Much has been made in recent years of the decline of the American Christian Church. There is something to be said for the polls showing that “Christians” are leaving their churches in droves, millions of them over the last few years. The problem is that this simply doesn’t tell the whole story… and Pew Research Center is uncovering the problems with the basic polling.
Pew Research Center spent time studying the polls of “Christians” across America over the last seven years, and what they found was that “Christian” churches in general were indeed shrinking. However, the basic polling was a missing a key part of the story. It seemed that Evangelical churches had remained remarkably stable over that period – even as the polling seemed to show that Christian churches in America were falling apart.
Evangelical churches also added more than 2 million people to their ranks, up from 59.8 million in 2007 to 62.2 million in 2014. Meanwhile, mainline churches lost 5 million people. ‘As a result, evangelicals now constitute a clear majority (55%) of all US Protestants,’ noted Pew.
The population share of evangelicals rises even higher when identified differently.
Methodists, Episcopalian, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians belonging to the PCUSA have been collapsing over the last few decades, but their fellow “Christians” in Evangelical churches like the Southern Baptists Convention, Presbyterians in the PCA, Nondenominational Protestant and several other non-Mainline churches have been growing.
Mainliners may try to comfort themselves by claiming that every denomination is in decline, but it’s simply not true. While conservative churches aren’t growing as quickly as they once were, mainline churches are on a path toward extinction. The mainline churches are finding that as they move further away from Biblical Christianity, the closer they get to their inevitable demise.
The point is that, while polling seems to show the general decline of Christianity in America, the truth is far more complex. Mainline American denominations are generally politically and theologically liberal and have been in decline for the last 50 years.
Evangelical denominations are generally more conservative both politically and theologically, and while the growth rate here has also slowed, these churches are still growing. The question then becomes, are conservative churches growing while mainline liberal churches are dying because of or in spite of their political/theological leanings?
I happen to believe that the conservative churches offer something that the liberal churches cannot… absolutes. The liberal church in America has become more and more relativistic over the years, and today the problem has become so severe that these mainline churches have no solutions to the real, everyday problems of Americans. Conservative churches, often viewed as stodgy, staid and unbending, offer real, concrete solutions to difficult questions… even if those answers are unpopular with our modern culture.