The 20th Century has seen the rise of American Evangelism. They have grown in numbers and power.
Just 10 years ago, evangelical Christianity appeared to be America’s dominant religious movement.
They had the largest churches, the most money, influential government lobbyists, and in the person of President George W. Bush, leadership of the free world itself.
The Crystal Cathedral (completed in 1981) stood as monument to the rise of Evangelism and the rise of the mega church.
Even as one scandal after another rocked the evangelical world they kept growing. Here are just a few….
Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. (Sex scandal)
Jimmy Swaggart. (Caught with a prostitute)
Jim Jones. (Killed 909 with Cyanide)
And even more in the last few years….
The louder and more frequent one’s objections to homosexuality are, the more likely one is to be a homosexual.
Eddie Long. (accused of giving gifts and having sex with four young boys)
Why did Evangelism continue to grow? Maybe the message of hope or everlasting life sounded really good. Maybe people just liked a good show. However, as they went on lying and cheating the world changed around them. Demographics are changing and changing fast.
According to The Pew Forum, in 2012 only 19% of Americans identify as white Protestants. Down from 21% just five years before. While the “nones” have gone from 15% to 19.6% in the same time period. This is the first time “nones” are a larger percentage than evangelicals.
When you look at the details, it is worse. Evangelism is not just in decline, it is on the edge of a precipice. There are two reasons to think this is the case.
1) Growth on the nones is mostly occurring in the youth and the younger the group the higher the rate. This higher rate in the youth is obscured when you look at the population as a whole so, I have graphed the data by age group (below). I have added an r squared line to show the strength of the correlation. (note: Yes, I know that making predictions with this data is risky at best – it just looked so good)
Nones represent 32% of the population from age 18-29 (again this is from the Pew Forum data). So; look for the percent of nones to keep going up. This will affect all religions but, it will be worse for evangelicals. (see point 2)
2) Evangelical groups are seeing the trend and they are starting to call attention to the problem. The Barna Group (Evangelical research company) has noted that 59% of young adults (18 – 29) that used to go to church regularly have “dropped out”. Said another way, almost 60% of the kids that went to church on a regular bases dropped out after the age of 18! 20% of young Christians say that they have had a bad experience and another 21% say that it simply does not make sense. If you can’t explain your system of magic after 18 years of trying, maybe, just maybe, it is actually bull shit!
They will have trouble getting new members…
A mere three percent of non-Christian Americans under 30 have a positive impression of evangelical Christianity, according to David Kinnaman, the Barna Group’s president.
Christians also complain that the church is too worried about money for the church and not the poor. DOH!
Churches DO need to worry about money and they are very worried. Fewer members means less income but, even the people that still go are giving less – A lot less. From 2008 to 2011 30% of church members are giving less money. Of that group 41% now give one half (or less) than the amount they used to give. Barna also tells us that only 4% of the population gives 10% or more to their church.
In summary we have:
More Americans are nones and that number is growing – fast!
Only 3% of non-Christians under 30 like evangelism – so they are not going to join.
Almost two-thirds of kids raised in the church leave in their twenties.
Those that remain are getting older and giving less – a lot less.
I think the only thing keeping many churches open is estate giving. When that runs out we will see an epidemic of church closings!