Religious Identification Survey

I guess it is one of those good news, bad news things. According to the recently released “Religious Identification Survey” from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, 75% percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian. Well, 3 out of 4 isn’t bad, right? The bad news is that back in 1990, 86% of Americans identified themselves as Christian. Christianity is loosing ground to other religions, but the biggest reason for this shift is the rejection of religion altogether.  The fasting growing religious identification in the country is nothing at all.

The number of people who consider themselves "born-again" or "evangelical" has increased since 1990.  About 33% of Americans identify themselves as evangelical, and the number of people who are members of “megachurches” has grown from 200,000 in 1990 to 8 million in this most recent survey. What does it suggest that overall church membership is decreasing while membership in megachurches is increasing? It suggests that people are leaving smaller traditional churches for larger ones. That doesn't sound much like church growth.

Factoid: I read recently that membership numbers in the Sothern Baptist Church are greatly skewed by the number of Baptists who are officially members of two churches. They are on the membership books at the church at home where they grew up in while at the same time being members of the larger church where they now attend. It is easy for the numbers reported in surveys to become skewed. I’m not sure we need to panic at this point, but these surveys can be a bit disturbing.

In an interview with CNN, William Donohue of the Catholic League suggested that the growing rejection of organized religion reflected by this survey itself reflects the movement towards radical individualism seen in the last 25 years or so. People have been leaving churches because they don’t want religious authority telling them “thou shalt not” in their moral choices. Donahue says, "Notice they are not atheists-- they are saying I don't want to be told what to do with my life."

Paul said that a time was coming when “people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3, NLT). But that was already happening as Paul wrote; he ends his description of “the last days” in 2 Timothy 3 by telling Timothy “Have nothing to do with them” (2 Tim 3:5b). The decay of the influence of the church (if that is what’s happening) in America does not mean the end of the world. What it does mean is that we as Christians must redouble our efforts at living our faith in a way that impacts others.