Has Christianity lost its relevance?

Nathan Zoschke

The obvious answer may appear to be no.

Churches, particularly those in Kansas City, are so plentiful it is difficult to drive down any major street without running into one, if not several.

This may be that the U.S. is far more religious than most of its Western peers.

Eighty percent of U.S. adults identify with some form of Christianity, while only 16 percent claim no religious affiliation.

About 40 percent of U.S. adults say they attend religious services weekly, compared with 20 percent of Canadians and as few as 10 percent in some Western European countries.

Among Protestants, which more than half of all Americans identify themselves as, there are two distinct trends.

The Mainline Protestant denominations, e.g. Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Anglican, etc., have seen their membership decline significantly since the mid-1900s.

During the Cold War, religious fervor in the U.S. was at its peak due to a backlash against the atheistic policies of the former Soviet Union. The words “In God We Trust” were added to paper currency, and “One Nation under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance.

It is no secret that Mainline Protestants are showing some grey hairs, yet these churches tend to be more moderate, if not liberal, when compared with their Evangelical and charismatic peers.

It is not uncommon to find mainline churches where the median age is well above 50. In some cases, it’s even older.

Evangelical churches, in contrast, have increased their membership dramatically by appealing to younger families with children. The past few decades have seen evangelical churches grow exponentially, even as mainline churches have faltered.

What can explain this trend in church demographics?

Some of it may be geographical. Mainline churches peaked years ago, and thus, are more prevalent urban cores and inner suburbs, where the median age tends to be higher.

Evangelical congregations are often located in farther-flung suburbs, populated by families with children. They also tend to be larger; neighborhood churches a few hundred members have been supplanted with megachurches boasting thousands.

Church marketing has aided this trend. Mainline churches epitomize boring, stodgy tradition.

In response to the dislike of anachronistic tradition, evangelical churches are far less conventional.

Take away the crosses, and it’s hard to tell a brand new church from a community center or a small arena. If the goal is to get people sucked in and tithing their 10 percent (to pay the senior pastor’s CEO-level salary), what better way to do it than with a church coffee shop, stadium seating in the sanctuary, recreational facilities and a church band?

Such churches were a popular trend during the ’90s and 2000s, but I predict a not-so-pleasant demise over the next several decades.

The relationship between pop culture and evangelical Christians is amusing, if not ironic.

The contemporary music and casual environment of some evangelical megachurches more closely resembles a rock concert than a traditional church service, yet evangelical pastors often rail against foul language, premarital sex, gay tolerance and the evils of pop culture icons who promote such worldly vices.

It is no secret many evangelical churches have an agenda that seems as political as it is religious. In some cases, the agenda is political at the expense of religion.

New Testament teachings, which serve as basis for Christianity, emphasize compassion, forgiveness and charity for the poor, but contain little, if any, support for the conservative agendas on which evangelical leaders are fixated.

Evangelical churches are a haven for parents who wish to seclude their children from the “evils” of liberal Hollywood, but does this approach really work?

Despite their fixation on abstinence until marriage, evangelical teens, on average, begin having sex at a younger age than their peers.

A series of recent sex scandals in both Protestant and Catholic churches has weakened faith in church leadership.

Young adults are more apathetic to religion in the U.S. than they have ever been, and the apathy doesn’t seem to be going away.

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