Is the church in America dying?

My children are 7, 5, and 2. By the time their children are old enough to drive, Christianity will no longer enjoy the majority position in the US.

Which gets me pretty excited about the kind of church my grandkids will get to be a part of.

First of all, the numbers: right now 83% of people 65+ identify as Christian. That number drops all the way to 55% for Millennials (18-29). Christians are decreasing, the “nones” (no religious affiliation) are increasing, and every possible indicator points to the trend not only continuing, but picking up steam on the way down. Statisticians talk about “generational displacement,” which is a nice way of saying that all of the Christians are dying of old age, and most of the young people aren’t into Jesus. Time and attrition is reducing Christianity from a dominant majority to a pushed-to-the-fringed minority.

Before we get all worked up about the end of Christianity, please understand that this is no dour warning of doom marking the death-knell of the church. It’s worth taking a step back to remind ourselves that Christianity isn’t dying–it’s simply shifting from Europe and North America to the Global South.

Even so, at the risk of being ethnocentric, we’ll return for now to our grandkids. We can’t help but forming the question in our minds: what will our grandkids’ church look like?

Here’s what I believe. Here’s why I’m excited.

Our grandkids’ church will be released from the crumbling walls that contain us today. The US church has operated around the “if you build it, they will come” weekend-service model for centuries. Christianity may not be dying, but thankfully this model is. God never meant the church to draw people out of the world into a building, but He always intended us to be a people sent out into the world. Our grandkids’ will get to be the church that inhabits more than the stage and pew; they get to move into the neighborhood.

Our grandkids’ church will be unleashed to leverage love over power. The chief problem with majorities is that they tend to employ power to retain power. The gospel, on the other hand, exercises love to grant power to the powerless. Perhaps the greatest gift the church can receive is to be left with no resources at our disposal but love.

Our grandkids’ church will be full of hope rather than controlled by fear. Enjoying our majority status seems to have paralyzed the American church. We fear the loss of status, influence, and rights. Our fear makes us lash out against perceived enemies with the goal of preserving our freedom. Hope, on the other hand, embraces actual enemies with the goal of serving their needs.

Our grandkids’ church will listen, and so they’ll learn. Minorities tend to listen with respect, learning from those around them. This is what my family did in Japan as missionaries. We adopted a posture of listening before speaking, honoring rather than condemning, and seeking to understand as opposed to demanding that we be understood.

And finally, our grandkids’ church will make less noise… and be heard by more people. It’s not the loss of the church’s voice that should concern us–it’s that people have stopped asking us questions. Did you know that every gospel presentation in the book of Acts came as a response to a question? The questions have stopped because we’ve stopped living a questionable life. But living a questionable life is rarely easy. Our grandkids will likely have to make difficult, painful choices. But this is what we learn from the cross–wounds and weakness create a deeper impression than power and control.

Our grandkids’ church may end up looking far different from what we experience today. But all in all, it sounds like my kind of church.

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About Tim Owens

I'm a husband, father, and Christ follower. I also live in Albany, NY, where I work as a pastor.
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