A few weeks ago we gathered in Nashville with friends from many different denominations. We had the privilege of hearing from an incredible Church leader named Ed Stetzer.
Ed oversees LifeWay Research, and is a gifted statistician on the state of faith and culture.
Some of the things he shared shocked me!
I believe God is moving around the world, and that is a big part of the reason why I wrote my recent book Awakening, sharing incredible stories of God at work.
But I didn't share a lot of stats in my book. It was more focused on stories. While in Nashville, Ed shared stats that backed up so much of what I wrote about in my book!
Here is some of what he shared:
Recent Pew Research Reports have shown that church attendance in America is down by 8% in from 2007 to 2014, and down by 50% since the beginning of reporting in the early 1970's (this is the time when baseline statistics have been tracked in the US).
This report discouraged many people, but there are actually some incredible reasons for hope.
Ed felt if he had a doomsday message for the church, he would actually sell a lot more books, and get a lot more speaking requests. I agree with this. I've noticed people rally a lot more around negative messages about the church, than positive ones.
But, as Ed continued, he would rather report the facts as they are, and then address what the church needs to be doing about it.
One long-running myth about Christianity's decline in America is that 80% of young people leave the Church by the age of 18. Ed tracked this report down to it's roots and found it wasn't based in statistical research, but rather it started when a group of a few hundred youth pastors in a room were asked how many students were still going to church after they left youth group. These leaders guessed and speculated, and this statistic has been a quickly believed and spread across the nation for years.
The reality of American Christianity today is weekly church attendance as a percentage of the US population is nearly the same as it was in the 1940s (Gallup)
And since the 1970's when US baseline statistics have been reported - regular church attendance at mainline protestant denominations is down from 6% to 3% of Americans.
But regular church attendance for evangelical denominations is up from 9% to 12% of Americans.
And even more interesting, regular church attendance for non-denominational churches is up 400%!
One interesting story is that while a single mainline denomination added 12,000 new people to their thousands of churches across the nation in the past year - one single non-denominational church that added 10,000 new weekly attendees to it's church over the same period of time. This is the story that is not being told, as mainline churches tend to have more ties with secular media than rising, non-denominational churches.
What is shifting is that the percentage of Americans who call themselves Christians, but who don't attend church. This group is shifting to less affiliation with church or faith, and in some cases dropping the label "Christian" all together.
And this presents unique challenges for churches and believers everywhere. Some of our message will no longer be assumed by the people around us. We will need to clarify what we believe and why. And we will need to re-engage people with the goodness of the Bible, the church and the gospel.