The Future?

An interesting prediction of the future of religion in America:

“In a few years, perhaps a decade or two, religious America will catch up to Orange County’s present. There will be a shrinking number of evangelical megachurches, gradually aging and waning in influence. There will be numerous small, eclectic, multiethnic evangelical congregations whose emphasis on spiritual commitment and social service is unlikely to attract a large, mainstream following. And there will be surging numbers of immigrant Catholics, Pentecostals, and Muslims. The political influence of evangelicalism will decline. America will not become like Europe, where ossified state churches proved unable to compete against the inherently secularizing forces of market capitalism—and where immigrants’ faith expressions are often met with hostility. America will remain exceptionally religious. But traditional evangelical Christianity will no longer be a dominant presence in that religiosity.”

From Jim Hinch, Where are the People?

h/t Adam Moore

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8 comments on “The Future?

  1. Jeff says:

    If true, this is a good thing. I’m all for decentralization. Here is an interesting report from the Census Bureau that I found while reading a genealogical newsletter. What I found most interesting is the fact that KY, TN, WV, western VA and NC and northern GA and AL were “American”. They’re not – they’re Scotch-Irish. The report goes into considerable detail that tends to support the prediction in your post.

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    • Bill says:

      I think it will be a positive change, if it happens. I especially found this sentence interesting, “There will be numerous small, eclectic, multiethnic evangelical congregations whose emphasis on spiritual commitment and social service is unlikely to attract a large, mainstream following.” I would change “evangelical” to “post-evangelical” but otherwise I think he may be right about his prediction. Certainly the data suggests he is.

      Today’s marginalized immigrants become tomorrow’s mainstream culture. That’s one of the beauties of this place. My mother’s people were Scotch immigrants who settled in the mountains of western Virginia. Hillbillies. Salt of the earth.

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  2. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, I suppose in the world of religiosity I would be considered an evangelical. I do attend a pretty large church that has an attendance of some where around 2500 on a weekend from two different locations. The newest location which is a simulcast of the main church has about 400 attendance on a Sunday morning. Missionary support, ministries, church children programs are all a part of the church. My attendance there has been over 25 years. During that time two splits have occurred which generated two other churches. That’s a lot of intro to get to my point.

    From my personal perspective, I’m seeing many of my friends that do not want to be connected to a denomination or be associated with any certain church. They just want to have a relationship with Jesus and be in community with others that have the same mentality. When I say community I don’t mean the 1960s type of commune living. I mean associating with like minded people on a regular basis. I have a foot in both worlds as seemingly a spiritual shift is indeed in progress. Those that I know that have turned away from mega churches have not turned away from their spiritual beliefs but almost all are pressing into a deeper faith. The label evangelical may be waning but it’s transforming into something deeper and stronger. That’s my personal opinion.

    Have a great spiritual day.

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    • Bill says:

      I think you’re right Dave. I attended our small town version of a megachurch and it had a profound positive impact on me for a while. Some amazing work is being done out of churches like those. I know of one that created and runs a free clinic, especially designed to not look like a place where the poor go for charity. They’re also doing great work supporting a medical clinic in Haiti run by the organization my wife works for. That church asked itself a few years ago who would miss them if they went away and realized the answer was hardly anybody outside the congregation. So they set about trying to change that. But there are also plenty of such churches spending kingdom resources on mortgage payments, staff salaries, expensive media production, etc. It’s definitely a mixed bag.

      I think your last paragraph is right on the money. In the post-evangelical world I think the emphasis will be on service and discipleship. Believers will gather in homes and live in community. No long lists of doctrinal statements. No megachurches. No church buildings. Just communities of people coming together to serve and grow in love and faith. There is a lot of fretting about decreasing church attendance these days, but like you I don’t see that as an indication that people are becoming less spiritual. In many cases I see it as spiritual growth.

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  3. I grew up in a fundamentalist church (Mennonite), moved at 18 to Orange County, California and attended an evangelical mega-church (Calvary Chapel), returned home, went back to school, and never again attended church.

    When I was young, I often tried to convince my father to allow a Sunday morning walk across our farm’s fields to substitute for Sunday School and preaching. He never allowed it.

    I respect the fundamental Mennonites of my youth for the witness of their day-to-day honesty.

    The evangelical mega-church depressed me from the start. I would return home after a service and feel sick, emotionally and physically.

    These days I occasionally go to a Quaker Meeting, where the prolonged silence always pleases me. I like being inside the meetinghouse and looking out the windows at the sky. Sometimes a bird will fly by. If someone stands up and says something and I don’t listen, that does not mean I didn’t hear.what they said.

    I am not a Believer. But I believe this: small churches matter Big.

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    • Bill says:

      Thanks for commenting Will. What you asked your father’s permission to do is what Wendell Berry often does (as you probably know). His Sabbath poems are written in that time.

      My wife is a convinced Quaker, and I can’t find a thing in the world wrong with Quaker beliefs and practices. There are no meetings nearby, so we don’t go often. The closest meeting is over an hour away, or we’d go more often. But I smile when I read your description of the silent time. My wife told me that at one of the first meetings she attended, unsure how one should behave during the quiet, she noticed a woman looking out the window at the trees. It resonated with her and she adopted that practice herself.

      These days we don’t “go to church.” We’re part of a community of folks who live in intentional community in the inner city among the very poor. Of course because of where and how we live we can’t live among them, but we join with them when we can. They do gather on Sunday evenings for a brief time of worship but it’s not what they’re about. The have an open-door community meal every week. They live together or in close proximity. They are in some kind of community service every single day, in community with the homeless, the addicts, the desperately poor and the outcasts (as well as with one another). They share life 24-7 and exclude no one. In our gatherings all are free to say whatever they like, without fear. The focus is on discipleship, not conversion. Groups like that give me hope.

      So do folks who walk across fields on Sunday mornings, and folks who sit silently in Quaker meetings and look out the window at the sky.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. El Guapo says:

    However religious groups go, I would be much happier to see less of a focus on scripture as the infallible word, and less “my version is right and yours is wrong”. and a whole lot more “spirit of the word” behavior.
    That would be nice…

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    • Bill says:

      I truly believe in the coming years those things will not be part of the dominant way of thinking and that most people of faith will choose to be guided by the Spirit, rather than dogma and legalisms.

      Liked by 1 person

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