- The numbers of unchurched have risen from 24% to 37% of the US population.
- Only 7% of those surveyed fit the measure of the National Association of Evangelicals' statement of faith.
- Denominational loyal is declining both inside as well as outside the churches.
- Every religious tradition is being adapted to fit the individual desires, beliefs, and morality of the individual - no traditions are exempt from this individualism of faith and confession.
What has happened is that people have ended up believing in God, believing the Bible is basically a good book, and then believing whatever they want. In the end, they tend to mix up religious traditions and even different religions -- sort of like tinkering with a recipe for chili and fixing the ingredients and the spices to fit your own personal taste.
The end result of this individualism is outright hostility and suspicion of organized religious groups. It is not so much a rejection of religion but the remaking of religion and the direction is generally more toward morality than it is making sense of or explaining the world. In the end, people tend to believe that if you do the right thing, it will work.
Much as I hate to admit it, Barna has probably placed the blame squarely where it belongs. Pastors have come under the allure of numbers and so the distinctives of the faith and catechesis have given way to popularizing religion -- the result of which is largely a moderate morality with a sound track. If Joel Osteen can pack um in with upbeat but non-specific god talk that keeps the person at the center of everything, why can't Lutherans and Methodists and all the rest copy his methodology and even his message? And that is exactly what we are doing. But are we really bring people to Jesus? Changed lives and packed pews are hardly the barometers of success Jesus spoke about or the early church envisioned. In fact they just might be impediments to the true measure of the faith and the Church -- faithfulness (not to be confused with sincerity).
We need more than an explanation of the world. We need more than a coach to urge us on to greatness or contentment or prosperity or happiness. We need more than an hour of happy time each week to distract us from our real troubles. We need the God who has overcome death and grave, who has broken the back of sin with forgiveness, and who has restored us to our Creator and to the life that was given to us in the beginning, lost to us in sin, and manifest in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We need the Church, the real Church, that will speak this Gospel and none other, that will address us with the call to repentance, that will not tempt us with an explanation but deliver to us the God who was and is and is to come, that will not trade in the Incarnation for entertainment...
And one more thing... we need to confess and abandon the twin deities of numbers and popularity which have become more than our great temptation but our undoing. We have to one degree or another lived within the idolatry of earthly success instead of the call of faithfulness. Where we are faithful, God will do His work and, if the churches survive, it will be because God has blessed the Gospel they have proclaimed and not because of the models, paradigms or programs they have adopted. The Church will prevail as God has promised even though it may not bear the same institutional names or earthly headquarters that define our churches today. Barna is convinced we need to do something to prevent disaster. Only God can do that. What we need to do is in stark contrast with the typical recipes for renewal offered to us by those who watch the Church and the faith. We need to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified and administer the Sacraments faithfully. That may not seem like much in the face of so many solutions to our problems offered by the experts but it is the one and only thing that will work... and endure... to the day when Christ comes to call us all to account...