Polls, news reports, and personal opinions have abounded in the past few years: Christianity is on the decline in the U.S. they all claim. Some emphasize rapidly shriveling numbers of denominational members and those self-identifying as Christian, concluding that the church in America is doomed to utterly fade away. Others choose to focus on select groups or denominations within Christianity, grasping a glimmer of hope from groups that are still growing, or not declining as rapidly.
Problems do plague Christianity from within; our culture is increasingly post-Christian, and it’s difficult to argue with statistics. However, all may not be as dire as it seems. In fact, speaking of statistics, there are some interesting calculations that take the analysis a few steps further. Further back, that is.
If you move the starting point for examining adherence to Christianity to an earlier point, a whole new scene is revealed, according to figures posted by the Religion News Service at the beginning of this year. For example, starting in 1952 and charting religiosity until 2013, there is a decline, roughly from 80% to 70%. Starting in 1945, however, there is a rise before the fall. Basically, in 1945 the percentage of religiosity in the U.S. was only around 65%.
Changing up the criteria a little allows for a more accurate and more far-sighted view of data. Gallup polls, which chart attendance at religious institutions, can fill in information back to 1939. To note a few highlights, 41% of people said they attended religious services in 1939, 46% said they attended in 1954, 40% said they attended in 1974. A much more rapid series of ups and downs occurs after 1979, but ends up at 39% within the last couple of years. Clearly, this results in an overall decline of only 2% since 1939.
Another chart on that website shows an even greater expanse of time, and portrays church adherence as being in one long upward climb since 1776. It is a little hard to ascertain, though, how data could have been accurately tracked so far back into history.
Of course, these facts on general religiosity and religious attendance do not perfectly answer questions about specifically Christian adherence. Still, adherents to other religions have not grown as quickly as those who are non-religious altogether. It seems safe to assume that a large number of those who claimed to be religious, especially in the earlier years of the poll, were associating themselves with Christianity to some degree.
So, the question remains, is Christianity in decline? And, even more importantly, whether it is in decline or not, what does it mean for Christians? Aside from sheer numbers, there are far more important aspects to determining the health of Christianity. From many angles, it is looking pretty sickly right now.
In the end, only the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, can offer any aid. The cure that is needed is to know Him personally. What could be simpler? Oh, and there’s also the need to love Him, surrender to Him, and obey Him. What could be more difficult?