What will it take for faith-based institutions to change?
A July Gallup poll says that confidence in U.S. institutions is down. Gallup Senior Editor Jeffrey M. Jones reports, “Americans are less confident in major U.S. institutions than they were a year ago, with significant declines for 11 of the 16 institutions tested and no improvements for any.”
The church or organized religion is in the top five, with 31% of respondents claiming, “a great deal / quite a lot of confidence” in religious institutions. This is down from 37% last year.
It’s a new low and a new world for churches and faith-based organizations that have traditionally depended on their members to keep attending and giving. Young evangelicals and older “exvangelicals,” that is, former evangelical Protestants, are leaving.
Religion News Service reported last year that LGBTQ+ bias may be driving the former away. The latter are deconstructing purity culture and the patriarchy, evidenced by the #MeToo movement and Kristin Du Mez’s wildly popular book Jesus and John Wayne. They are addressing the social unrest due to police brutality and social inequality.
The election of Donald Trump in 2016 also brought clarity about shared convictions and the depth of our divisions. The religious establishment that backed and supported him was now in question and so was their faith.
“What do I really believe? Does it support my social concerns? Is it safe for others?” These are the questions being asked by an ever-growing number.
Equality is a value that persons in both groups care deeply about. They want to see justice in their communities. They want to do justice to North American Christianity, long divided into slave and slave-holding faith traditions and used to justify bigotry, classism, sexism and misogyny.
In search of their own personal relationship with Jesus, they are leaving the church to answer God’s calling. They are not just praying for justice but pursuing it in the public square.
They want to see John’s vision of a multiethnic community (Revelation 7:9). It seemed easy enough to expect the church to look like their friend group. “Diversity defines the millennial generation,” said William H. Frey, a demographer and senior fellow with Brookings Metro.
However, Millennials were already leaving. The Washington Post reported back in 2015 about ways to get them back in the pews.
The North American church is watching a generation or two walk out the door as these generations are rejecting traditions that don’t transform and positions that are nothing more than placeholders. Not surprisingly, Gen Zers are following right behind them.
They are not going to fall in line or get in line. They are not going to make an appointment or take a number. No, they want to see justice now.
They are not going to wait their turn or until someone says it’s their time. They are not going to be silenced by those who say this is not the right time.
Does 11 a.m. on Sunday morning no longer work for all Christians? Is baptism nothing more than rinsing and repeating, doing more of the same while blaming everything on the world and its leaders? Is God not doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19)?
Nevertheless, it has come to their attention that they can longer wait on the church to change. And so, they are leaving — without notice or excuses.
They are telling the truth about their experiences, but will it change the church?
Called the children of God and, thus, siblings, Christian believers have historically struggled to get along. For one reason or another, loving our sister and brother has proven to be the hardest commandment of them all.
For too many churches and faith-based institutions, they would rather dwindle in size or die than change with the times or the neighborhood. So, the numbers will continue to go down.
Justice is central to Jesus’ gospel and long overdue for marginalized and minoritized communities. If Jesus is in the neighborhood, then justice should be too.
Historically mixed with colonialism and nationalism, perhaps the North American church should try to offer just Jesus and note the change.