion” experience consisted of several apparitions of the Blessed Mother. I was waiting for him to say he saw her face in his omelet. This brings shame to all believers. Worse, there is no end to the Benny Hinn mysticism Roman Catholics embrace. You just cannot take it away from them. I can’t deal with it anymore. These aren’t exceptions, they are commonplace. I meet with a lot of Roman Catholics on a regular basis and I love them all, but the wacko stuff I hear has convinced me that, at least among American Roman Catholics, they believe that whatever they believe IS Catholicism. “I am Catholic and this is what I think, so that is Catholicism”. I’m not making this up. I wanted desperately to get through this but it only grew worse. The entire denomination is corrupt and false. I really cannot see anything genuine anymore. I could share other accounts of things priests have disclosed to me, and wacko stuff that is being preached from the pulpits. It’s really sick. But Oh NO, better not bash Catholics. Let’s all just have a group hug. I can tell you with absolute certainty that Roman Catholics will dance on your grave Christian. You haven’t seen anything yet.

  41. “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.
    At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,
    and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.

  42. Evangelicalism, like that ’64 Falcon rusting in your neighbor’s yard, is in dire need of an overhaul. Let me ask you: what makes an evangelical? In other words, define for me what the term “evangelical” means. I think for most honest people defining the word evangelical is like defining pornography: I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.

    Today the word evangelical is used more often than Britney Spears after three vodka martinis. As a result it is a word that has lost its meaning.

    I am, as St. Paul wrote, not ashamed of the gospel. I was raised in an evangelical church, attended an evangelical college, have two theology degrees, spent 10 years working for an evangelical non-profit, and I still have no idea what the word means.

    There is no such thing as an evangelical orthodoxy because there is no universally accepted authority. The closest thing evangelicals get to an authority is the evangelical celeb who has the most TV viewers or sells the most books. And then, when his sales decline after he’s caught with a gay hooker and a baggie of booger sugar, they just shift their focus to the next snake oil salesman who quivers with charismatic fervor and makes the people feel better about themselves.

    Let’s face it, evangelicalism has been hijacked by a few savvy media personalities with sycophantic followers and, as a result, has lost its moorings. Evangelicalism today is the new fundamentalism. It’s no longer about genuine love for one’s neighbor. It’s become all about who is–or, more importantly,who is not–allowed to eat at the lunch counter.

    Too many evangelical leaders today are like squatters who just wouldn’t leave your property. At first they seemed nice enough, so you let them stay in the barn but now the roles have reversed and they’ve taken over the main house. Today, evangelical leaders direct so much vitriol at anything different from themselves that observers naturally assume evangelicals are either separationist gay haters or light-skinned cousins of the Muslim terrorists who took down the Twin Towers.

    If I were an evangelical, or wanted to be one, that would anger me to no end. Most of the evangelicals I know are good, honest, salt-of-the-earth people. In my opinion, it’s time for them to take the farm back from the squatters and re-establish the property lines.

  43. Colorado Cowboy, I think the term Evangelical can be best understood by looking at something – to Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul and everyone else writing enough in the NT for us to get a decent glimpse of their faith and theology. These people were true fundamentalists and… Evangelical it seems to me.

  44. I picked up a book at Fuller, The American Church in Crisis, which comes to the same conclusions you do. This book also advocates planting more churches. I believe the problem is, in fact, churches. We need to abandon the notion of local churches as a way of organizing Jesus’s disciples. Networks are more appropriate as they are not based on locale but rather on commonality. Much as our memories are distributed widely across our brains, yet entrain when we need to recall them, so networks of disciples can come together to respond to God’s direction regardless of geography.

    With denominationally structured local churches (and this includes ‘associations’ like Willow Creek) come doctrine, political positions hierarchy and large coffers. Suddenly, Jesus’s disciples are defending tradtions instead of supporting one another and engaging the world in response to God.

    Enjoyed your predictions, marana’tha

    Nathan

  45. The problem Evangelical Christianity faces today is that it preaches against intellectual enlightenment. I was once involved with the Evangelical movement until I began to . . . well think about the world and other religions. I became so distraught about my faith that I nearly rejected my entire belief in God entirely, that was until I decided to read Ratzinger’s book “Truth and Tolerance”. For the first time in my life, I felt truly “saved”, realizing that I had come to a better understanding of God and His existence. I am now proud to say I am a baptized Roman Catholic. Perhaps the Michale Spencer’s argument was right, because I ended up reading as many documents possible that were published by the Catholic church (mainly those from Vatican II) in order to come to terms with why I was calling myself a Christian and what being a Christian truly means.

    The Catholic Church is more open to philosophical and metaphysical thought, and I personally feel that this is a more reasonable approach when addressing our belief in God. I can recall many sermons I heard in my old evangelical church that were blatantly demonizing any attempt to “intellectualize” or “philosophize” about God. Why not? How can we as Christians know that our way is the be all end all way of living? How do we truly know if our religion is the correct religion? Why not dialogue with other people who are different from us to understand their perspectives on God, Jesus, and eternity? To me, it just makes more logical sense to do so.

    Any time you forbid people to to pursue a higher level of thought, you are risking two things:

    1. Complete brainwashing
    2. Complete deviation from any hope in the existence of God

    Both of these are equally dangerous and destructive. We have heard of the various scandals in the evangelical community (most notably Ted Haggard) and we are also very aware of the horrifying brainwashing that goes on in these charismatic churches (note the documentaries “Jesus Camp”, “Friends of God”, and “A Question of Miracles”). It is time for us, is we are going to call ourselves Christians, to truly take a hard, systematic look at what is is we believe, why we believe it, and how we can live in community with those that do not practice Christianity.

    After all, Christ said so himself that the greatest commandment was to love thy neighbor as thyself. To do so, we must pursue a much more universal level of thought, and not one that is extremely rigid, overly emotional, and at times, downright hateful.

    I pray that other evangelicals will have the same realization I did. It is a truly hard lesson to learn, but it is possible. Faith and Reason must exist together. The days of Sola Scriptura are over.

    Love in Christ,
    Janelle

  46. Janelle,

    Churches that do not encourage intellectual enlightenment are simply lazy churches. Scripture says we are to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Apologetics teachers such as Ravi Zacharias and the folks at his ministry are a good source for looking at faith through a critical eye.

    I do not mean to be rude in the least, but how can you use Ted Haggard’s exploits to discredit evangelism when the same measuring stick can be equally applied to Roman Catholicism and their unfortunate bout of pedophilic priests? If you want to be intellectually honest, you’ll understand that the actions of a few don’t negate a greater truth.

    Love thy neighbor as thyself is the second greatest commandment. The first is ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ And if people are being hateful, they aren’t being consistent with the teachings of Christ.

    Peace,

    Christopher

  47. I am wondering if this report has taken into account the overall forcasted population decline. In 25 years America may have to beg for Mexican immigrants to stay afloat.

  48. Nathan, you seem to be defending your spuedo-denomination while claiming immunity. I personally do not have faith in such network apostles as Che Ahn. Nevertheless, I hope this works out for you and I hope it brings people into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

  49. *…the overall forcasted population decline. In 25 years America may have to beg for Mexican immigrants to stay afloat.*

    Wow. There are so many unexamined assumptions in there that I’m not even going to touch it.

    Forget it, IM: This place is a Whack-a-Mole of ignorance and paranoia. I’ll be over at Pharyngula if you need me.

  50. Ben, in responding to Colorado Cowboy you’ve illustrated the problem evangelicals have with defining their system. For evangelicals it always comes down to “look to the NT if you want to know what evangelicalism is.” However, Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopals, Reformed, et al, all say that.

    Evangelicals today eschew definition because it offends their solipsistic culture.

    Evangelicalism will implode because it doesn’t know what it is. It’s a chimera even now insofar as it is amorphous by (lack of) definition. It’s a popular movement with cultic tendencies that shapeshifts according to perceived leadership.

    Academic definitions equate evangelicalism with Anabaptism. Pastors let Barna define evangelicalism. And lay people defer to Max Lucado, James Dobson, and Ted Haggard.

    Because of this indeterminacy, non-evangelicals attempt to get a grasp on it by citing examples such as Ted Haggard and Willow Creek, only to be chided by evangelicals that their belief system is so much more than one man or one organization.

    I understand Colorado Cowboy’s frustration. Evangelicals are largely defined by what they are not, instead of by what they are. At the end of the day, evangelicals are the modern day Zwinglians. Which means they are not Lutherans, Catholics, Anglicans, or Reformed. They are also not Mormon, Jehovah Witness, or Seventh Day Adventist. They are the void that remains, which includes independents, Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, Free Churches, religious Republicans, and so forth.