Posts tagged ‘Gallup’

The Church’s Durability

The Christian faith has staying power. This is both a biblical promise and a statistical reality. The biblical promise is that Christ’s Church is so strong that not even “the gates of Hades will overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).  The statistical case for the endurance of the faith was laid out by Ross Douthat in a column for The New York Times this past weekend:

Long-term Gallup data suggest that any recent dip in churchgoing is milder than the steep decline in the 1960s — and that today’s churchgoing rate isn’t that different from the rate in the 1930s and 1940s, before the postwar religious boom …

The recent decline of institutional religion is entirely a function of the formerly weakly affiliated ceasing to identify with religious bodies entirely; for the strongly affiliated (just over a third of the American population), the trend between 1990 and the present is a flat line, their numbers neither growing nor collapsing but holding steady across an era of supposedly dramatic religious change.

The case for the Church’s remarkable sociological durability is not new with Ross Douthat. Several years ago, Ed Stetzer, then the executive director of LifeWay Research, argued:

Nominal Christians are becoming the nones and convictional Christians remain committed. It is fair to say we are now experiencing a collapse, but it’s not of Christianity. Instead, the free fall we find is within nominalism.

So, what does all this mean?

For churches whose attendances are dropping, there are no easy answers, but there are some things we can and should consider in light of what we know about churches that are growing. Two things specifically come to mind.

First, pandering isn’t helpful. Hospitality, however, is. Pastors and church leaders have, in some corners, tried to pander to a progressive cultural zeitgeist that has a deep-seated distrust in and disgust at the Christian faith.  These leaders have discounted biblical authority and downplayed Christ’s ipseity.  In their rush to make the Christian faith palatable for the world, they have wound up with nothing to offer to the world.  These churches are collapsing.  In other more traditional corners of the Church, pastors and church leaders often spend more time pandering to longtime donors and power brokers within their congregations than they do reaching out to those who have questions about the Christian faith or to those who are skeptical of the Christian faith.  In these types congregations, traditions often trump mission.  These churches, too, are foundering.

Pandering stymies the Church’s mission.  Hospitality, on the other hand, calls churches into mission.  Hospitality is not focused on indulging people’s whims, like pandering is.  Instead, it is focused on loving them. This is why, when he writes about hospitality, the apostle Paul explains:

Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Romans 12:13-16)

For Paul, hospitality’s proving ground comes in how one treats their enemies.  How does the Church treat its enemies?  Do we lie to them by telling them what they want to hear like some supposedly “enlightened” and non-orthodox congregations do?  Do we reject them by catering to insiders and their preferences as some other congregations do?  Or, do we love them by living for them as Christ lived for us?  The Church must recover its hospitable spirit – especially to outsiders.

Second, faith is meant to be deep and go deep inside of us.  In a culture that is, in many pockets, post-Christian, a shallow or simple faith simply will not answer people’s big questions or stand the test of life’s terrible trials.  The studies above show, as other studies have before, that it is people with shallow faith who are falling away from the Church – not people with deep faith.  This means pep talks that pretend to be sermons will not keep people in church – but neither will dry doctrinal treatises that recycle theological buzzwords ad nauseam by pastors who are more concerned with brandishing their orthodox bona fides than they are with communicating Christ.  Only preaching that exposits the content of the Scriptures, explains how the Scriptures concern us and convict us, proclaims from the Scriptures what Christ has done for us, and then calls us to live out of what Christ has done for us will do.  The Scriptures present a deep faith in a clear way.  The Church should do the same.

Obviously, the Church has not done any of this perfectly – nor will it.  But we should consider how we can do things better.  Blessedly, in spite of our shortcomings, the Church will continues to endure because the Church is as durable as the One who died – and conquered death – for it.  Because Christ conquered death, the Church will not die.  He, finally, is the Church’s durability.

November 4, 2019 at 6:15 am 2 comments

The Shifting Moral Tide

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 10.25.13 AMA couple of weeks ago, it was the Pew Foundation’s report on the decline of those who self-identify as “Christian” that left the faithful rattled. Last week, Gallup published survey on Americans’ moral attitudes that, once again, shook Christians. Gallup reports:

Americans are more likely now than in the early 2000s to find a variety of behaviors morally acceptable, including gay and lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage and sex between an unmarried man and woman. Moral acceptability of many of these issues is now at a record-high level.[1]

In the scope of fifteen years, the percentage of people who believe gay and lesbian relations are morally acceptable has gone up 23 percent. 61 percent of people now believe having a baby outside of marriage is morally acceptable compared to 45 percent fifteen years ago. Support for polygamy has more than doubled: only 7 percent believed it was morally acceptable 15 years ago compared to 16 percent today. And the case for doctor-assisted suicide is gaining traction. 56 percent of people now find it morally credible. According to this report, only two issues have seen their moral favorability decline over the past fifteen years. Fewer people now believe the death penalty and medical testing on animals are morally acceptable.

In some ways, this survey is merely a lagging indicator of a moral revolution that has already taken place. Frank Newport, who wrote the article on Gallup’s findings, explains:

Americans are becoming more liberal on social issues, as evidenced not only by the uptick in the percentage describing themselves as socially liberal, but also by their increasing willingness to say that a number of previously frowned-upon behaviors are morally acceptable.

Notice that Newport explicitly locates the change in Gallup’s poll in what people are willing to say. This poll does not measure what people may have already believed. If our own president is any indication, people may believe something is morally acceptable long before they are willing to publicly admit it, especially when what they believe is controversial.

So what are we to make of this tide of evolving moral sentiment? If this poll is indeed a lagging indicator of what people already believe and how people are already living, I would suggest this survey represents as much of a human desire for catharsis as it does a shifting of the moral tide. After all, when people do not live up to a given moral standard – which has been happening for a long time – they have two options. First, they can bring their lives into alignment with the moral standard in question. Second, they can bring the moral standard in question into alignment with the way they are already living. Option one is challenging because it demands change and effort. Option two is cathartic because it makes people feel better about what they’re already doing. This, I suspect, plays a large part in why so many are so willing to shift their standards. They don’t want to feel bad because their lives don’t measure up to a given moral standard, so they just change the standard so it no longer makes them feel guilty. Our shifting moral standards have become therapeutic comforts.

There is, of course, a third option for morality and life. This option admits our lives will never measure up to any moral standard – at least not any moral standard worth having – and so the way to address our shortfalls and shortcomings is not by shifting moral standards, but by repentance. This is the way of the cross. And this is the way our world needs.

We can try to live up to transcendent moral standards, but we will always fail. We can try to change transcendent moral standards, but history will only mark us as deluded. So we must repent. And we must be forgiven. Because forgiveness is what we need – even when it’s forgiveness for when we immorally shift our moral standards.

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[1] Frank Newport, “Americans Continue to Shift Left on Key Moral Issues,” Gallup.com (5.26.2015)

June 1, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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