Are the skeptics right? Is evangelical Christianity failing among America's young people? The newest poll numbers seem to indicate that it is.
Today I came across an article in Advertising Age that blew me away. The article was about marketing and religion, but what impacted me so profoundly were some figures from the American Religious Identification Survey by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture at Trinity College.
According to that survey, 15% of Americans say they have "no religion" which is up from 8% in 1990.
That would be bad enough news for evangelical Christianity.
But in that same survey 46% of Americans between the ages of 18 to 34 indicated that they had no religion.
Forty. Six. Percent.
Now, not all of those are unbelievers. According to a survey by Bohan Advertising/Marketing, the Barna Group and the United Methodist Church, 62 percent of Americans in that age group consider themselves to be "spiritual", and 43 percent of them have prayed in the last 2 months.
What it does mean is that almost half of all Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 do not identify themselves with a particular religion.
When you look at recent poll numbers for Christianity in particular, the numbers become even more sobering.
A stunning new survey by the Barna group reveals that less than 1 percent of all Americans between the ages of 18 and 23 have a Biblical worldview. This new poll data clearly shows that the youngest adults in America have clearly rejected traditional evangelical Christian teaching.
The survey defined having a Biblical worldview as holding the following six beliefs:
1) Believing that absolute moral truth exists.
2) Believing that the Bible is completely accurate in all of the principles it teaches.
3) Believing that Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic.
4) Believing that a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or by doing good works.
5) Believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth.
6) Believing that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.
So what do these numbers mean?
They show that evangelical Christianity has lost almost an entire generation of American young people.
Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor recently wrote about the "coming evangelical collapse" that they believe is coming. They predict that "within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants."
That is frightening.
Almost all Christian denominations are losing members at this point.
The new American Religious Identification Survey shows that most religions in the United States are losing members rapidly. According to the survey, the percentage of Americans who call themselves Christians has dropped more than 11% since 1990. The survey reports that Catholics, Baptists and other mainline Protestants have seen large drops in numbers.
However, Islam, Wicca and eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism showed large gains in the survey.
But more bad news for evangelical Christianity is that those who still call themselves Christians do not necessarily hold to traditional Christian beliefs any longer. Two other recent surveys show that the majority of American Christians believe that accepting Jesus Christ as savior is NOT the only way to eternal life.
USAToday recently reported on an almost unbelievable new survey that found that 52 percent of American Christians believe that eternal life is not exclusively for those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior.
A different survey that was taken last year by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 57 percent of evangelical Christians in America believe that "many religions can lead to eternal life".
That shocking study revealed what many Christians have known for quite some time - apostasy among "evangelical Christians" is spreading, and it is spreading rapidly.
Evangelical Christians are supposedly those who follow the teachings of the Bible the most literally. But this survey indicates that even a majority of them do not even believe in the most fundamental precepts of the Christians faith.
For example, in John 14:6 Jesus says the following:
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
If there was another way for our sins to be forgiven, then why did Jesus need to die on the cross? If there were other ways to salvation, then Jesus could have come down to earth, pointed out a bunch of other ways to get to heaven, and then could have gone back up to heaven without having to deal with the cross.
But the reality is that there was no other way for our sins to be paid for.
And yet these new surveys reveal that a majority of American Christians now believe that there are plenty of other ways to get to heaven.
The Pew survey also revealed that 45% of Americans as a whole say they seldom or never read their religion's holy books.
Perhaps if more Americans were reading the Bible then they would know what is truth and what is error. Instead, Americans have surrounded themselves with preachers and self-help coaches and "feel-good" ministers who tell them what they want to hear, who always make them feel comfortable and who never tell them about sin, holiness or the judgment of God.
The current situation in America reminds me of 2 Timothy 4:3.....
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
The sad reality is that the trends all show that church attendance in America is in decline.
Dave Olson, the director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, has done some really interesting research into the church attendance patterns of Americans.
Olson's findings contain a ton of bad news. For starters, his research found that the percentage of Americans regularly attending church is only 18.7%.
Olson has put his findings into an eye opening slideshow entitled "Twelve Surprising Facts about the US Church".
Here are some of the things that he found:
The percentage of people who actually physically attend a Christian church each week is quite a bit below what pollsters report.
The percentage of people who attended a Christian church each week decreased significantly between 1990 and 2000.
Only one state, Hawaii, actually saw an increase in the percentage of the population attending church between 1990 and 2000. Every other state in the entire nation saw a decrease in church attendance.
Evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Catholics are each strong in very different regions of the nation.
If these current trends continue, the percentage of the U.S. population that attends church each week in 2050 will be about half of what it is today.
What all of these numbers mean is that there is a mass exodus from American churches - particularly among young adults.
Some young adults are leaving because they don't believe in Christianity any longer. Others are leaving because they are looking for the real thing and they aren't finding it.
Perhaps everyone should start looking around at their own churches and make a sober assessment of what is really going on there.
Does your church have "the real thing" or are you all just playing religion?