Church attendance among those who identified as evangelicals is plummeting in the United States.
In 2008, 29% of people who identified as evangelicals stated they attended church only yearly (or less). In 2021, that number was 42%. These aren’t the “nones.” These are not the people who say they are agnostic, atheist or have no affiliation (that number also went up from 22% in 2008 to 36% in 2021). I’m talking about the people who say they believe in Jesus. They identify with tribes similar to mine but for the occasional Christmas or Easter have stopped going to church. Moreover, less than half (47%) of self-identified evangelicals are weekly attenders. It was 59% in 2008. (See graphs below)
What do these numbers tell me? We are losing. We are losing those who have given up on faith and we are losing people who are still (currently) verbalizing faith– but will probably be stepping out soon with no faith community to surround and encourage them. We are witnessing a massive decline in Christianity in the United States. Unlike the Great Awakening, this period of United States history will be known as the Great Exiting. It’s happening under our watch. Right under our noses.
Here’s the deal: People still need Jesus. The Christ-shaped void in people’s lives is more evident than ever. People are lonely. Suicides are up. Violent crime is up (in most cities). Anger is up. Morality is sinking into new lows. Right seems wrong. Wrong seems right. Ministers are walking away at a greater number than ever, and fewer young people are sensing a call into ministry. People are in trouble while discouraged pastors are leaving their pulpits and empty churches are closing their doors.
What are we going to do about it?
Here are our options:
1). Throw stones at those who exit or are exiting. (Probably not a good strategy);
2). Keep our noses in the hymnbook (figuratively) and pretend that everything is OK (Also, not a good strategy);
3). Blame the media, politicians, the left, the right, hypocrites, megachurch failures, the pandemic, the Russians, the music, the boogeyman, bad pastors or youth pastors, this article (and ones like it) and/or everyone but ourselves for the decline. (Probably need a mirror not a slingshot).
4). Become disgruntled and join the Great Exit (please don’t);
5). Get out of our pews and into our neighborhoods. Pray. Make friends with non-believers. Try new things. Change methods, not the message. Keep trying. Preach Jesus. Pray some more. Focus on children and teenagers. Try harder. Pray harder. Stop judging. Start loving. Did I mention prayer? We need more prayer.
We are losing, but we can’t quit. We must keep trying. Jesus is still Lord. We are still His disciples. The world still needs Jesus and His Bride. The Great Exit is upon us, let history show that we did not take it twiddling our thumbs. Instead, let’s keep proclaiming Jesus in our actions and words.