Why the ignorance of it all!!!! We are in decline because of the music we sing or the music we no longer sing. We are in decline because of the way our pastors preach or don't preach. We are in decline because we do or do not use the hymnal. We are in decline because we are not relevant or because we are too relevant. We are in decline because our worship is boring or because it is too creative. About the only thing it seems folks can agree upon is that we are in decline probably because of the failure of our leaders.
But the evidence is there. Our rate of decline matches pretty well the decline in the birthrate wherever it is that we go in the Synod. We are not in decline only because we are not having babies, we are in the decline because our families are weak and vulnerable, because we are not confident of what we believe and how we live out that faith, and because we are not raising up generations of children (just like nearly every denomination in the USA).
George Hawley’s Demography, Culture, and the Decline Of America’s Christian Denominations notes:
“In those denominations where large families remain common, the future looks bright. Among other denominations where later marriages and small families are the norm, and have been the norm for a generation or more, it is unclear whether they will have a future at all.”Our lack of babies is not a joke. It is descriptive of the problems marriage is in within the fabric of our common life within this culture. Fewer folks are getting married and fewer folks are having children (married or not). While the answer is not simply to get rid of birth control, the reality is that not having children is not a result of the environment or biology but of choice, pure and simple choice. We do not have because we do not want children. No this is not the only problem but it is symptomatic of the other problems that have left us somewhat in a crisis mode when it comes to children and family.
According to Hawley, there are three major factors that determine and make possible an individual denomination's viability: the personal commitment of its individual members, racial/ethnic diversity, and natural growth (uhhhh, we call this having babies).
Babies or the lack of them is a sign of a larger problem not always as easily identified as a home without kids or a marriage, for that matter. Christianity has from the get go been a family friendly group. The loss of the family is not simply a changing cultural or social mores, It is the weakness of the family and its consequences for a church defined early on as family friendly. When marriage is on the decline, so are the churches. When children are no longer central to marriage, we have a problem. When the numbers of children chosen corresponds to the lowest common denominator, the church will suffer. Though everyone knows this, we seldom speak of it out loud. It is an inconvenient truth in a world of choice, where fetuses are disposable, where only perfect children are tolerated, and where marriage is the place where my own happiness comes first. It is an inconvenient truth in a world where we are no longer sure what it means to be man or woman and where we are not sure children, if they are good, are not a goodness best served up in smaller numbers. Yes, it is about children but it is first about the desire to marry, the culture in which cohabitation is becoming the norm, where children are disposable, where reproductive technology promises fewer but better children, and where churches find themselves mirroring the vacuous platitudes of political correctness more than proclaiming the Word of the Lord endures forever.
According to the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS), the number of Americans who identify themselves as Christian has dropped below 75 percent (from about 90 percent 40 or 50 years ago) and where the fastest growing denomination are the nones (20% and growing) who either claim no religion or a hodgepodge religion of their own making with a laisse faire God. One of ever four Americans never go to church (up from 10 % in 1972) and less than a majority, 43% attend at least once a month (down a fifth). Among those who do attend regularly, one out of every four is over 65 and less than an eighth are people under 30. Christians are losing all quarters but especially the young and the college educated in all racial groups. It is not only about babies but it surely is about them!