No Longer the Majority
The internet and wire services have been abuzz with this week’s national survey report from Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. “For the first time in this nation’s history, the United States does not have a Protestant majority” (http://news.yahoo.com/report-us-protestants-lost-majority...). The new study reports that Protestant adults now comprise 48% of the nation. And apparently nobody is surprised. After all, for the first time there are no Protestants on the U.S. Supreme Court or on the Republican presidential ticket. So what’s the big deal? Among other demographic notables contributing to this decline in Protestants, Pew researchers report “a spike in the number of Americans who say they have no religion.” That’s an increase from 15% to 20% of the populace over the last five years. I.e., one out of every five Americans declares “none” when asked to describe their religious affiliation. Is America destined to follow Western Europe into a burgeoning secularism? Over recent years church attendance on that continent has plummeted, leading Pope Benedict XVI to convene this week a three-week synod of bishops from around the world, “aimed at bringing back Roman Catholics who have left the church.” It is clear from Pew research that in the U.S. Protestants, Catholics and Christianity in general are facing a major challenge in retaining their adherents. So what does that mean for a university congregation like ours? Pew finds that “one-third of adults under age 30 have no religious affiliation, compared to 9% of people 65 and older.” That means that the demographic slice of young adults represented by this university is the least likely to pursue religious affiliation. But that does not mean this one-third is godless. To the contrary the Pew category of unaffiliated “encompasses majorities of people who say they believe in God, and a notable minority who pray daily or consider themselves ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious.’” So what will it take for young-on-young or older-on-young to reach them? Isn’t the strategy Jesus modeled the most effective one for us, too? “The Saviour mingled with [people] as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me’” (Ministry of Healing 143). For a generation increasingly distancing itself from formal religion, Jesus’ method of growing friendships with those He wanted to reach makes sense, doesn’t it? Drop in on their dorm room, join them at the cafeteria, engage a conversation around their interests, put them on your prayer list, invite them to join you—i.e., set out to win their friendship. Because apparently it’s always been true—the “nones” and the “unaffiliated” will say “yes” to your friendship while they say “none” to your religion. So I say, like Jesus let’s go for the “yes” first—then the “none” will follow.