When it comes to irritants, religious recruiters rank two steps lower than telemarketers on my tolerance scale. Making assumptions about anyone’s spiritual condition is not only presumptuous, but is borderline dangerous, as proselytizers have no way of judging the mental state of those they approach. In a multicultural society, discussions of religion are more complicated than ever as Christianity is no longer the only game in town. In fact, it never was.
The number of people who have no religious affiliation in the United States reached more than 80 million adults in 2008. Evangelical research organizations like the conservative Barna Research Group acknowledge that people are leaving the Christian church in record numbers and the well-respected National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago notes, “Since colonial times the United States has been a Protestant nation. But perhaps as early as this year (2004), the country will for the first time no longer have a Protestant majority.” Since that time, nine years have passed and today Protestants have slipped well past the halfway point.
Catholicism, the second largest faith group behind Protestants is also shrinking, while evangelical Christianity grew percentage-wise, it gathered in less than 350,000 adherents. Protestant and Catholics lost only a small percentage, but the body count was nearly 7 million. Of the losses, most went into the “no religion” category.
Interestingly, research from a variety of faith-based groups consistently overlooks religion as the genesis of the decline. Religions throughout the ages have typical highs and lows, but in this instance, traditional religion runs against the reality of the modern world. So far, adjustments to make it fit either ask for the willing suspension of disbelief, as in fiction, or resort to outright lies such as the spurious science of creationism.
Most research by religious entities focus on how to get more converts and attract people to church rather than asking why attendance is in decline. The “independents” or those who choose not to be part of any organized religion make it very clear that standard faith offerings do not fit their spiritual needs. Despite this clear departure message, it seems that no one sees it.
Instead, there is more talk of recruiting procedures and techniques, addition of more entertainment and even design of new churches as ways of attracting more people to religious services. Currently, women provide the backbone of Christianity supplying well over 60% of membership, yet, represents a distinct and often designated minority among church leadership.
Islam is a growing faith in the United States as is the Hindu faith, but the fastest growing segment in the United States is those “independent” of organized religion, which is expected to hit 25% within the next decade. Also known as the “unchurched,” part of their disenchantment with organized religion comes from its push in politics and uninvited role as moral spokesmen for the country.
Religious recruiting is what it always was, an intrusion to those who are not concerned with organized faith. There is no shortage of churches anywhere in the United States, especially in the South. Those that feel the need for organized religion are already in the pews by faith or order of their parents. Meanwhile, “independents” or the “unchurched,” just want to be left alone.