On October 18, 2019, The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported that the “Non-Religion Ranks [are] Swelling in U.S.” In the last decade, the percentage of Americans who call themselves Christians dropped 12%. During the same period, the number of people claiming no religious affiliation grew 9%, making the “unaffiliated” the single largest “religious” group in America. The shift was particularly noticeable among young adults—only 49% of millennials describe themselves as Christian.
Those are sobering numbers, and we need to take them seriously. Surely part of the decline in religious practice comes from the politicization of much of American Christianity, political battles within denominations, and the very public failings of Church people—I think particularly about the Catholic sex abuse scandal, but not only that. If everything you knew about Christianity came from the news, who would want to be Christian!
Clever marketing could perhaps help to reverse the decline. So might trendy shifts in worship style or theology. But those are superficial responses to a deeper issue.
The best response we can make, it seems to me, is to get our spiritual house in order. As best I can tell, the unaffiliated don’t see any reason to come to Church. I assume they still long for lives of meaning and purpose. I assume they want to know God. But they don’t believe that involvement in Church helps much.
We need to do a better job of inviting people to give Church a try. But the more pressing need is to make sure that we give them a reason to come in the first place and then to stay. That reason has to be God. Ideally every visitor to Saint David’s would recognize immediately that we are a community of people committing to knowing God better and putting true Christian values into practice.
So, whatever else we do to attract more people, and particularly young people, our first task is to get back to basics ourselves. We need to be people of joyful worship and prayer, people who study Scripture in order to grow spiritually, people who make a difference in our community and in our world. If we can be that kind of community, plenty of people will find their way to us. Even better, we will be living the kind of lives God calls us to live!
Fr. Harvey Hill
This blog is my occasional reflections on life, God, Christian faith, and the Church. I hope you find it helpful!