Are there really fewer Christians in America than before or are people just identifying themselves differently? This is an interesting question worthy of our reflection as we begin to prepare our church for CityFest East Texas coming to downtown Tyler in October of this year.
Based upon information I have been reading about General Social Surveys conducted in America over the past 44 years, the number of committed Christians in our country has only decreased slightly from 23.2 percent in 1972 to 20.6 percent in 2016. This information gathered by the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago for the purpose of monitoring societal change in America seems surprising when you hear of reports that cite the growing religious preference on surveys in America is “none of the above” rather than “Christian.” Each year, according to the research cited, an additional 1 percent of Americans no longer self-identify as Christians.
What is happening in American culture? Ed Stetzer, author and dean of the School of Mission at Weaton College, believes that nominal Christians (those who attend church on Christmas and Easter or who self-identify as Christian because they are nothing else or have been born into a Christian heritage) are now becoming more secular. These individuals never sought to orient their lives around the teachings of the Bible; some simply connected to a local congregation without developing a relationship with Christ or engaging in spiritual practices like service, Bible study, prayer or regular Christian fellowship.
With the shrinking of mainline Protestant churches and the growth of secularism and moralistic therapeutic deism, more Americans are embracing spiritual beliefs that are not necessarily Christian. Many believe that God exists, that God wants us to be nice to each other and that the goal in life is to be happy and feel good about oneself.
What is missing is a relationship with Jesus, the One who offers us the “gift of God,” the “living water,” the “spring of water that wells up to eternal life” (See John 4). Jesus extends to us the invitation to seek the God who embraces those who worship “in Spirit and in truth.”
In recent months I have been in conversation with a friend who is seeking to cross the threshold of faith. She now believes that Jesus is God’s Son, but is not yet ready to make the profession of faith that Jesus is her Lord and Savior. Our conversations are leading her to this profession, but in the meantime, we are working through her questions. She is reading the Bible, attending Sunday School and participating in our Alpha Class. What is amazing is that many years ago she had her children baptized in a church. She may well be an example of a person who used to identify as a Christian, but now does not.
I mention my friend because she, like others whom I have encountered in our community, have either drifted away from a life with Christ and the church or never truly understood the gift of God’s salvation.
A new acquaintance I recently made speaks in very vague terms about his faith and beliefs when I ask him about where he attends church. It would seem that God is sending my way people whom He loves dearly and with whom He wishes to have a closer relationship. These are the individuals I am praying for daily and I anticipate inviting and possibly taking to CityFest.
Who is God calling you to help reach?