Just a few short weeks ago, the InternetMonk made a name for himself and got a whole lot of attention with a few posts about the coming Evangelical collapse (those are two posts, but there are more on his site). It was intriguing reading and much of what he said made a lot of sense, but I think there may be more to the story. A recent story and survey about America as a nation of religious drifters caught my eye a few days ago and I am just now able to get around to writing my thoughts on it. The article seems to indicate that those who are “religiously unaffiliated” or were reported as such, are not flocking to godlessness or atheism as some suspected. In fact, some of those people end up coming right back to where they started.
I found these paragraphs very interesting:
The 2007 survey estimated that 44 percent of U.S. adults had left their childhood religious affiliation.
But the re-interviews found the extent of religion-swapping is likely much greater. The new survey revealed that one in six Americans who belong to their childhood faith are “reverts” _ people who left the faith, only to return later.
Roughly two-thirds of those raised Catholic or Protestant who now claim no religious affiliation say they have changed faiths at least twice. Thirty-two percent of unaffiliated ex-Protestants said they’ve changed three times or more.
Age is another factor. Most people who left their childhood faith did so before turning 24, and a majority joined their current religion before 36.
In all of my years as a youth pastor, much was made about the rate that young adults drop out of the church after high school. It is apparent that many of them return sometime later in life. I have seen this trend up close and personal as many young people who walked away from the faith at some point in life are starting to return to it now that life has knocked them around a bit. In fact, most of those who leave the church don’t leave their faith in God behind as much as they leave their faith in His servants:
“A lot of the unaffiliated seem to be OK with religion in the abstract,” Green said. “It’s just the religion they were involved in bothered them or they disagreed with it.”
The unaffiliated category is not just a destination. It’s also a departure point: a slight majority of those raised unaffiliated eventually join a faith tradition.
Those who do cite several reasons: attraction of religious services and worship (74 percent), feeling unfulfilled spiritually (51 percent) or feeling called by God (55 percent).
This has some implications for us as the body of Christ. Recently, I have been preaching through 1 Corinthians and we just covered chapter 13 a couple of weeks ago. Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians is one that every Christian should have burned into their brains and spirits. (You can go here to take a listen to the sermon if you want.) The point that I made then and that I think we all need to get now is that everything about us needs to be filled with love. We need to operate in love in every area of life and everything we do. Most of the church hopping and faith shopping comes from people hurt by a lack of love.
It doesn’t matter if you have the best programs, or the best building, or the greatest praise and worship band, or the best parking lot or the best looking pastor or anything else at all. If you don’t have love, you have nothing!
We all want to believe that our church is open and warm and loving, and I would bet that many of them really are. But if that is always true, why are we losing so many for so long? Do people really flee from unconditional love in word and deed? What do you think?