The big “buzz” in the American religious community is the recently released report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. In the secular and Christian media alike the results were being trumpeted as “shocking,” “disturbing” and “enlightening” among other hyperbolic descriptions. The keyboards of the “experts” began to hum, churning out what all this means for the future of religion in America.
There will be much controversy about this report, but there are certain conclusions that are unmistakable.
Mainline Protestant denominations continue their plunge downward through mediocrity to total irrelevance. No surprise there. Evangelical churches continue to grow—especially those of the non-denominational variety. Again, no surprise. Roman Catholicism is declining more quickly than any other “faith tradition” in America. Again, not a huge surprise.
However, what is surprising is that the ranks of the “unaffiliated” shows a rapid increase. One in four adults age 18 to 29 claims no affiliation with any religious institution—a troubling statistic as we consider the next generation of Christian leaders.
Undoubtedly, this study will be discussion fodder for the foreseeable future.
The report is filled with the typical statistics and analysis but possibly the most important conclusion is the one reached by a research fellow at the Pew Forum, Greg Smith: “There is no question that the demographic balance has shifted in the past few decades toward evangelical churches. They are now the mainline of American Protestantism.”
Whether he knows it or not, Smith’s words may be prophetic. What an interesting thought: evangelical churches are now the mainline. Indeed, this may be exactly what is happening and it should make every evangelical shudder!
The worst kept secret in American Christianity is the continuing demise of mainline denominations. Is it possible that evangelicals could now take their place—in eventual decline? Indeed, if the course many evangelical leaders are charting is followed, the evangelical movement will suffer the same fate as the mainline denominations.
Hundreds of theories have been advanced to explain the cause of the death of mainline American Protestantism. The most compelling argument involves their departure from biblical authority.