Just Like Me
Well, the news yesterday was filled with stories of the Pew Research Center report on the decline of the Christian faith in America, particularly among younger adults. The number of self-identified Christians dropped from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. When you dig into the data you find all sort of nuanced variations within the report.
Among my tribe, the evangelicals, it appears we are growing – just not as much as before. Digging deeper however you can see that the growth is in the pentecostal portion of our category, particularly among non-whites, primarily Latinos. We white, primarily reformed, folks have joined our mainline friends in seeing an ever-increasing portion of our young people walk away.
One startling statistic for evangelism obsessed denominations, including my own, is that for each new convert we have we lose four of our own along the way. You could almost make the (tongue-in-cheek) suggestion that we’d be better off shutting the church door to keep our own in than opening it and trying to get others in.
But the key question is, what do we do about this? One possible solution that is already being tried in the blogosphere is denial. We just need to cover our ears and hum and all this bad news will go away. We just need to sift through the data and find the few parts we like and cling to them.
But the majority of the early responses I am seeing tend to be action-oriented. Suggestions of response strategies are already flowing. Interestingly enough, I am seeing a pattern in the suggested responses. Everyone seems to be zeroing in on the same answer. Everyone is saying “You all need to be just like me.” Progressives say we need to be more progressive. Conservatives say we need to be more conservative. LGBT-affirming believers say we need to join them; LGBT opponent say we need to stand more firmly. And on and on.
A couple of days ago I saw an article saying that, to reach millenials, we need to double down on teaching the Bible and correct doctrine. I worked for six years alongside young people who for the most part were “nones,” people who essentially had no faith at all. In all that time I never had a single person express interest in studying the Bible to learn correct doctrine. The article, to me, was saying that since the author loves studying the Bible everyone should.
I don’t have easy answers to this situation. (Although I do have loads of ideas about what is wrong.) I’m pretty sure the answer is not for everyone to be just like me. Perhaps we need to let people be just like, well, themselves. Perhaps we should get to really know and love them as unique individuals. Perhaps we need to set a goal that we be seen that, come what may, we are actually known by how much we love.
We evangelicals are obsessed with being “radical.” Perhaps we can start by being radically loving, radically accepting, radically helping, and radically gracious. Then we can just wait and see what happens.