March 9, 2009 by

This is a Bit Sobering


Categories: current issues, food for thought

I know I just posted something (and please comment on the discussion question)…but I’ve been hearing about this news item all day concerning the increased number of people in America now claiming “no religion”…so I went and found this article from

Of particular interest to me is the following quote from the article:

One in three Americans consider themselves evangelical, and the number of people associated with mega-churches has skyrocketed from less than 200,000 in 1990 to more than 8 million in the latest survey.
The rise in evangelical Christianity is contributing to the rejection of religion altogether by some Americans, said Mark Silk of Trinity College.
“In the 1990s, it really sunk in on the American public generally that there was a long-lasting ‘religious right’ connected to a political party, and that turned a lot of people the other way,” he said of the link between the Republican Party and groups such as the Moral Majority and Focus on the Family.

If I’m reading this correctly, although the number of evangelicals is on the rise, the number of apparent atheists is also on the rise right alongside.

This trend is suggesting a couple of very sobering thoughts:

  1. The migration of more and more Christians to the evangelical mega-church culture may be having the unintended effect of polarizing outsiders away from us instead of drawing them in. What we thought would increase our effectiveness and influence may actually be having the opposite effect.
  2. In our continued waging of the “culture war” on the political front, we may be losing the battle on an even greater front. We may have become so consumed with keeping America a so-called “Christian nation” that we are sacrificing the positive influence that enables us to draw individuals to Christ within the nation.

Sounds almost as if we’ve been cutting down trees in an attempt to save the forest.

It makes you think, anyhow, doesn’t it?

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

7 Responses to This is a Bit Sobering

  1. Rainer


    Good post – and yes, it does make you think…

    Interesting to see some “statistics” on this, as I have had a feeling that this is exactly what is happening, and not just in America.

    Yet, the churches are operating under the illusion that they are “winning the battle” as they are using the increased attendance as their measurement of success. But if the “collateral damage” in their methods of evangelism is higher than their success rates, is it really working?

    I think you’ve just given me an idea for another post to my blog…

  2. J. R. Miller

    Hi Jeff,

    I don’t see any basis for making the connection in point one, but I have not read the survey in full so maybe you can fill me in on why you make this assertion.

    Point two, I might have some traction. However, and I can only speak from my experience here, I have found it more common that the reaction against the Republican-Christian has been for young people to keep their faith in Jesus, and just change political affiliation.

    Maybe someone reading along has some other info or resources on these two excellent questions…

  3. Jim

    My reaction is, “Well, duh.” As someone who left religion and then came back and who still has friends “on the outside”, I can tell you that there are tons of people who HATE Christians and HATE the church, and for the very reasons stated.

  4. Jeff McQ

    I think, like you, I have had this gnawing suspicion that *something* wasn’t right. I think this report (if accurate) gives something a bit more tangible to look at.

    The book “unChristian” by David Kinnaman also gives some compelling data from the Barna Institute about this kind of thing. Worth the read, if you haven’t, yet.

    Enjoyed your post, too…

    You’ll notice I used words like “suggest”, “may” and “seems”. 🙂 I was deliberately careful not to draw definite “assertions” here, recognizing the data might be flawed or incomplete, or that we might read too much into it.

    About point one–although the article didn’t say outright that mega-churches were tied to the rejection of religion, it did suggest that the rise of evangelicalism *was* connected. And since the mega-church migration is a huge part of what’s happening in the evangelical camp, at the very least, it gives me pause.

    Up to yesterday, my information and experience on point two matched yours.

    Finally…let me say that out of all the places I’ve lived, in different regions of the country, I’ve never seen the Christian/non-Christian polarization so pronounced as in Tulsa. It has been that way for years, and it is common belief that the evangelical/charismatic dominance here has had a lot to do with that. So if this is a trend, it’s one situation where my town is (unfortunately) trending ahead of the curve. Just saying that from my perspective, I’ve already seen a lot of truth in the statements I made. 🙂

    Well, “duh!” 🙂 Thanks, bro.

  5. co_heir

    Could we be seeing the beginnings of a culture that is very much like that of the first century? A culture that essentially accepted any and all forms of religion, as long as those religions didn’t make any claim to being The Way. You could do just about anything you wanted as long as it was legal and as long as you practiced your religion. Evangelicalism has pretty much presented the “gospel” as something you can add to your comfortable American-dream chasing life, as long as you are a good moral person. I wonder if the rise of the religious right had as much to do with protecting the American way of life as it did morality.

    Maybe if the spiritual landscape becomes like the first century, the Church can get back to doing what it did back then, and once again turn the world upside down.

  6. Jim

    co_heir sez, “I wonder if the rise of the religious right had as much to do with protecting the American way of life as it did morality.”


  7. Sam

    Based on conversations with people I know, very few of whom are Christians:
    -Few of them are interested in mega-churches. The see those entities as something like religious theater. The only people I know who are interested are a few religious people who are tired of their small to mid-size churches and are interested in everything the mega-churches have to offer – special speakers, programs, bookstores and so on.
    -Most of them think that the church is out of its territory in waging the “culture war”. This is a major turn off to many people, and like Rob Bell’s “Bullhorn Man” succeeds in scaring off many more than it draws.

    If anyone doubts these two points, I wonder how many non-Christian/non-religious people they talk to and know.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.