About three years ago I gave my thoughts on what, if anything, would kill the church of Jesus in America. It seemed like about everyone had an opinion on the topic, so I figured I should too. But here’s a legitimate question: does anyone actually think the church of Jesus will die here in the West?
I’m not asking if anyone agrees that the church of Jesus has some daunting challenges facing it, not the least of which is its inability to get out of its own way. Unforced errors are always Satan’s favorite attribute of believers. I know as well as anyone that we Christians have much we can (and must) improve upon when it comes to our communication, approach, and methodology of reaching out to a lost culture.
But none of that is the question. I’m asking whether or not anyone honestly believes that the church is going to cease to exist as a potent force in the West anytime soon. I don’t. At all. Despite all the dire warnings about how many young people are walking away from the faith; despite all the hand wringing about lost influence; despite all the statistics that show the “nones” are gaining in number. I don’t. At all.
We may go through some refining, we may experience political or economic persecution, we may see a great falling away, but the predictions of the looming ruin of the church in America are overwrought and over-exaggerated.
Christianity Today had the numbers, and Trevin Wax summarized them:
Numerically, there are more evangelicals in America today than at any time in our history.
As a percentage of the population, evangelicals shrunk 0.9 percent between 2007 and 2014, which means that the numerical increase wasn’t enough to keep pace with population growth. But that’s hardly a collapse.
It’s true that the “nones” are on the rise among white people in the West, but globally, Pew Research Forum predicts that “secular” people in 2060 will make up a strikingly smaller percentage of the world’s population than they do today. Eric Kaufmann’s book Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? does not portray the future as belonging to the secular elites, but rather the religious grassroots that adhere to some of the strongest forms of religious faith.
So why do we talk about it? I think Wax hits on it in his analysis when he points out the desire for optimism amongst secularists who want to see an end to the church, and the pessimism amongst Christians who see the issue as one to exploit for the sake of driving numbers and fundraising.
Reading and thinking about this these last few years has convicted me when I consider that the first book I ever wrote leaned heavily upon the collapsing church theme to drive a sense of urgency I thought we needed. And while I still think the church must be urgent in its mission, I’ve matured enough to realize that the urgency must be in our mission of saving souls, not merely transforming a culture.
And when we come to that realization – the proper, Biblical one in my estimation – none of this bickering over the permanence of the church in the West will entice us. We won’t care about being optimists or pessimists. We won’t worry about cultural trends or influential fads.
We will realize instead that we have far more important work to occupy us.