One Generation Away?
For anyone who loves Jesus and his church, the May 12, 2015 release of the Pew Research Center’s latest report is deeply sobering news. The title succinctly summarizes the research and the reason for concern – America’s Changing Religious Landscape: Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow.1
From this report we learn that:
- The percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014.
- Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%.
Perhaps what is most alarming is that the greatest decline in Christian faith is found among the Millennial generation (ages 18-33). Approximately 35% of the Milliennials have become the “nones,” the religiously unaffiliated. They are atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” In 2007, Dan Kimball wrote an interesting book called They Like Jesus But Not The Church. Now, about eight years later, it appears that many Millennials not only dislike the church, they don’t much like Jesus either.
What shall we do? First, let’s fall on our knees and cry out to God. Let’s own our role in this generational decline in faith. As one mother said, “I am a boomer. My kids are millennials. When my kids were growing up instead of going to church, they all seemed to be playing soccer or other sports, or just sleeping in…”2 Collectively and individually, we have not fulfilled the biblical counsel to teach the knowledge and love of God to our children that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments (Psalm 78:5-7).
Second, let us stand firm and not lose hope (2 Thessalonians 5:15-17). Let us stand firm in teaching both the love of Jesus and the high calling he makes on our lives. The Jesus way is not always an easy way – but it is life-giving. Let us hold strongly to the “good hope” God has given us in our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is head of the church. In the church there are seasons of decline, seasons of apathy, seasons of rebellious turning away. With good reason we worry that “the church is one generation away from extinction.” But I don’t believe that. Jesus will prevail.
Third, let us pray for, personally encourage, and come alongside our staff who minister to and mentor children, teens, and young adults: Heidi Connors, Heidi “Wally” Walstrom, Mari Bonnett (family ministries); Betsy Walz and Missy Vick (before school/after school ministries); David and Kim Laufenburger, Kyle and Steph Wahlund (camping ministries); KC DiNardo, Cesar Castillejos, BJ Skoog (student ministries and The Well); Gloria Wiese (discipleship ministries, adjunct professor at Bethel University). As the Pew report shows, there is no more crucial work than passing on our faith to rising generations. That work deserves our best energy and deepest commitment.
David Paul Lenz, Lead Pastor/Head of Staff
1http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/, accessed 05-15-15.