The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion: A Response to Recent Research by Landon Schnabel (Indiana University Bloomington) and Sean Bock (Harvard University).
You can read and see for yourself. The great decline in American Christianity is due mostly to the decline in mainline Protestantism, also known as liberal Protestantism, which has been bleeding off members for decades. While this is due in part to the aggressive social positions which have also divided some of those churches, it is also due to the fact that the factual basis in history has been eroded in these churches so that there is literally less to believe. What is left is a deistic religion which promotes the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood ofThe rise of the unaffiliated is due solely to a dramatic decline of the moderately religious. Because strong affiliation remains stable while weaker affiliations have declined, those with a strong affiliation actually make up a larger share of the affiliated population over time. In 1989, 39 percent of those with an affiliation were strongly affiliated (36 percent of Americans had a strong affiliation, which is 39 percent of the 92 percent of Americans who were religiously affiliated in 1989). But in 2017, 47 percent of those with an affiliation were strongly affiliated.Therefore, as a larger proportion of the population disaffiliates, a larger share of the remaining religionists identify as more intensely religious. (p. 689) (emphasis mine)
The ELCA is a poster child for this decline. Once having some 5.2 million members, that body has declined some 2 million people, spun off two more denominations (the NALC and the LCMC), and left more than a million on the roadside in the process. But, that is another blog post. Let it suffice for me to say that becoming less Christian (or less distinctly Lutheran, for that matter) is hardly a path to a reinvigorated Christianity or church body. In fact, it is just the opposite. The less of the faith a church offers, the less there is to attract people from their generic spiritual but not religious identity or from no religion at all. It is this that has fueled most of the nones. They find it less than compelling to join a church that stands for little but embracing the train of social and moral change. Even the young of our age who have fully embraced those sexual ethics have found this not enough to interest them, attract them, or keep them in these graying mainline churches. And where other denominations have portions of their members or segments of their parishes who sympathize with liberal, progressive Christianity, they find that those parts of their church are also on the decline.
So let me end with my familiar point. Being less Lutheran or less than Lutheran does not attract anyone nor will it offer anything but a more rapid decline to those who are Lutheran. We do ourselves no service to fawn over the Evangelicals who pass around people to the newest, next best, emerging curve of technology and self-help religion any more than we advance the cause of Christ by abandoning the historical basis of the faith and turn Christianity into another version of the spiritual but not religious religion of the internet. The Gospel works folks. The Word does what it says. The Sacraments deliver what they sign and promise. Give up the gimmicks and stop trying to turn the church into an agent of social change and simply preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified, administer the sacraments He has instituted, worship with the reverence and awe due the mystery of the God who comes to us in flesh, sing the hymns that testify to this faith, and teach the whole counsel of God's Word. It is not flashy or on the cutting edge of anything but it is the means by which the purpose of God is fulfilled among us and the Kingdom of God comes in our midst.
Moderation may be laudable in a variety of settings but the moderately religious are worthy of little praise. Remember the lukewarm and how God has promised to deal with them? Perhaps we don't need to be fanatical but we do need to be faithful and being faithful in our modern age may risk being labeled fanatical.