Excerpted from The Houston Chronicle – 7/21/04:
“As early as this year and certainly, if the projections hold, within the next two years, the majority of American adults will not be Protestants for the first time since the founding of colonial Jamestown,” said Tom W. Smith, director of the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey.
“We were always at least a majority Protestant country, and that is about to change.”
The survey, which was released Tuesday, has studied various aspects of American life, including its religious dimension, for 32 years.
From 1972 to 1993, it found that Protestants constituted 63 percent of the national population. But the total declined to 52 percent in 2002.
The study mirrors results from a recent Harris County survey. Protestants decreased from 56 percent in 1994 to 34 percent in 2004, according to the Houston Area Survey directed by Stephen Klineberg, a Rice University sociology professor.
One reason for the national decline, Smith said, is a failure to keep youths and young adults within the Protestant fold.
From the ’70s through the early ’90s, Protestant churches retained 90 percent of young people, but that dropped to 83 percent after 1993, he said.
Another reason: Once-nominal Protestants are more open to stating that they are no longer affiliated with any denomination, he said. In the survey, the number of people saying they had no religion grew from 9 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2002.
And, some people who once identified themselves as Protestant now call themselves “Christian,” which would put them in the survey’s growing “other” category. Latter-day Saints, Muslims and Eastern religions are also in the “other” category, which grew from 3 percent in 1993 to 7 percent in 2002.
I guess you can say that the Reformation is essentially dead.
Folks are unpacking these numbers various ways. Non-Protestant immigrants are thinning the ranks as the United States struggles to maintain its borders. More Christians are failing to self-identify as “Protestant,” choosing a more generic title of “Christian” (a category that grew slightly.)
But with the rise of Islam in America, as well as the unabated hemorrhage of people who are weighing the Church in the scale and finding it wanting (the “no religion” crowd), there are serious problems the Church in America must face.
The first is obvious: We simply are not leading people to Christ. I believe that if every self-confessed “Protestant” led one person to Christ every five years, we would see those numbers dramatically shift. Just about a dozen people pointed to Jesus in a person’s lifetime. I have to wonder how hard that is to do. The numbers do not lie, though—every measure of Christian life out there shows declining or stagnant numbers. We simply are not leading people to Christ.
Nor are we reproducing. God’s people have been encourage by the Lord Himself to be fruitful, yet our birthrates in the Christian community are hovering in the low single digits, at best. We are barely replacing ourselves. Meanwhile, Muslim families are experiencing birthrates more than twice what ours are. Most futurists are speculating that Islam will overtake Christianity as the primary world religion sometime between 2025 and 2035. And much of that is simply through birth rates.
We have been asleep on our watch. We need to be telling people about Christ and raising Christian children. It is God’s desire that everyone be saved and that none perish. But we have to do something about it.
I understand the family issue is huge one and that not everyone can have a half dozen kids. But there is no reason why we cannot adopt or foster children, raising them in the fear of the Lord.
No reason at all exists, though, to justify why we are not out there bringing people to Christ.
Turn the TV off. Throw out the XBox. Unplug the iPod. Then let’s all get out there and work to bring in the harvest. The laborers already are few; let’s not let them become nonexistent.