The past month has seen the end of a long semester, a trip up the coast with my wife, and we have been doing all sorts of renovations over at Homebrewed Christianity. I have taken a little break from blogging and next week I will be away at a Youth Service Project with SSP. But I wanted to put a couple of things up this week:
- some thoughts about the future
- a theological query
- and there have been some requests to put my sermon transcript up
Some thoughts about the future of the church
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to an event at Fuller Seminary where Phyllis Tickle, Lauren Winner and Tony Jones were speaking. During the Q & R time I asked this question:
When you look at attendance rates across the board, the atrocious rate that we are losing young people raised in the church, and the passing of the WWII generation (I could have listed several other factors) … Do you think that 50 years from now there will be 50% fewer Christians in North America than there is today?
And if that is so, will homosexuality be the straw that broke the camels back?
Tony passed, Lauren wanted nothing to do with it (in their defense they are not ‘futurists’ by their own admission) so Phyllis gave the response. It was good. I have it on audio and will let her respond down the road.
I just wanted to post the question here. I do think that in 50 years there will be 50% fewer Christians in North America than there is today. I also think that is a problem… not because the church does not function well as a minority, but because the kind of christianity that we have is not calibrated well to be in that scenario.
Like it or not, the majority of our frameworks, institutions, establishments, attitudes, expectations, and Biblical interpretations are hold over from Christendom frameworks (if not colonial ones) but with the added blind spot of a lack of self-awareness. Most Christians that I talk to in Canada and the US seem to think that this is the way it should be.
I actually think that all this is just kindling. There is some gas that will be thrown on the fire. When the Baby Boomers retire (which they have just started to do) there will a significant loss of revenue and we will no longer be able to fund ministry the way that we have been. That is what will inflame the situation dramatically.
Add this to the Internet (making resources available and connections possible), the Browning of America (no white majority by 2050) and internal fighting of those who claim the name … and we may be talking about a tipping point.
Add this to fact that a lot of people have bought into a form of Christianity (whether it is conservative, charismatic, evangelical, etc.) that looks for the Rapture (Tim Lehaye style) . But 50 years from that still will not have happened… and the disillusionment will be devastating.
Put it all together and I think that in 50 years there will be 50% fewer Christians in North America than there is today. But that it just my opinion – I could be wrong.
June 24, 2011 at 5:16 am
This seems very pessimistic to me. Have you considered how immigration from the global south would impact this? As more people immigrate from Africa, Asia and south america they could increase the number of Christians in north america. iIt would also be a Christianity that is charismatic, conservative and in some ways evangelical.
June 24, 2011 at 4:44 pm
Nithin, help me understand a couple of things so that I may better respond 😉
a) Does it seem pessimistic because there will be “less” ?
b) what if the gospel does better under a non-christendom (or at least non-colonial) frameworks? What if “dis-empowered minority” is more conducive to true expressions?
c) What if the christianity that comes from Asia, Africa and S. America is just a “poor imitation” of a consumer based American export? would that be ok?
d) what if it is a wholly different expression that is very different than traditional / historical N. American christianity? would that be ok?
looking forward to your thoughts!!
July 4, 2011 at 4:13 am
Thanks for the great questions. I hope I can answer them as insightfully as you’ve asked them.
a. It seems pessimistic that the kind of Christianity will not be calibrated to fit the scenario. I don’t think it’s possible to know that for sure just yet.
b. I think that renewal (or revival) always comes from the margins (dis-empowered minorities). So I think that it is true, but I think that globalization is shrinking the world. As the global south moves to the west, they bring with them their worldview which hasn’t been bathed in enlightenment assumptions, allegiances and values. Even as they move through secularized education many still hold onto a supernatural worldview. I think Philip Jenkinds talks more about this in his book God’s continent.
c. I think there is some of that. Prosperity gospel is very popular in those places which I do find to be negative, but I don’t think that is the only expression that is coming from the south.
d. This for me is a question I struggle with. I work in a pretty conservative church right now, where the leadership is struggling with how far do we contexualize the gospel before it’s compromise. A part of me wants to push the envelope as far as it goes and see what new expressions will come into existence, but another part of me is not willing to go that far, and believes we need to stand up for the truth. It’s like I have Mark Driscoll on one shoulder telling me something, then Brian Mclaren on the other telling me something else. I would like to say that it is ok with all integrity, but something is keeping me from fully jumping in, maybe its my own insecurity or self doubt. I don’t know. But I’m not sure yet.
I’d love to hear your response to these thoughts.
June 24, 2011 at 7:16 pm
This may sound odd, but my hope is the there is indeed 50% less fewer Christians in 50 years, though I mean that by how Christians are defined today. There are 30,000+ denominations. In reality, there is no such this as “a Christian” now, only a small movement towards ecumenical unity, and a greater emphasis on running churches like businesses, in an ironic survival-of-the-fittest mentality.
What I hope emerges over the next 50 years is refinements in our faith not by new definitions of what we believe, but by how we love and live. My hope is that I can find a church that does not need to have a statements of faith page on their website because it is crystal clear in how we live.
June 25, 2011 at 3:41 pm
I love Tim’s response and that is my feeling as well. I pray and hope that there are 50% less Christians: the smaller government, pro-life, pro-death penalty, pro-prison industrial complex, pro-war, racist and fear-mongering Christians. I know that is very un-Christian of me to say but being a follower of Jesus is a life expanding, deeply challenging and sometimes uncomfortable way to live if I am living the way Jesus in the Gospels is asking me to live: with an open heart and an open hand. Hopefully as the old Christianity is dying a new Christianity is being born and raised.
June 27, 2011 at 10:40 pm
I agree with the comment about more people moving to the US from other countries. These often are ripe for Good News.
I read a statistic that NYC has many more churches today than twenty years ago and most of them are from Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Most of them, also, are not phased by traditional Christian stands about homosexuality.
I think a decline will continue among the affluent but since there will be fewer of them the total number of Christians in North America will probably increase.
As for those who believe a particular form of eschatology, well every century has some sort of doomsday enthusiasm. It is always reappearing in slightly different modernized manifestations.
What if the eschaton happens in the next 50 years? I know some are wearied by talk of the Blessed Hope in whatever manifestation it is taught and believed.
Many blame this future-looking hope as the reason that evangelicals are not more “this-worldly” focused. But I find that a gross stereotype. For many it does just the opposite, it motivates them to love, social justice and compassion ministries.
I always love your questions pondering and observations.
BTW, how should the body of Christ respond to issues relating to homosexuality? You mentioned that it is “the straw that broke the camels back.”