As the effects of the pandemic continue to show themselves, the Barna group is reporting by way of the Christian Post that the disconnect from attendance at church may cause large declines among younger members of the various Evangelical denominations.
The coronavirus pandemic could accelerate a loss of faith among the next generation unless churches find ways to better disciple young churchgoers and keep them connected, senior researchers at the Barna Group say.
David Kinnaman, president of the California-based evangelical Christian polling firm and Mark Matlock, director of insights, cited earlier research highlighting how a majority of young people who grew up in the church will either walk away from their faith or from the church when they become young adults, during a recent discussion about the impact of the pandemic on Christians aged 18-29.
When asked about what he was seeing and hearing from churches that are trying to respond to the problem, Matlock highlighted research showing that among adults 18-29 who were raised Christian, only 10% of them are considered ideal or ‘resilient’ disciples. Some 22% are no longer Christian and 30% are classified as ‘nomads’ because they still believe in God but aren’t connected to a church. Another 38% are considered ‘habitual churchgoers’ but have loose ties to God.
“It’s important to realize about that 22% is that they just aren’t coming to church anymore. They’ve said I no longer identify as a Christian, which is pretty serious,” Matlock said.
“There’s another group we call nomads that still identify as a Christian, they’re not connected to church. But there’s another group, they’re not really as connected to God but they’re coming to church pretty frequently and that’s what we call the habitual churchgoers. And then there’s the resilient, kind of what we call the ideal disciple,” he continued.
“When we think about the habitual churchgoers, one of the things we know that makes them different from the resilients is that they have meaningful relationships at church. That’s come out of the research that we did for Faith for Exiles. We looked at five kind of themes that contribute to resilient discipleship,” he said. “The pandemic has accelerated the urgency, I believe, in discipling those habitual churchgoers. They are coming to our churches with pretty good frequency but they aren’t really grounded in their faith, practice or belief. And that’s an opportunity that we have.”
Both researchers believe that this group had “their hand on the door” before the pandemic and the enduring impact of the virus could cause them to “turn the knob and walk through it.”
“It means that we have to make personal connections with this generation. We need to be calling every young person that we have contact with. We need to be making a connection with them. Asking them how they’re doing? Finding out how their faith has been going. How can we be the church to you? We know that resilients have those relationships, habituals do not. And it’s a hard thing to do in the pandemic to try to build those things but that’s what is most urgent right now,” Matlock added. (source)
This is not a surprise, and it is also not the fault of the virus. American Evangelical Christianity was in decline for a long time, and like the economy, it was the virus that exposed the cracks that were already present and forced the problems to public view.
The trends towards a decline of Evangelical practice is due to many reasons, but a major one is the fact that there is a strong connect between it an American nationalism. Thus being a Christian is often synonymous with adherence to or a sense of patriotic duty, and as this declines or one believes that one can be a ‘good citizen’ without necessarily going to a group such as a church, the numbers will likely continue to drop.
There is a constant focus, it seems, from many of these churches on how to better the environments in the churches, and while this has some impact, ‘community’ is not so much an issue, for the communities in society have already collapsed largely. Instead, the issue seems to be related to a loss of faith in absolute truth and the idea that truth is something that can change, a problem that is not new, but is building on itself to the natural end of saying that one can define truth for oneself because the standards are always changing.
There has been much said about the Catholic Church, but she has seen a significant decline not related to the virus, her problems are well-documented for years, and there is no danger of her survival as it pertains to her existence. While there will ‘evangelical churches’ in the future, their power is declining as a social force, and with a decline in their political and economic power, because of their association with national identity and disconnect from the greater body of Sacred Tradition as well as with selective views on Sacred Scripture, may see even more serious declines than what happened with the Catholic Church.