The American Church in the Twenty-First Century (Part One)

In an effort to inject a little something for everyone, I’m going to be sharing some of my favorite studies and submissions that I’ve written while I’ve been in grad school. Be advised, these are of an academic nature, and reading may cause drowsiness. I’ll try to tag these posts in advance, and I’ll be chopping them up into various parts. Hope you enjoy.

The American church faces many challenges in its present state that it has not had to face before. With the slow cultural shift out of the modernist mentality to a post modern one, the church has lost its leverage in a number of ways. While Christianity globally is growing exponentially, the church in the U.S. complains of lethargy and complacency by its adherents. If the church is to continue in such a manner, some fear that this is one of the last generations of the church in their United States. While this is an exaggeration of the potential, there is a concern about how the church will exist in the U.S. in the coming decades. By looking at the trends and projections of church growth along with understanding the reality of the new cultural setting that the church finds itself it, a stronger picture of what the church will look like can be made. When put together, it appears that by the middle of the twenty-first century, the church in the United States will be much smaller in the number of adherents, but more focused in it’s purpose and efforts locally and globally.

When the news magazine Newsweek presented its cover story, ”The End of Christian America”, in April of 2009, it immediately sparked debate. The author of the piece, Jon Meacham, proposed that what was occurring in the post-Christian age in America was a mass exodus of Americans from their communities of faith.[1] Using the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), Meacham relates that the statistical evidence found in the report are staggering; the change in the number of Americans who had no religious affiliation almost doubled between 1990 and 2008.[2] When Meacham sought insight from Dr.Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he also saw the figures produced from the 2008 survey to be not only accurate, but also a sign of the state of the nation religiously.

The ARIS survey is not alone in its projection of the decline of Americans who claim a particular faith or church. Both the Pew Research Center[3] and the Barna Group[4] have also confirmed the fears of many churches and church leaders; that they are not only failing to evangelize to new people in America, but that they are also beginning to lose their own members. The reaction to such a projection may be frightening to communities of faith across the country, but not all agree that this sort of change is inevitable. Other recent studies are concluding that the dramatic shift in the church in America is not one of numbers, but one of ethnicity and culture.


[1] http://www.newsweek.com/2009/04/03/the-end-of-christian-america.html

[2] Barry Kosmin and Areila Keysar. American Religious Identification Survey 2008. Hartford: Trinity University, 2009. 3.

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