Monday, February 25, 2008

Americans Switching Faiths, Dropping Out

CNN is reporting today on how Americans are dropping out of the mainline churches (See story):

The U.S. religious marketplace is extremely volatile, with nearly half of American adults leaving the faith tradition of their upbringing to either switch allegiances or abandon religious affiliation altogether, a new survey finds.

The study released Monday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is unusual for it sheer scope, relying on interviews with more than 35,000 adults to document a diverse and dynamic U.S. religious population.

While much of the study confirms earlier findings -- mainline Protestant churches are in decline, non-denominational churches are gaining and the ranks of the unaffiliated are growing -- it also provides a deeper look behind those trends, and of smaller religious groups.

...The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey estimates the United States is 78 percent Christian and about to lose its status as a majority Protestant nation, at 51 percent and slipping.

More than one-quarter of American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another religion or no religion at all, the survey found. Factoring in moves from one stream or denomination of Protestantism to another, the number rises to 44 percent.

One in four adults ages 18 to 29 claim no affiliation with a religious institution.

...The Roman Catholic Church has lost more members than any faith tradition because of affiliation swapping, the survey found. While nearly one in three Americans were raised Catholic, fewer than one in four say they're Catholic today. That means roughly 10 percent of all Americans are ex-Catholics.

The share of the population that identifies as Catholic, however, has remained fairly stable in recent decades thanks to an influx of immigrant Catholics, mostly from Latin America. Nearly half of all Catholics under 30 are Hispanic, the survey found.

On the Protestant side, changes in affiliation are swelling the ranks of nondenominational churches, while Baptist and Methodist traditions are showing net losses.

No doubt many are leaving the mainline denominational churches and going to nondenominational ones because the denominational churches are embracing liberal theology. In the case of Roman Catholicism, it could be the various scandals or lack of assurance of salvation, etc.

Regardless of the reasons, I think that this is where Lutheran churches (which are also losing members) should shine. Lutheran churches should be emphasizing both Law and Gospel and should be properly distinguishing one from the other, without mixing them. Unfortunately, many, if not most, nondenominational churches do mix the two in various degrees so that, even though they are taught that they are saved by grace through faith without works, there is still the nagging feeling in the Christians' minds that they should be doing something - thus the often repeated act of running up to the altar to "accept" Christ as their Saviour, etc.

Rather than adopting all the latest fads that are found in evangelical churches to try and raise their numbers, it is my belief that the LCMS in particular should stick to the principles taught in Walther's Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. I've found more freedom with the Gospel message taught in Lutheran churches than I ever did in evangelical churches, and that message of the Gospel should be what brings people into the Church.

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