The number of Americans identifying as Christians on their census reports and attending churches has been dropping steadily over the last few decades. Here’s my wholly unscientific / totally anecdotal look at what’s been happening. Those leaving Christian churches tend to fall into these four broad categories:
Those who were never really in it in the first place -- We’re talking about the cultural Christians here, the ones who went because it was socially expected of them by friends or family. In many cases these people never actually participated in any religious functions, they just checked off the “Christian” box whenever asked because once upon a time somebody in their family had gone to church. Others attended only sporadically (typically Easter and Christmas services) but shockingly a few were regular attendees and often even high ranking members of their local churches. Their faith and knowledge was as deep as a Dixie cup and the moment there was no longer a social penalty for not belonging, they walked away.
Those who were hurt by Christians -- This includes all those who were raped, beaten, sexually / emotionally / spiritually / financially abused by clergy, lay members, and their own families driven by the dictates of their local congregation. It can be the direct hands on approach of a bestial father who takes “spare the rod” too literally and beats their children and spouse so badly that hospitalization is required, the sexual abuse of a predatory minister who preys on emotionally fragile congregants then gaslights them if they object, a person demonized by their denomination for being outside their comfort zone, or guilted into commitments by the threat of shunning or humiliation if they aren’t compliant. This group often overlaps with…
Those who see only the bullshit -- Despite claims to the contrary, most denominations and local churches do indeed say they have the answer to everything: Faith in Jesus, which really means sit down and shut up. When they do give Biblical answers it’s typically a word salad of theological gobbledygook that can and does mean anything anybody wants it to mean to justify their position. This group tends to be people with a genuine longing for some sort of spiritual connectivity, only to find their spiritual nature is routinely brushed aside as they are told to replace their often unanswerable questions with empty words and phrases; as well as those with questions about their pastor’s showy lifestyle or denomination’s stand on social issues. In the end they decide that because their local church or denomination has no answer on some things that Christianity as a whole has no answer on anything, and they leave.
Those who see through the bullshit -- This group includes many of the sincerest, most genuinely faithful followers of Christ. They know what is expected of them as true followers of Christ and they don’t see their local church or denomination doing enough to help those on that journey, and so they leave, not out of bitterness, not even disappointment, but in the knowledge that whatever it is they are supposed to be doing, following the agenda of a local church or earthly denomination ain’t it.
In light of the above, perhaps it’s time to reframe the question re why the number of Christians is shrinking.
Maybe it isn’t.
Maybe the real Christians have always been the same small number, not easy to pigeonhole but identifiable through their actions.
Maybe what has been identified as the body of believers is a misnomer, and that instead of obsessing over increasing the number of believers, the Christian church as a whole should concentrate on improving the Christ-like qualities of those who are truly disciples.
Better a single warm heart than a hundred warm bodies.