For the first time in the country’s history Protestant affiliation is less than half of the population. That may be alarming, but that is not that the statistic that concerns me. Reason being is that the research did not account for non-denominational Christians as being Protestant.
What does concern me though is another statistic in the same study. The number of people that claim no affiliation to any kind of church has grown from around 15% to just under 20% over the past five years. There is only one of two conclusions. Either people are leaving the church, or they have already left the church and have decided to make it official by claiming no religious affiliation. More than likely it is a mix of both.
As they left though, they have done the church an incredible favor. They have identified why they have left, which opens up an amazing opportunity. Not only does it give us some feedback on why every mainline denomination is current on decline, but also it brings us to a point where we can come back to where the church should have been all along.
In the study itself it says that “Overwhelmingly, they [religiously unaffiliated] think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics. (emphasis added).
In essence those who are becoming unaffiliated are saying that, hey we like this idea of God (68% of the unaffiliated saying they believe in God), but we don’t think that you are doing a good job following what He has told you to do.
Fellow laborers in Christ, this is a gift. We have been given quantifiable data showing why those who are leaving our churches are doing so. They are in essence paraphrasing a quote from Ghandi where he says that he likes our Jesus, it’s the Christians that he has a problem with.
Fellow laborers, now is the time to actually take a hard look at our own ministerial strategies and do some of that repenting that we like to preach about. We have turned the church and the word “evangelical” to something that is closer to a voting bloc rather than something where life change can and should happen.
I know this because currently, according to polling, the church has a lower approval rating then either presidential candidate. Our response to this criticism is to double down on it and declare “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” where pastors challenge the IRS by explicitly endorsing a candidate during a Sunday morning. My problem with this event is not legal but rather practical. Our congregations already hear enough about politics from politicians. If they wanted to hear about that, then they would find their closest rally. Our congregations want to hear about Jesus and how He can change their life. When we endorse candidates from the pulpit, we turn church into a Super PAC, and the message of Christ is muddied as it filters through the fallibility that is a party’s platform.
We have been given a gift. I view this research as an opportunity to say, our congregations will hear about Jesus and the life changing power of the gospel. That stuff that Jesus talked about, He actually meant. The result of that was a movement of the gospel that defied all logic and say Christianity go from 11 guys who were scared out of their mind as they were faithful to share the good news about Jesus to a global movement where God’s love was spread in a remarkable amount of time. It’s not unreasonable that God can spread revival again, but first we have to repent from our mistakes and begin being the church once again.