A recent Christianity Today article told an interesting story. An Asian refugee immigrated to America thinking it was a “Christian country.” He said he believed that 100 percent of the American population believed in the message of Christ.
He was surprised and confused when he went to a church and saw pews half-filled, with mostly older or aging adults. The young immigrant thought the younger people must be down the hall meeting in a different place. He later realized that the church didn’t have many people his age.
It might surprise you to learn that now, in America, less than one-in-four people attend church regularly. The number “who never attend has increased by eight percentage points—just since 2018.” It’s time for Christians to humble themselves and admit what we already know.
Historical, biblical Christianity isn’t doing very well in our country.
It’s also time for Christians to understand that the declining numbers reflect the future of the American church in the generation ahead. Kids who aren’t raised in church rarely end up in church as adults.
Are we Europe?
I have traveled to Europe with my husband and we always enjoyed going into the magnificent churches in those countries. We almost always commented on the fact that, on Sunday mornings, there were only a few older people seated in the pews.
Is that what people who visit America will say about our churches in twenty or thirty years?
The same Christianity Today article referenced a recent Pew Research Center report stating: “In less than fifty years, Christianity will likely no longer be the majority religion in the United States.”
How will that change the character of this country?
Is there good news about church attendance?
There could be good news, but it needs to be the good news, the gospel.
The reason Christianity became a worldwide movement is that the Christian gospel is the truth.
As the Apostle Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” (Romans 1:16–17). When people believe the gospel message, they receive salvation in Christ, are filled with the Holy Spirit, and their lives are changed. The word gospel means “good news,” and that is still our best news today. Paul finished Romans 1:17 with an important lesson: “The righteous shall live by faith.”
The traditional, biblical gospel message has the same power now that it had when Paul was preaching it. Paul saw changed lives that, in turn, changed the culture. The pagan Greco-Roman empire gave way to the values of Christianity. Paul wrote the book of Romans, which is still considered the central theology of the Christian faith and presented the gospel to anyone who read it.
I taught the book of Romans last year and called it “Theology 101.” Paul didn’t dance around sensitive topics. Instead, he dove into that thinking with the ancient truth of God. Paul didn’t put people’s feelings first. He chose to put people’s eternal lives ahead of their earthly situations and taught the gospel message, which transformed their thinking. Preaching the gospel was costly to Paul and it will be costly to our lives as well. But we need to remember the truth matters because the biblical gospel message changes people’s hearts and lives.
The righteous live by faith so they are able to preach and teach the faith. When they do, others come to faith in Jesus as their Lord.
Is there good news?
Yes, but only if Christians are actively sharing the good news, the gospel, with others. Historically, that is the hope for the American church and the hope for our country.
Biblical church history is a fascinating study. The ongoing story of God’s people reads like a roller-coaster ride. There has always been and there will always be people who believe in the Creator God revealed in the Bible. Those who believe the Bible know that salvation is God’s gift of grace through Jesus Christ.
Christian history records eras of great growth and eras of stagnant faith. The church has always suffered when the preaching and teaching left the central truth of the gospel message and began to offer a personal or self-serving version of the truth.
If we weaken the biblical gospel message, we weaken the church.
What can we do?
Sometimes statistics like those in the Christianity Today article sound overwhelming.
We don’t like to admit our Christian faith isn’t thriving right now. We don’t like the fact that so many of our young adults choose to do other things on Sunday instead of attending church. We don’t like the fact that our kids and grandkids are suffering much higher levels of stress and anxiety. We don’t like to watch our evening news and see the rise in crimes, homelessness, lawlessness, and general dissatisfaction with the direction of things.
We do talk about our declining churches with our peers. We do try to encourage our family members to know the Lord, but we don’t want to disenfranchise them or damage family unity. We do admit we are Christians, but we don’t usually tell others they need to be Christians too. We invite them to come to church with us for Easter but hope the preacher will invite them to the Lord.
The righteous live by faith. We know we have eternal life because of our faith in Jesus Christ. But consider this thought: Can we be fully righteous, right with God, if we don’t heed the command to go and make disciples of all nations?
Our Easter gift to God
If we could offer just one gift to Jesus this Easter, it should be our obedience to his command. Jesus is deserving of our praise and our humble gratitude. But, if Jesus could ask one thing of the righteous, it would be to help others become righteous as well, living by faith.
A friend and I were discussing the tension Christians feel today about sharing our faith without offending people in the process. I offered her this picture.
Imagine a person standing in a warm, sandy spot enjoying the feel of it on her feet. She is happy and peaceful and would rather not be disturbed.
You walk by and notice a warning sign for quicksand and realize she is slowly sinking lower.
Would you leave her there to enjoy herself, or would you do everything possible to get her to reach out to you, grab on, and then walk away from that spot?
That is how we should approach sharing the gospel.
When we share the biblical gospel message, we are offering a person the most important gift of their lives.
We are offering them salvation, eternal life in Christ.
How can we hesitate? How can we leave them slowly sinking in their quicksand?
It’s time to admit what we already know. The church in America is aging and shrinking.
We know there is hope but only if we are willing to be messengers of the hope. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.” Righteous people live by faith and live for the faith.
May our obedience to share the gospel be our faith offering to Christ this Easter.