Many atheists make strong statements about how the church is in terminal decline, and it’s only a matter of time til it is reduced to an insignificant minority in most western countries, and eventually worldwide. Some christians may be influenced by these claims.
I did some research for my other blog to check out the facts and the conclusions of sociologists of religion, so I thought I’d share them here.
A summary of what I discovered
- The view that the modern world would inevitably become secular was held by sociologists of religion 40-50 years ago, but is generally not supported today, because it hasn’t turned out that way.
- It seems likely that christianity will continue to lose ground in some of the more affluent western countries, including the US, but continue to gain converts in Asia, Africa and South America. Islam will continue to grow (including in Europe) because it has a higher birthrate.
- Non-belief will probably continue to grow slowly in the west, but the bulk of those leaving the major religions will probably not end up atheist, but have some less defined religious belief or simply have no belief at all. In some countries, secular belief systems are in decline – for example, christianity is making great progress in China, with many former atheists and non-believers converting.
- All of this is based simply on statistics and sociology. Most christians believe that God will continue to build his church, and the data offers us at least as much comfort as it does to unbelievers. But christianity clearly faces challenges.
What should we learn from this?
Australia has been a predominantly secular country for as long as I can remember, and the drop in church attendance and belief to about 10% reflects (I think) the level of personal belief that was there all along. I think the same may be true of Great Britain. The question is, what are churches doing to make new disciples?
There is a much higher percentage of christians in the US, but the current decline in belief and attendance is faster. What are churches doing to make new disciples, and to retain the young followers they have?
What should churches be doing?
End arrogance, complacency and self interest
Fairly or unfairly, many see the church as self-focused and selfish (praising God and building big properties while people suffer and die), arrogantly sure of its commitments and unwilling to allow alternative viewpoints in society (e.g. on gay marriage). Most churches seem to be stuck in the way they’ve always done things.
Whatever doctrines and ethics we hold to be true, we must learn to express them humbly, and be open to the Holy Spirit leading us in new directions.
Humility and service
We need to learn how to express what we believe to be true in a humble manner. We need leaders who are servant leaders, not leaders who enjoy the limelight and adulation. And like Jesus, we need to start serving the community around us if we are not already. Actions speak louder than words. Leaders must start equipping saints for the work of ministry.
I will be looking at this in more detail in subsequent posts.
Read all about it!
Read the full details of what the data and the experts say, in Is religion dying out? Is this inevitable in the modern world?