In sum, I agree with Harry F. Sanders, III‘s thesis that the church in the United States is dying… at least, for the next 40 or so years.
This understanding contradicts the thesis of the book he reviews, The Myth of the Dying Church: How Christianity is Actually Thriving in America and the World, written by Glenn T. Stanton. Sanders’ argument is that the book basically cherry-picks its data
What Stanton leaves out is critical. This is just the first of numerous examples of him cherry-picking data he likes. One factor he leaves out is that, of the people in this study in which he says did not have a strong faith, many claim to have had much stronger faith as children, with 30% of Catholics and 18% of Protestants claiming they had strong faith as a child before moving into the nones.14 74% of Catholics and 64% of Protestants who are now among the nones went to church every week as children. 44% of Catholics and 29% of Protestants now unaffiliated went to church weekly as teenagers.15 68% of Catholics and 51% of Protestants who left the faith went to Sunday School regularly.16 Of those who left the faith, 32% of Catholics and 36% of Protestants went to religious youth groups.17 This data does not show what Stanton thinks it does. Instead, it shows a gradual decrease in faith from childhood until walking away from the faith as an adult, sometimes earlier.
This data is not a surprise to us at Answers in Genesis. In fact, our CEO Ken Ham co-wrote a book, Already Gone, which addresses this very problem of children gradually losing faith and falling away. In fact, the research was performed before the Pew study was published, and the book came out a mere month after the Pew Study. The book, based on data from America’s Research Group (ARG), points out that those raised in Christian homes and attending relatively conservative denominations were gone long before college. According to the survey, 87.82% of those who have left the faith had their first doubts about their faith in elementary, middle, or high school.18 This matches what the Pew data shows accurately. Those leaving the church have questions at a young age and are not getting sound answers.19“Chicken Little” and the Dying Church by Harry F. Sanders, III
What Sanders describes matches with my own experience and intuition. Children who are not strongly grounded in the faith, who are just given pablum, pat answers, and rah-rah emotionism, are heading out the door.
Actual answers must be provided! Better, the children need to have access to (and eventually able to find on their own) resources that will answer their questions. Otherwise, they will simply accept the Official Narrative they learn at school 6-8 hours a day, five days a week.
It gives me no pleasure to write that the church is dying in America. The church is bleeding young people in particular at an alarming rate. Pew, GSS, Gallup, ARG, and Barna all agree on this point. The only disagreement comes from Stanton. This begs the question, why we are losing so many young people? There is no one answer to it, but a few common themes emerged in the ARG and Barna studies. A 2011 Barna study found that 25% of those leaving the church feel the church is “anti-science.”37 The ARG study we funded at Answers in Genesis went deeper and discovered that 43.5% do not believe everything in the Bible is true and accurate, and another 18.2% are unsure.38 Thus 61.7% of people who leave the church do not believe the entire Bible is true. Of the 43.5% mentioned above, 14.71% cited biblical contradictions as the seed of their doubt; 13.79% cited the purported millions of years; 24.37% cite human authorship of Scripture; 11.03% cite Scriptural “errors”; 6.9% cite the problem of suffering; and 4.37% cite evolution. 46.4%, a plurality, believe the age of the earth is 6 billion years.39 The vast majority of the reasons young people cite for doubting the Scripture are apologetics issues! The church is losing young people because it has failed to defend biblical inerrancy and to teach apologetics!40“Chicken Little” and the Dying Church by Harry F. Sanders, III
I am confident that Sanders has a better grasp of what is going on than Standon demonstrates in his book.
If anything, I would say that Sanders is a bit on the soft side: the American Church has chosen to live in the reactionary past, never grasping the need to sacrifice to care for the poor, to defend children, to build the Kingdom of God in this world. All they have are ideas of retreat and preservation: the ideas of white-washed tombs.
Always reactionary, always pumping out old ideas, resisting awareness and repentance of her own sins. Always choosing the easy way out, on the pew and the pulpit.
If you are so sure that the Christian society faces nothing but defeat in this life, why are you so surprised to discover that the kids are abandoning the sinking ship?
If you are just passively waiting for Jesus to return, why not join the dying culture? They seem to have a lot more fun today, and “there’s nothing to be done about it, anyways!”
If you don’t know why Christianity is true, if you are not confident that God created the Earth, if you have no mission to expand the Kingdom of God today, if you are confident that — just like they teach in many churches — God has no laws for today, there is no need to repent, and God does not punish the wicked or reward the righteous in this life, then why bother with some old geezers yelling about the 1950s, moaning about battles that has been lost for several decades now?
(And why this profound lack of curiosity, to determine why American Christians keep on losing? Why the lack of repentance before God — who has cursed the American Christian with cultural defeat for actual reasons!)
Without faith, there is no victory.
Without repentance, there is no restoration.
Without knowledge of God — knowledge that is believed and acted upon — death and hell awaits.