I know the big news around the internet is the most recent Pew Study, showing the decline in church attendance. It makes me a little crazy, honestly, because instead of responding with “what is this telling us that we need to consider?” so much of the emphasis I have seen is on “how do we take this information and change how we do church and get them back somehow?”
Plus, it doesn’t take a study to tell us what is so apparent in our own lives and the lives around us. Think of your own experience and how many people you know now who are in the midst of significant faith shifts, who no longer go to church after years of faithful service, who are shedding religion and finding freedom?
The numbers keep growing, and I think it’s only going to pick up speed.
Just for fun, I thought I’d walk it out, processing each one briefly. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, too.
Fusing – Much of contemporary Christianity was built upon a system of conformity, certainty, and affiliation. The homogeneity of our churches, importance of dogma and doctrine, and placing belief above all else worked for a long time. This last machination of Christianity has Fusing nailed. Even though things are changing, there are still new churches being planted and old churches deeply embedded (and an entire meta structure of books and conferences) with the values of Fusing. It still works.
Shifting – But the world is changing. There’s a longing for something deeper, more mysterious, more free. Phyllis Tickle talks about us being in the middle of the second Reformation, and the discomfort we are experiencing in this 500 year shift is related to the tilt. Issues of sexuality are more complex and out in the open. Social media and the access to information that people have now is influencing our culture in a significant way. Easy answers and controlling authorities just won’t fly anymore. I personally think that we are still in the fairly early stages of Shifting. It’s still pretty manageable. Churches are still getting away with a lot of what they’ve always gotten away with. While a chunk of people aren’t going anymore, many many still are.
Returning – Oh, there’s all kinds of spiritual bypasses going on in Christianity’s faith shift. The desire for liturgical practices and evangelicals transitioning to mainline denominations, the same material being churned out with a little different twist so that it appeals to the “dones”, the “how can we keep making this thing work?” questions that so many pastors and leaders who are still in are asking. The reality of what will happen if an entire industry begins to cave in has many up at night, trying to figure out a way to stay afloat and the money keep flowing.
Unraveling – While it’s so clear that Christianity is shifting and parts of it are beginning to unravel, I think we’re only at the beginning of this process. Even though there’s all this churn and fear and change and volumes being written on it, I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface on what’s coming. The desire for autonomy, authenticity, and uncertainty is going to take a while to truly drive us. It will take many years for this to truly pick up speed to the point where we feel it beyond just churches closing. Over time, it’s going to be a rough, painful ride of loss. Beliefs, structures, relationships, identity–so much is on the line. I love it because I think what will happen over time will be so healing and good for Christianity. What once seemed important won’t be anymore, and in the end, the shedding process will hopefully uncover a more true sense of what Christianity was always supposed to be, more deeply aligned with what Jesus intended in the first place. However, the loss is going to be tough, the questions great, the realities incredibly disorienting.
Severing – I think Christianity will lose a lot of people to Severing over its transition. It’s already started, with the growing number of atheists and agnostics and Spiritual But Not Religious folks and now the new popular terms, “Dones” and “Nones”, which mean different things to different people It will feel so threatening, to lose that many folks along the way, but in the end, I think it will be helpful, too. So much that we added to Christianity needs to die, truly, in order for something new to arise.
Rebuilding – I can’t wait to see what emerges (I’ll be dead by then so I won’t get to, ha ha) but I do believe that freedom, mystery, and diversity awaits on a much wider scale. A stripped down, scaled down, simpler version of Christianity with truer roots to justice and mercy and peacemaking and the tangible ways of Jesus will hopefully eventually come to life. Of course, we see glimpses of it now and I am glad for that, but it will take a far more drastic and painful Unraveling to get us to a new place corporately. The bottom line for me: I think Christianity is far from over but it will look radically different over time.
This is so much more of a conversation than one little blog post can encapsulate, but it’s been swirling around in my head for a while now and I wanted to get it out there for others to process with me, too.
What are some of your thoughts about Christianity’s Faith Shift?
Two other quick things:
- SheLoves Magazine’s June column is up. It’s called Permission Advocate–sometimes we need one, and sometimes we can be one for others.
- Whew, I know it’s been a lot here this past week, but I’ve got one last post tomorrow (Friday) before a longer-than-previous-years summer blog break, which will be through September 1st. I’ll miss connecting here, but I’m looking forward to a longer season of not thinking in blog 🙂