We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Church Decline & Not Knowing What is Going On For Sure

In a posting entitled, "The Great Decline: 60 years of religion in one graph," blogger Tobin Grant begins his comments on the graph displayed on the left by stating, "Religiosity in the United States is in the midst of what might be called ‘The Great Decline.’ Previous declines in religion pale in comparison. Over the past fifteen years, the drop in religiosity has been twice as great as the decline of the 1960s and 1970s."  Scary stuff, that, for those of us who labor in the church.

Some months back, however, I shared with readers in a posting entitled, "Rethinking the 'Nones'," the helpful speculation of Frank Newport, Editor-in-Chief at Gallup, that what may be happening is not a decline in religiosity, let alone spirituality, but rather a change in the way people answer questionnaires. I wrote that according to Newport, "it is becoming easier or more acceptable for people to say to pollsters that they are they are atheists, agnostics, or otherwise not religious. [Newport] argues that the number of religious people has not been declining, at least not very much."

On further reflection, it is likely that what we are experiencing is a sea change in the place of organized religion in American society and culture.  As is widely observed, outside of the South churches no longer occupy the honored, central place they once held.  As they continue to lose their privileged place in society, they shed members who were not really all that interested in the first place but in the past felt a social need to be part of a church.  As a consequence, churches that adapted themselves to the 1950s climate of hey-day religiosity are being challenged to adapt to a new climate, a colder and less hospitable one.  Many are simply not adapting.  But others are and will continue to do so.

All of this is not to say that churches are not in any less jeopardy than they clearly are in.  It is to say that for the foreseeable future viable, even exciting congregations of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other faiths will continue to thrive as they find new ways to pursue their faiths.