Don’t panic amid rise of ‘nones,’ leaders say
    October 11 2012 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

    NASHVILLE – Headlines proclaiming the loss of the Protestant majority in the United States should not cause panic among evangelicals but should motivate them to articulate the gospel and live as followers of Christ, Southern Baptist leaders said.

    The percentage of Americans who are not affiliated with any particular religion – dubbed the “nones” – rose to 20 percent in the latest analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, compared to 15 percent five years ago. (See story.)

    Moreover, one-third of Americans under age 30 are religiously unaffiliated, Pew said Oct. 9, and the percentage of Americans who self-identify as Protestants dropped from 53 percent to 48 percent.
     
    Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, said the report underscores the need for Southern Baptists to plant healthy churches.

    “Southern Baptists shouldn’t need any more evidence to convince us that we must increase our efforts to penetrate lostness in North America,” Ezell said in a statement to Baptist Press. “We have had good intentions for the last 100 years, but the truth is we have lost enormous ground.

    “I believe that only a church planting movement will reverse this trend and that is why our Send North America strategy is an all-out effort to help Southern Baptists move in that direction,” Ezell said, referring to an emphasis on church planting in metropolitan areas.
     
    Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said the Pew report does not indicate a sky-is-falling moment.

    “I am one to quickly point out when there are struggles and challenges,” Stetzer told Baptist Press. “But this is the natural progression of a secularized society that has lost the value of identifying itself as Christian.

    “We have about the same percentage of evangelicals as we did over the last few decades. Furthermore, that holds true among young adults as well,” Stetzer said. “Crises sell books and make headlines, but they don’t necessarily fix problems.”

    The church in America has become like a bear fed by tourists, Stetzer said, because of so-called seekers willing to return to church to recapture their childhood religious memories.

    “What happens when you feed the bear is eventually it can’t fend for itself,” Stetzer said. “I think the people of the church have to learn to fend for themselves by going out and proclaiming the gospel, not counting on a really cool church to preach the gospel for them.”

    Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said believers should be more concerned about the loss of a Christian majority in Protestant churches than the loss of a Protestant majority in the United States.

    “What we should pay attention to instead may be the fresh wind of orthodox Christianity whistling through the leaves – especially throughout the third world, and in some unlikely places in North America, as well,” Moore wrote Oct. 9 at russellmoore.com. “Sometimes animists, Buddhists and body-pierced Starbucks employees are more fertile ground for the gospel than the confirmed Episcopalian at the helm of the Rotary Club.”

    It’s not necessarily a bad thing that this generation of Christ-followers in the United States finds itself engaging a culture that is unfamiliar with the claims of Jesus rather than one that thinks it already knows what Christianity is about, Moore said.

    “The American Protestant majority is over and to that I say, ‘good riddance,’” Moore wrote. “Now let’s pray for something new – like a global Christian majority, on earth as it is in heaven.”

    Among the results of the Pew study:
    • The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans is driven mainly by generational replacement, Pew said, referring to the gradual displacing of older generations by newer ones. Older Americans are more likely than younger Americans to claim a religious identity.
    • Many of the 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way, Pew found. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God; more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious”; and one-in-five say they pray every day.
    • Those classified by Pew as nones include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6 percent of the U.S. population) as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14 percent of Americans).
    • The religiously unaffiliated are much more likely to describe themselves as political liberals as opposed to political conservatives, and more than 70 percent of them support legal abortion and same-sex “marriage.”
    • Americans who rarely attend church services are more willing than in the past to drop their religious attachments altogether, Pew said.
    Liberal commentators may jump at the chance to announce the extinction of Christianity, Stetzer told Baptist Press, but the data just doesn’t show it.

    “This is trumpeted because the nones have increased, but this is not that great of a shift,” Stetzer said. “This is just a natural progression of what I call the nominals moving to the nones.”

    Stetzer used his family as an example.

    “We grew up Catholic on Long Island, but the Catholic Church was the church we didn’t go to. We were not really Catholic,” Stetzer said. “Now, my parents don’t identify as anything. So for them, they were nominal Catholics and now they’re the nones. I think there’s a lot of that.”

    For the past 40 or 50 years, the church has taught people that the key to growth is to invite and bring their friends to church, Stetzer said. While inviting friends to church remains important, he said, the church building cannot remain the focus.

    “We can be too focused on the barn and the wheat actually won’t harvest itself,” Stetzer said. “So we need to go into the wheat fields, and this is where I think the re-emphasis on personal soul-winning matters.”

    Some faith leaders worry that the United States is going the way of Western Europe, where church attendance has collapsed and secularism reigns. Stetzer doesn’t buy that argument.

    “As a matter of fact, I don’t know anybody in research who buys the Western Europe argument. I just know that panicked religious leaders often buy the Western Europe argument,” Stetzer, who wrote about the Pew study at edstetzer.com, said.

    “Western Europe was responding to two issues: religious wars and religious mandates. We have had neither on the soil of the United States,” Stetzer told Baptist Press. “I think the future of faith here looks more like the Pacific Northwest where you have a predominantly secular society with robust Christian churches.”

    (EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
    10/11/2012 1:14:18 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 2 comments
    Filed under: nones, study




Comments
dr. james willingham
The problem with the forecast is that it is founded upon a neutral society outlook, but due to human depravity, conspiracies, and other subversive evils the situation is more likely to be one of repressive hostility. American church people have a naivete about life in general, the result of living in more Christianized culture which has since largely departed. That original way is in the process of vanishing and is being replaced with open hostility and out right repression. This is the result of several factors including 1) the aim of a group acknowledge by George Washington as having infiltrated America, the illuminati. 2) The rise of economic powers in America devoted to promoting secularism to the destruction of supernatural Christianity. Other factors could be mentioned, but the answer to the situation lies in the promotion of prayer for a Third Great Awakening. It appears that a time of crisis met by a terrible sense and urgency of prayer based upon and pleading divine promises will bring a victory unlike every experience in history. A message by an evangelist who was trained under W.T. Conner spoke of the Great Revival coming. It seems like that a world wide awakening, persuading every soul on earth in one generation, might begin and continue for a 1000 generations. 1 Chron. 16:15.
10/15/2012 1:17:02 PM

Heath Lloyd
I hope we do not take these findings and the rise of "NONES" too lightly.

North Carolina pastor, James Emery White, has a good, timely response to this study at his blog:
http://www.churchandculture.org/blog.asp?id=3428
10/11/2012 6:03:58 PM

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