There is an expected evolution in America where as we “modernize” and advance in science, religious practice will lose its relevance and quietly disappear. It’s called the Secularization Theory and it has been advanced in various writings since 2003. It’s not a new societal pattern, but more a descriptive title for what happened in western Europe over the past century.
A Harvard University Sociologist Sean Bock studied this theory along with a fellow professor from Indiana, Landon Schnabel, and their research published in late 2017 in Sociological Science titled “The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion” indicated that the United States did not fit the European pattern of Secularization, but that something very different was taking place. While average church attendance is down, they discovered the losses were with people of only slight to moderate religious practice. And rather than also declining, or becoming less intense, the remaining church was remaining intense and remaining persistent in American society. This is a startling finding coming from a fairly liberal source, so I simply had to track down the full article.
To be sure, many mainline denominations in the US are in the decline. What they found out, however, is that many of these people were not leaving their church for the secular life with no religious affiliation, but rather dropping their affiliation with liberal, moderate or mainstream churches, and growing in their religious practice in either less affiliated gatherings, or in more intensely religious churches. While there is a decline in church affiliation/practice/attendance on the part of Americans with weak religious affiliations, there is no such decline where intense religious practice is the norm (strong affiliation, consistent practice, Biblical literacy, and evangelicalism).
A refining of fire: Churches that preach the Word, teach the Word, actively introduce seekers to their Creator God, and seek to love unconditionally in a world of increasing hate are going to flourish. Churches that water down the Gospel, don’t teach Biblical literacy, and don’t do the heavy lifting of seeking Gods truth will fade quickly in this culture. If God is irrelevant, not in control and can be bent to whatever whim I so choose, then there is really no need for church or religion. It’s only with intense pursuit that the church can flourish.
So, Christian, how intense is your pursuit of God? How is your time in the Word? How vibrant is your prayer life? Have you left time in your day to speak to the lost? When is the last time you gave someone the gift of God’s Word? Many people leaving the moderate church are still seeking God. Maybe they’ll find their way to a church that will preach the Word. Maybe they’re home because their church was irrelevant. But they’re still seeking.
My greatest frustration with all of these studies is that they study religion, as if religion was the focus. The focus is to know God and be in relationship for all eternity. I hope you are encouraged that the Secularization Theory does not hold in America – but there is much work to do among those who are disaffected, and you hold the key.
Give Hope. Give Life. Give Bibles!