You’ve likely heard the conventional wisdom: The U.S. church is shrinking. Teenagers and young adults are leaving in droves. Atheism and unbelief are growing rapidly.
But a new book challenges those assumptions – and even says the truth is exactly the opposite.
The book, Myth of the Dying Church: How Christianity Is Actually Thriving in America and the World by author Glenn T. Stanton, asserts that church attendance in the United States is at an all-time high, both in raw numbers and as a percentage of the population. That includes the colonial days.
Stanton also says Americans are more attracted to Bible-believing churches that discuss sin and salvation than to liberal churches that avoid both topics.
Stanton – the director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family – examined multiple studies and bodies of research for the book.
Christian Headlines recently spoke to him. Following is a transcript:
We hear so often that the church is shrinking today – that young people are leaving the faith, and Christianity is disappearing. You say this is not so. Why?
First, as I got into the research while writing the book, I was really surprised how much stronger the data on this topic actually is. It tells this story: The best forms of Christianity, faithful, Bible-teaching churches calling its members to real discipleship and vibrant worship, are holding very strong, even growing in some ways. The most troubling forms, those that’ve compromised on things like the deity of Christ, the historicity of the resurrection, the reality of sin and miracles as well as caving on issues of sexuality, abortion and homosexuality, those churches are hemorrhaging members by the millions and have been for decades. So the story here is a separating of the wheat and the tares, but certainly not a decline of Christianity.
So America is not becoming more secular, more unbelieving?
Not in terms of the people themselves. Yes, our culture seems to be in terms of media, Hollywood and journalists. But when it comes to people themselves, there is certainly not a mass move toward unbelief. I read an article recently from a major conservative news source that said atheism is the largest “religious” group in our nation. Not even close, for goodness sake. The Pew Research Center tells us that only 3 percent of the U.S. population is atheist. Only 4 percent are agnostics. For the people of truth, we can spread a great deal of falsehood. I’m trying to change that through this book.
We hear so much about the growth of the so-called “nones” – those who say they no longer identify with any institutional church. You say these “nones” are not what most people have been told–that they don’t represent a growing population of new unbelievers. Explain what you mean.
The nones are certainly the most misunderstood, and therefore most misreported, part of the story in all of this. Most leading, university-based sociologists of religion explain these are certainly not a new and growing category of unbelievers. The nones are largely those who were never really attached to a church in the first place. They are folks who might have said, “Yes, I’m Methodist” or “I’m Baptist” but they were actually only CEO Christians… Christmas and Easter Only types. Their pastor never knew who they were. But now, based on how survey questions are being asked, they are more comfortable being honest, saying they have no real connection to any institutional church.
Thus, the nones only mark a new categorization, not new unbelievers. Again, like the Harvard/Indiana research and other sources explain, there is not a growing secularization among people in the United States.
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Source: Christian Headlines