Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A European future for America? a report from the European Social Survey, a high-quality, nationally representative survey using rigorous sampling methods, face-to-face interviews, and high response rates, the proportion of each country’s young adults who aren’t there in church, or who don’t even identify with a religion or denomination in even a vague way offers a sobering picture.  There are more and more of the baptized who do not attend church services and who just might never have attended.

In the 22 countries covered in the report, in some 18 of them, there are fewer than 10% of all 16-29 year-olds who attend religious services at least weekly. And in 12 of those countries, well over half of those in that age group report having ‘no religion’.   This offers up a bleak prospect for the future for those nations in Europe that were once considered the heart of Christendom.

According to this survey, 70% of UK young adults say that they have no religion – greater than any other segment of a population that as a whole is about 50% Nones. So that leaves 10% identifying as Catholic, 7% as Anglicans, 6% as Muslims, and small percentages identifying with other Christian denominations and other world religions.

You may read about in a story in the Guardian chronicling the stark decline of Christianity among Europeans age 16 to 29.  The report’s findings should not surprise anyone but that does not mean they are not shocking. In the end, they only confirm that Europe is a post-Christian civilization and that the prospects of reversing this decline are bleak indeed.

American Christianity is, without a doubt, in for a tough time in the coming decades.  We may be behind the Europeans but we are not heading in another direction.  Indeed, the proportion of Americans identifying as “nones” is less than Europe (between 20 and 25 percent) but the direction is the same and that number will grow.  The course has been set and much of the damage has already been done and yet it does not have to be.  What we see is not yet set in stone.  It is one of the futures that might be but it is not the only future that could be.

Our role and task is to be vigorous and intentional in the manner with which we pass on the faith to our children and the way we testify to the doctrine and faith that does not change.  Though the world is quick to reject the doctrinal and historical basis of the Christian faith in favor of a mere ethical formula, the faith leaves little for our children now or in the future without a doctrinal and historical base.  This is about truth and not simply about preference or feeling.  It is about the Word of the Lord that endures forever.


OldSouth said...

Thanks, as always, for your insights. May I suggest the addition of one further, increasingly missing element? In my lifetime I have seen quite a few faithful Christians walk away from church, and young people raised there walk away as well. The common denominator was the tragic failure in pastoral care, and in the building of a safe community within congregations. At lunch on Easter Day, I sat across the table from a life-long faithful parishioner, who made a simple profound comment: Our congregation is full of lonely people.

For so many, participation in church life ends up resembling a brush war, a walk on the tightrope strung over a minefield, with the parishioner never knowing which ego waiting to be bruised awaits the next visit, which bit of staff member's turf may be unknowingly trespassed, which confidence will be betrayed next week.

Quiet Bible study, or brunch, or the golf course, seem much safer. Last week I turned back up at my golf club after an eighteen-month hiatus. I was greeted with good cheer, and an arm around the shoulder by the assistant pro. Oh, that someone on my church staff would even notice I were in the pew...

Christopher D. Hall said...

You raise a very good point, Oldsouth. Having a safe community that loves and values her members is vital, and feeling like no one notices you are there in the pew can be discouraging and destructive to faith. Pastors should be sensitive to this, and every pastor I know would be saddened to find out that they have made their own members feel the way you feel.

While you define this as a failure of "pastoral care" your diagnosis is much broader. It is a lack of care, period. It is not only the pastor's job to care for others, to reach out, to notice others, to make others welcome. In fact, if it is only the pastor's job, then the parish has failed. One man cannot create or sustain a community, by definition. It takes a multitude.

If I may, it also sounds like you have expectations of the staff of your parish that are not being met. Have you communicated them to the staff directly? And it sounds as if you have some specific grievances like the bruised egos and confidences betrayed. You owe it to the staff as brothers (and sisters?) in Christ to talk to them directly and seek reconciliation.

Anonymous said...

A congregation is only as healthy as its interpersonal relationships.
Every member needs to be connected to another group within the parish.
It might be the choir, the altar guild, the trustees, Sunday School
teachers, various boards and committees. It might be serving as an usher
or greeter, helping to assemble the monthly newsletter, visiting folks
in the hospital or nursing home. It might be a weekly Bible class,
or monthly fellowship group, just make the effort to get involved.

Carl Vehse said...

"American Christianity is, without a doubt, in for a tough time in the coming decades."

Well, yeah, at least as long as American Christian churches don't excommunicate pastors or members who are unrepentent Demonicrats. (The XXXA doesn't count since it's not an American Christian church.)