There’s been a lot of talk lately about how the church and Christianity are in decline. There’s no doubt that our numbers are falling. According to information drawn from the Reformed Presbyterian Church’s website, between 1986 and 1996, the U.S. population grew by 11.4% while membership in Protestant churches decreased by 9.5%. In 1900, there were 27 churches for every 10,000 Americans; by 1996, there were less than 11 per 10,000 Americans. 4000 churches close their doors every year while 1500 open and the number of people attending church decreased by 12% between 1991 and 1996. More and more people are opting out of church, calling themselves “spiritual, but not religious” or getting involved in eastern religions such as Buddhism and Kabbalah. The perception of Christians and Christianity is also taking a hit. An article in Time magazine cites a poll from the Barna Group which shows that in 1996 less than 20% of non-Christians had an unfavorable view of Christianity. By 2004, those numbers had increased by 18%. From that article, “Kinnaman says non-Christians’ biggest complaints about the faith are not immediately theological: Jesus and the Bible get relatively good marks. Rather, he sees resentment as focused on perceived Christian attitudes. Nine out of ten outsiders found Christians too “anti-homosexual,” and nearly as many perceived it as “hypocritical” and “judgmental.” Seventy-five percent found it “too involved in politics.” Doesn’t sound very good does it? Maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds, though.
I’m sure there are plenty of people freaking out about this, but I’m not one of them. I can explain why with two quotes. The first is from Shane Claiborne of the New Monastic community The Simple Way. He said “”Christianity is at its best when it is peculiar, marginalized, suffering, and it is at its worst when it is popular, credible, triumphal, and powerful.” The second is from a blog called “hikerrev“. The author doesn’t list a name that I can find, but I do know it’s Nadia Bolz-Weber’s husband, because she said so. He said “But the church is not called to positions of power. The church is called to care for the widows and orphans, to recognize the marginalized, to work for mercy on behalf of all people without regard to affiliation (political, religious, national, etc.), and if the church is in a position of power, it cannot do this well.” We have an opportunity here. I don’t believe Christianity was ever meant to be the domineering force that it’s become over the centuries. I certainly don’t think it was meant to propagate kingdoms and empires the way it has in the past. Christianity works best on the margins, serving the people of the margins. The numbers tell us that change is coming whether we want it to or not. Maybe, just maybe, we can take this opportunity and become something that Jesus would actually recognize as his church.