As we were tidying the classroom before leaving school, she noticed that one of the youth teachers at the church where we meet had left the middle school girl’s Sunday School attendance sheet out. She read it, noticed that several of her school friends’ names were on it, and immediately asked if we could switch churches so that she could go to church with her school friends.
She has friends at our church, but our church’s youth program is not as active as at the church where they attend school. This is because our church is driving hard the message that fathers need to be teaching their children the principles of the Faith.
I told her the people at our church are spiritual family, and we don’t change churches -particularly after decades of fellowship- simply because there is another church where our kids would be happier, where there are more homeschool families or there is more [insert amenable quality here]. Which brings me to Glenn Stanton’s assertion that Christianity in America is doing just fine.
New research published late last year by scholars at Harvard University and Indiana University Bloomington is just the latest to reveal the myth. This research questioned the “secularization thesis,” which holds that the United States is following most advanced industrial nations in the death of their once vibrant faith culture. Churches becoming mere landmarks, dance halls, boutique hotels, museums, and all that.
Not only did their examination find no support for this secularization in terms of actual practice and belief, the researchers proclaim that religion continues to enjoy “persistent and exceptional intensity” in America. These researchers hold our nation “remains an exceptional outlier and potential counter example to the secularization thesis.”
Leaving aside that a Harvard researcher’s perception of religious practice might be slightly different from that of a devout orthodox Christian, I agree that compared to the rest of the Western world, the USA has far greater numbers of practicing Christians. Does that mean Christianity is “alive and well” here?
Mainline churches are tanking as if they have super-sized millstones around their necks. Yes, these churches are hemorrhaging members in startling numbers, but many of those folks are not leaving Christianity. They are simply going elsewhere. Because of this shifting, other very different kinds of churches are holding strong in crowds and have been for as long as such data has been collected. In some ways, they are even growing. This is what this new research has found.
The percentage of Americans who attend church more than once a week, pray daily, and accept the Bible as wholly reliable and deeply instructive to their lives has remained absolutely, steel-bar constant for the last 50 years or more, right up to today. These authors describe this continuity as “patently persistent.”
I would suggest that large numbers of parishioners walking away from churches with ease is a sign that American Faith is not in the best health. Churches are supposed to be places where hearts of like faith are knit together. You fight for your church before you just up and leave it. The million dollar question is:
What kind of churches are they hopping over to attend?
In out metro area (which I heartily stipulate may be highly atypical and not representative of what you find in other parts of the country), a lot of the busiest churches hold service that look a lot like this:
Okay, that video was a snarky (but funny!). Seriously, the belief that Faith is as strong now, in the current culture, as it was 50 years ago or more, just doesn’t stand up to what almost any person of any faith tradition witnesses on the ground.
I hope Stanton is correct, and suppose it’s possible, but I doubt it.