If you follow religious trends at all, you've probably seen the latest from The Pew Research Center about the rise of the "nones."
In my work, I pay attention to these kinds of studies. I find two basic reactions on two extremes that raise the anxiety level in the larger system. On one end are the chicken little types who have been saying for a while now that "the sky is falling." On the other end is another bird (if we are sticking with that metaphor) - the ostriches with their heads in the sand.
But I believe that the simplest, clearest, and most honest commentary on what the Pew Study means for those of us who care about the Church, is "none of the above." My own views are most closely articulated here.
Please click on that hyperlink before reading any further. I'll wait...
When I arrived in Holden as a brand new rector in 1998 (that's almost twenty years ago to use the language from the link!) - I passionately, sincerely, humbly talked about the end of Christendom and what it meant for a Church that meant to become more missional. I actually did adult studies on how Constantinian Christianity was coming to an end. We talked about the challenges faced by the once and future church.
This is not meant to be a trip down memory lane! Rather, my experience as a pastor and now in diocesan ministry bears out what many of us have known about for a long time. We are not surprised, and we need not panic. There is no longer any cultural "advantage" in being a Christian.This is actually not bad news (or even surprising news) for the Church, but potentially (very) good news that helps us to get clearer on who we are, and whose we are.
I remember being at a conference once with the late, great, Krister Stendahl who told us, "look, Jesus told us to be salt of the earth. He didn't say to make the whole earth a salt mine." Amen. Again, I say, "amen!"
Constantinian Christianity mistakenly thought the great commission was about making the earth a salt mine. It is not. It is about carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth, about living the mission of Jesus, about bearing witness to the love of God for the world, about taking up our crosses. It is not for the feint of heart. It's about being salt, and light, and yeast, for the sake of the world.Just a little bit is all it takes to flavor things, to shine in the darkness, to leaven the whole loaf.
What does the Pew Study mean for 21st century Christians? It means, "get busy living." It means, get busy preaching the gospel at all times, and when necessary with words. It means doing justice, and loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. It means doing what we were called to do in the first place - and just forgot about somewhere along the line when we got enamored with power.
It means that the 1950s aren't coming back, but the way forward is to get clear about the mission - which is to seek and serve Christ in all persons and love neighbor as self. If we stay focused on these things, I can't guarantee we'll fill the pews. But we'll know we are being faithful, even if we aren't successful.