Thank God: “Americans Less Religious Than Ever”

Americans are less religious than ever before in the history of America.

Thank God.

Religion in America is on the decline

Twenty percent of Americans claimed no “religious preference” in a study by the General Social Survey. That’s a good thing in my estimation. Because no “religious preference” is not synonymous with unbelief. Only three percent of Americans identified with “Atheism.”

All it really means is traditional denominational streams that once thrived are now waning. People who once felt obligated to self identify as Baptist, Lutheran or Catholic for the sake of social pressure no longer feel that need.

As a Reformed BaptiMethoCostal that doesn’t really wad my panties. I understand modern misgivings with institutional Religion. Maybe some of those streams need to run dry. But the invincible gospel will always march on through the end past the expiration date of man-made institutions.

What I also hope it means is that man’s outward efforts to dress himself up and recommend himself to God are waning too. That religion in general, what man does for God, can die; and that the gospel, what God does for man, can live and flourish.

Cultural Christian games no longer have to be played.

It was the hyper Religious who put Christ on the cross, not those with no “religious preference”, anyways.

So the tide of religious legalism is turning and consuming itself in America. Good. That means the opportunity to experience and share the grace of Jesus is better than ever.

Goodbye, religion.

May Jesus step in and heal the wounds you left behind.

Bryan Daniels

27 thoughts on “Thank God: “Americans Less Religious Than Ever”

  1. Maria Tatham (Elizabeth Ott)

    Dear Reformed BaptiMethoCostal (adherent of BaptiCalviMethoCostalism), greetings in Jesus’ Name!

    A problem with the position you’re taking is that the word religion has come to have only negative connotations for many Christians. Every time someone decries mere religion, I cringe, becauseUnle we’re forgetting that James showed us how positive a thing true religion is (1:27):

    “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” NKJV

    Also, the Faith is always going to exist in a visible, more or less imperfect institution of some kind; if dying denominations vanish, others will spring up, and they will be imperfect too – unless we go through a period of unimaginable persecution that draws all the wheat into one blessed barn.

    Also, rejoicing over statistics, when the gathering and interpretation of them is so problematic, may need some further thought on on all our part.

    Mercy, grace, peace, and love multiplied to you!

    A ReformedOrthodoxCharismaticMessianicLutheran… Wow, I thought I was the only one who had this… problem(?) !
    :0)

    Reply
    1. Bryan Daniels Post author

      Thanks for the thought provoking comment! Certainly religion as posited in James 1:27 is a great thing, unfortunately that “pure and undefiled” expression of Christianity is not the norm in religion/cultural Christianity in general. And I agree, even Non denomination is a fancy word for another “denomination.” But IF the stats are trending in a truthful direction I don’t rejoice in those alone, but only in the opportunity it may present: For the gospel of Jesus to heal and saturate. Peace and grace sister, our heritage is ain’t a problem, it’s a blessing I say!

      Reply
    2. T. E. Hanna

      I think the emphasis that Bryan is driving at here is precisely that the definition of “religion” has changed. Anymore, it is predominantly defined by dogmatic and governmental structures, rather than the community of Christ-followers in whom the grace and presence of God dwells. Denominationalism is dying, and with it, Christianity’s cultural positions of privilege and power. The decline is forcing Christians to rethink what the faith really means, and to begin to reclaim a world-altering Christian movement that draws its power from the presence of the Holy Spirit lived our through a people at the margins who demonstrate faithfulness precisely when they DON’T have the culturally defined places of power and privilege.
      I echo Bryan’s sentiment. Thank God.

      Reply
        1. Sheryl Wright Stinchcum

          I agree with you, Bryan and T.E. Hanna. Denominations are dying. They have “a form of religion but lack power.” Years ago, when I was a young Methodist preacher’s kid, salvation was emphasized. That was good but the services in that and other denominations were structured to the nth degree leaving little room for the Holy Spirit to operate. Eventually, a different gospel–the social gospel–emerged, replacing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

          Some churches within denominations have held on to the true gospel and show a willingness to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. But they are few and far between.

          The good news is that Christianity is thriving in places where former Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, etc.are worshiping God together in spirit and in truth, instead of “playing church.”

          Reply
      1. Maria Tatham (Elizabeth Ott)

        Mr. Hanna, you said: “I think the emphasis that Bryan is driving at here is precisely that the definition of “religion” has changed.”
        Well, then, what should we do about James’s definiition?

        You said: “Anymore, it is predominantly defined by dogmatic and governmental structures, rather than the community of Christ-followers in whom the grace and presence of God dwells.”
        You know, I’m unhappy with the term “Christ-followers.” I may make jokes about ‘brands of the Faiith’, however, I’m content and honored to be called a Christian (you know, Antioch!)

        Denominationalism ISN’T dying in the Southern Hemisphere, where Christians don’t have power and privilege (do they really have that here?), and where they’re suffering for the Word of God, acutely.

        Unlike you, I don’t see our mandate from Yeshuah to be to change (alter) the world. Here, we will suffer and die for Him. Here, we will preach the Gospel of Christ and people (marginalized or not) will respond (or not).

        I’m grateful for the Spirit’s leading, that I may see that changing definitions of legitimate terms is problematic. People are fond of trouncing the term “religion,” but if you remove its godly connotation, we are left with a word that won’t mean anything, effectively, to readers of James.

        Maria

        Reply
        1. T. E. Hanna

          Maria, I completely agree. The problem is that language is fluid and changing. In Old English, for example, ‘meat’ referred to anything edible. I could chow down on broccoli and be enjoying my meat. Today, the term has grown to refer specifically to the flesh of an animal. If I say “meat” I need to define whether I am using that in the Old English sense, or in the modern sense.
          Today, when we say “religion” we attach to that all sorts of baggage. To be fair, the term carried baggage for James as well, which is why he was careful to define it.
          I agree that I get remarkably frustrated with the way “religion” is often tossed out. There are times, however, when we need to distinguish that to which we refer. Religion in the global west is most often defined in terms of political stances, which truncates the faith and strips Christianity of its authenticity and power.
          As a side note, just for clarification, but Christian mean Christ-Follower. The two terms are the same thing, and the Greek used in the Acts passage you refer to can be translated either way. The movement to call oneself ‘Christ-Follower’ rather than ‘Christian’ is actually a move to reclaim the term used in Antioch and divorce it from the contemporary baggage we have attached to ‘Christian’..
          And we will just have to disagree on the role of Christians in the changing of this present world ;)
          As a side note, I’m a huge fan of Christian fantasy. I may have to check out your book.

          Reply
  2. Robert Rife

    Well said. Please don’t think me grumpy when I say, whenever I find myself trapped in those go nowhere conversations when the scary, enigmatic phrase, “winning back America” is dropped, I think that, in our cultural context, 2 things will spell America’s return to greatness: when it is no longer a global super-power and when it is no longer pushed around by small minded fundamentalism. It places power and faith back where they belong, with God and in God…first.

    Reply
  3. Pieter Stok

    Great post Bryan. The first step to touch the depths of the heart of mankind is to break through his/her sense of self sufficiency. Religiosity is the shell we/God needs to crack. Faith in Christ needs to be inserted. Easter reminds us that we can do nothing but believe! Thanks again.

    Reply
  4. JS Park

    Yes. I do think people are just more honest about their beliefs now. A few decades ago it would’ve tarnished someone’s image to say “I’m an atheist.” I believe honesty is better — and even then, nominal titles still don’t tell us the whole story.

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  5. Stephen

    Aargh! Rant! And another ranting aargh! Please understand or to be more inline with the truth I hope God opens the minds of the casual weekend wannabes and full time unbelieving vessels of impure sez to the simple truth of religion that is acceptable in his eyes and stop using this word as a corporate umbrella for any idea of a supreme being and the pseudo adoration thereof. Religion is the reflection of Christ Himself in a person’s work and that work being of God for God and creation. Period. Peace.

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  6. Jim

    Hi Bryan,

    I think it is much, much worse than you think. People are in large part, turning their back on the Christian faith in all of its denominational AND non-denominational forms. Why that is happening is the question. I think that the church herself is to blame for much of this. Our Mega-Church seeker-driven concepts attract people who truly are open to hear the authentic gospel, yet they don’t hear it. They hear all kinds of other stuff: How to be a better husband, how to be a better parent, how to be more succesful, how to be a Christian without being one etc. Disillusioned, they turn away. In mass. In 20 years, church attendance in America is predicted to be 50% less than what it was 5 years ago!

    It’s our fault, we have abandoned the Gospel. I do think there is hope!, but we shall not find it in the typical non-denominational contemporary church movement. They had their chance, and we really messed things up!

    I talked a little about that here:

    http://notforitchingears.com/2010/12/26/george-barna-the-seeker-sensitive-church-model-dumbing-down-disciples/

    Reply
  7. hanginoutwithGod

    Well, Bryan, I’ll throw in my two cents’ worth as well. After more than 40 years in ministry, I’m probably much older that most of the people commenting here, so perhaps my perspective is different. But I would like to share a couple thoughts if that’s okay. First of all I would like to address the term “religion.” The word translated “religion” in the King James Version of James, chapter one — based on its true origins from the Greek — can best be translated as “piety and worship.” If we consider that the word means active piety and worship and say that it is represented by how we treat the widows and orphans, then it makes a great deal of sense and lifts our sights to something totally outside of the normal connotation of religion.

    But the truth is that Christianity never was a “religion,” and still is not one today. True Christianity is a Father and His family — a family who have been brought back home to Father’s loving arms by the price the elder brother Jesus paid. Christianity is not religion. It is a total sell-out of self to the loving, worshiping, and serving of that same Jesus by letting Him live His own life in and through us. That is not religion. It is living daily — hourly — as a member of Jehovah’s family and a sibling of Jesus Christ, who has conquered all. Big difference.

    I do understand that some of these statistics are actually saying that most people are turning away from Christianity in all of its forms — and from faith as a whole. But Bryan’s point is still true — as is Jim’s. People are fed up with a “church” that is playing at being a church — but is not genuinely the embodiment of Christ. We have so compromised with the world and tried to make Christianity another religion — softening it around the edges and dying it the world’s colors so that we will “fit in” and make everybody comfortable when they come through our doors — that we have turned people off. We are lukewarm as a result of compromise. The American church — as a whole — is now the temperature at which Jesus Himself said He would spew us out. Why should we expect the world to not do the same? If we were fiery hot, the world would be in the same position they were in when the New Testament church was first born. They would fear us and stay away — or they would come running to us to get what we have.

    We should be glad that the world is turning away from the Christianity that dominates the scene today — with all the “seeker-friendly” mega-churches, sporting their coffee bars and “round table discussions” by people who don’t know God’s Word. (Where are the Bible classes taught by men and women who are called, gifted, and anointed to teach God’s pure Word?) I see hundreds of people sitting around drinking coffee and entering into these “round table discussions,” but learning none of the truth and receiving none of the power that will make them able to stand in the face of the onslaught of the devil and the evils of this world. They are playing church but are left destitute in the face of the death-dealing blows the world and the devil inflict.

    The world does not need more religion. It just needs to experience the REAL Jesus — in all of his truth and love and yoke-destroying power. We in the church can take these statistics as a wake-up call to shake off the spirit of apathy and compromise and run after God until He baptizes us in the fire of His spirit anew.

    Also, Bryan, in light of what you wrote, I think you would enjoy an article I posted on Palm Sunday. It has been reblogged on four different internet sites, and the response has been extremely positive. It relates to your point about people finding Jesus in His grace rather than religion. I’ll include the link to the original post here in case you want to check it out.

    http://hanginoutwithgod.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/you-dont-have-to-be-a-christian-to-call-on-jesus/

    Blessings on you, Bryan — and on all the brothers and sisters who have been in fellowship here today.
    Sandra

    Reply
  8. Noel

    I am also glad for this. Religion is a man made institution to benefit the church. However, I still see that today’s churches are basically serving themselves, instead of the “least of these”. I may be wrong. This is why I have not attended one in years. Are there any churches that clearly reflect the real meaning of the Gospel? I haven’t seen one yet.

    Reply
    1. Bryan Daniels Post author

      I’m sure they’re out there, though none do it perfectly Noel. The Methodist body I attend is in the poorest part of town and we serve that area with free groceries and clothes from our mission house every week. All types of people pour in, almost none of them end up attending our church, yet we keep serving them. Just one example of a church serving the “least of these” I bet there is one near you too. Peace and grace sir!

      Reply

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