Meacham notes decline in American Christianity

wash-cathNewsweek has an interesting article about the status of American Christianity. Jon Meacham indicates that there have been numerous changes in our country during the last decade in particular, demonstrating a lessoning influence of the faith upon our nation. He stops short of calling this a “post-Christian” nation and that the demise of Christianity is a long time off.

It didn’t take Meacham’s writing to convince me of this development, because I’ve been noticing this shift for a while now. As a local pastor, I am always being reminded that the church is not the “center of the community” that it once was, the exception being small, rural areas where change comes at an even slower rate. In the larger cities, the church is having difficulty attracting younger attendees and this is causing some consternation and concern among long time church goers. Many of these faithful don’t understand what has changed in culture to cause this unfortunate turn.

While church attendance is impacted in a negative way, Christian spirituality or interest in Jesus Christ himself is holding pretty well. Religion is out, spirituality is in. This may not be a bad thing, and the challenge will be how to create meaningful relationships rooted in genuine community. Sunday after Sunday churches open their doors to members and visitors alike, not always knowing why they are open for business in the first place. Some people don’t think the church is necessary to encourage their spiritual growth. This is an issue that I am wrestling with these days, and the Newsweek article reinforced my questioning.

Meacham’s thesis that American Christianity is losing its sway in changing or shaping political views can be interpreted as either a disappointment or opportunity to redefine what the faith is all about in the first place. As a self-described “traditional” Baptist, I have seen an attempt among fundamentalist Baptists who have  insisted on conformity to a set of doctrinal parameters. This kind of propositional spirituality hasn’t always had much to do with the love of God or loving one’s neighbor and has been more judgmental than concerned with justice. I am not sad to see this kind of belief system lose its influence, and pray for a renewal of the kind of discipleship set forth by Jesus when he said “if anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

For Christians around the world, this day marks the beginning of Holy Week. There will be a variety of events to celebrate while we remember the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry. I also know there will be many who will attend church this upcoming Sunday who wouldn’t attend any other time. It’s worth considering our purpose as a church once again, and how we might be able to share the gospel with our community. This is an ongoing task, one that I hope will keep us encouraged in the work.


3 thoughts on “Meacham notes decline in American Christianity

  1. I was wondering if the “we” referred to you and me, in particular but don’t think so.

    I would refer to religious in this case as related to participation in the institutional church and spirituality as referring to personal growth and development. Religious as defined by specific activities and works, which makes it more propositional in nature. SPiritual has more of a personal dimension in my mind. I haven’t done a survey but through experience and talking with younger believers have found this to be consistant.

    Of course, you can be religious and/or spiritual and not be Christian. Thus the term “Christian spirituality.”

  2. Institutions always get a bad “rap” since they are made up of sinners (like me). To a younger generation, being “spiritual” is less threatening and allows some flexibility. A “religious” person is usually identified with an institution and all the good and evil it does. A “spiritual” person just floats above it all, taking no responsibility and lacking any real commitment. At least, that is one way to look at it!

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