New Research Suggests Religious Decline in America. 3 Ways the Church Can Stay Strong by JJ Weller

Is Christianity losing popularity among Americans?

A recent Pew Research poll suggests rapid religious decline in America. The population of professing Christians has decreased “by 12 percentage points over the past decade…Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population…now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.” What’s happening? Is the church dying a slow death? 

Of course not. God’s true church is thriving and growing. But many nominal Christians have begun a mass exodus from Christendom.  

A massive cultural shift has taken place in the last ten years. For most of American history, the title “Christian” came with social benefits. When you said, “I’m a Christian,” the culture heard, “I’m an honorable and upstanding citizen.” Now, when you say, “I’m a Christian,” the culture hears, “I’m a critical bigot who wants to take away your freedoms.” (That’s an obviously false stereotype, but a common one nonetheless). As a result, many nominal Christians are dropping the title. (For great commentary on this perspective, visit here and here). 

As the culture has grown more aggressive in its stance against Christians, many seemingly devout believers have left the fold, too. At least, that’s what I’ve witnessed. Over the last ten years, I’ve seen many discipleship-minded believers abandon their faith. Friends and acquaintances who once lived as missional Christians have now embraced atheism, agnosticism, theological liberalism, sexual immorality, homosexuality, and more. I don’t think I’m the only one who has witnessed widespread apostasy. One needs only scroll through Facebook’s News Feed to witness this tragic pattern. 

This leads to a critical question. What should the church do in the face of religious decline in culture? How should we respond to our society’s growing hostility towards Christianity? I want to share three action steps I believe the Lord burned in my heart. 

#1. Cling to the biblical gospel. 

First, to stay strong as a church in the midst of decline, we must cling to the biblical gospel. In times of apparent religious decline, many face the temptation to water down God’s message. We must never give an inch. Church, remember your original calling—“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15 NASB). “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20 NASB). In these verses, Jesus gave us a clear mission that never changes in times of testing. If the whole world changes, the gospel stays the same, because God stays the same. 

God is still good. Man is still sinful. Hell is still hot. Heaven is still sweet. The atonement is still completed. Christ is still risen. The Kingdom is still coming. Works still don’t save. Faith in Christ is still sufficient. Uncompromising repentance is still required. The Holy Spirit is still promised by faith. Preach it, preach it, preach it—and don’t let it up. 

The church has seen many ups and downs in its time. Time and again, God has exchanged beauty for ashes and turned the festering rot of culture into a seedbed for righteousness. I would remind you in what conditions God has moved this way. God sends awakening of biblical proportions when His people recover biblical truth. This rarely happens until the church faces serious trouble, and society suffers great decline.

Yes, God has moved in tough circumstances many times before—but only through the biblical gospel. “The gospel . . . is the power of God unto salvation”—rain or shine (Romans 1:16 NASB). If we preach it, the church will thrive. If we change it, the church will die. That’s why liberal denominations are rapidly losing membership. Why would we follow their foolish example? Instead, let us cling tightly to the message of Jesus. 

#2. Cling to biblical ethics.

Second, we must cling to biblical ethics, no matter how culture feels about it. The world is changing around us. These days, women are men, and men are women. Yes, men have periods, and women impregnate men. Babies are clumps of cells to be thrown away or dismembered and sold piece by piece. Are these headlines, or pages from some up-is-down horror novel? We knew that the world “would call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 15:20 NASB)—but who expected to see confusion of such historical proportions?

How do we respond? We must not cave into cultural pressure. We must not surrender to the bullies. The world has loved these evils before—and it’s always led to cultural and societal demise. For the first time in history, these practices are exploding across the entire globe. Could this mean the whole world is preparing for a societal downfall? God knows, and we certainly pray not. But even if the world falls, the church must not (and will not—God promised a remnant in Romans 11:4). If we cave into their practices, we will only fall with them. But if we hold onto God’s standards, we will remain standing when the rest have fallen to the wayside. 

In more moral ages, the message of grace most set Christianity apart from other cultural voices. In cultures of legalism and condemnation, we offered forgiveness and peace through Christ’s sacrifice. That’s wonderful. It must remain so, for God entrusted us with the gospel of grace. But in this age of spiritual decline, we must recover a message we’ve partially muted—the very message that Jesus commanded us to preach—“repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47 NASB). This message will break the proud, restore the broken, and anger the stubborn. It is this message—the message of repentance and restoration through the cross—that must set us apart in our confused, compromised age. If we can stand to live in a wicked culture without graciously calling for repentance, we know nothing of the biblical gospel. Perhaps we need repentance ourselves. 

#3. Activate young Christians in the mission of God.

Finally, if we would grow amid religious decline, we must activate young Christians in the mission of God. Look at the youngest generations. What do you see? Picket signs? Cursing feminists? Screaming homosexuals? Look deeper! Past the surface. Look at the image of God within them. The youngest generations are looking to make a difference. We have been told our whole lives that we can change history. Satan has captured many of us for his message, and many are changing things for evil (unknowingly). But many of us mean well. What if the church could capture us for God’s message of righteousness? 

Sadly, the modern church is the last place a revolutionary heart would look for refuge. In the first century, the church was an army of spiritual revolutionaries bent on the salvation of the world. They preached the Word whether it led to revivals or riots. In our day, the church is little more than a Jesus-fan club. We gather together to read books, sip coffee, and stroke our beards as we discuss theology (or worse, TV shows and video games). Tragically, the modern church has greatly lost the impetus for missions. We’re missions milk-sops.

Statistics prove it. Only 2% of tithes and offerings go to overseas missions. Only .5% go to reach the unreached. 47% of millennial Christians doubt the morality of evangelism. 51% of Christians don’t even know what the Great Commission is (if you don’t know either, read this). Can you believe how well we have avoided Jesus’ vital command to go and preach?

Friends, our compromise is hurting a generation of souls worldwide. We must revive our missions impetus, or souls will die—and Millennials, Gen X’ers, and Gen Z’ers will find a mission elsewhere. How do you want the world to look in 20 years? Much of it depends on how well we pass on God’s mission. May that truth motivate you to seek God’s voice and follow Him wherever He leads!

Takeaway

The religious landscape of America is changing. The world has grown increasingly hostile towards believers in recent years. In this climate, the church has remained strong overall. Still, nominal believers have dropped off in droves, probably to avoid ridicule. I believe many seemingly devout believers have capitulated to culture as well, abandoning the Lord. What must we do? Simple. 

“Do not be afraid of their faces” (Jeremiah 1:8 NKJV). 

Don’t edit God’s truth to please man’s palate.

Don’t “walk in the counsel of the wicked” (Psalm 1:1 NASB).

Don’t syncretize with worldly thought systems. 

Just stay faithful.

Trust Jesus, believe the Word, stay surrendered, and pass the missions torch to the next generation of sincere believers. In doctrine, deed, and mission, pursue “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 ESV).

If we do, the church won’t only survive. We’ll revive and thriveeven if everyone around us falls. By God’s grace, let’s not miss our chance to stand up for the truth. Our generation needs it, whether they want it or not. 
 
We encourage you to take some time to reflect on how to respond to this article. We’d also love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. May you be blessed as you SHARE GOD’S HOPE!
 
 
 
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JJ Weller is a writer, researcher, editor, and creator for Message Ministries and Missions. He has served in evangelism through Message Ministries for 6 yearsthrilled to preach Jesus’ salvation to thousands and teach biblical evangelism to hundreds. He has a passion for God’s glory, the true gospel, biblical evangelism, biblical and historical revival, and the salvation of the unreached. He lives with his beautiful wife, Cynthia, in Lima, Peru. 

6 Responses to “New Research Suggests Religious Decline in America. 3 Ways the Church Can Stay Strong by JJ Weller”

  1. Dan says:

    Wow. I am totally blown away by your writing. Five stars!

  2. Al Brewster says:

    Yes, Like Dan I do admire your writing. However, the third part of your essay, for me at least, is key. The church must be relevant and take a stand when confronted with everyday evil. Church leaders, all of us, are called to love one another and we can do that while ALSO holding one another accountable. That bolder more involved in righting everyday wrongs stance will help make the church stronger and more appealing to youth.

    • admin says:

      Amen, Al! Great insights. Matthew 5:16 backs up your point: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Real holiness would draw the world in, not push them out.

      I think you’d love some of our other missions content. We’ve created a collection of free articles, podcasts, videos, and messages to inspire missions zeal. We’re always working on new material to add. I invite you to check out the following links:

      https://messagemissions.com/blog/
      https://messagemissions.com/brian-mark-weller-teaching/
      https://www.youtube.com/messageministries

      There’s a lot under “Resources” too. If you’re interested in learning about our missions work, visit the home page.

      Thanks for your interaction and insights! God bless!

      -JJ Weller, on behalf of Message Ministries

  3. Megan says:

    JJ, your writing is dynamic. We don’t hear blatant truths like this very often in a world where we have become accustomed to filtering our speech as to not offend. Thank you for reminding us of the challenge to stay true to biblical truths and share them with others.

    • admin says:

      Thanks Megan! I deeply appreciate that comment. Jesus was full of both “grace and truth” (John 1:14). That’s a hard balance to reach, but I’m reaching towards it just like you. Thanks for showing your support!

      -JJ

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