A New Survey

A new survey conducted by “The Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life” was recently released.  This new study surveyed 35,000 adult Americans, a rather large sampling of people.  One of the findings of this survey stated that 44% of American adults have left the denomination of their childhood.

When I read that finding, I began to write this article, but decided to delay a couple weeks.  I wanted to allow myself time to think through some possible causes for such a finding.  While there are several factors that could contribute to such a large number of people changing their religious practices, the overwhelming factor, at least in my judgment, is Consumerism.

It’s a manifestation of the Post-Modern times in which we live.  People are shopping for religion.  They have a “shopping list” of things they want, and they have gone searching for those items.  If the church of their youth doesn’t provide those items for which they’re looking, they apparently have chosen to abandon it in favor of a church that “meets their needs.”

While I certainly feel the church should do its best to reach out to the world in the most effective ways possible, I don’t believe we accomplish that by sacrificing truth to meet the selfish whims of “religious shoppers.”  The mission of the church is not simply to make people happy, but to make them holy.  Not to offer recreation, but reconciliation.  Not to encourage people to seek therapy, but to seek authority.  People shouldn’t be more acquainted with the 12 steps of recovery than they are with the steps to salvation.

So what should the Lord’s church do in light of the findings of this survey?  The answer is simply this… “Let the church continue to be the church.”  Stop placing more emphasis on being relevant to a secular society, as some have done, than on being Scriptural.  But what if that’s not what “religious shoppers” are looking for?  Well, it seems to me that I read somewhere that we were to preach the word “in season and out of season.” 

If we are indeed living in an “out of season” time, our message should remain the same.  Please don’t abandon truth for what the world sees as relevant.  The fact of the matter is, being faithful to God’s word and preaching his truth is being relevant, whether the world realizes it or not. 

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Comments 3

  • Short comment.

    If you go online to CBS news and listen to the people they interviewed consumerism was not the main factor in those switching religions. There is an interview, with pious ex-Catholics who had switched to the community/Bible churches as more have left that religion Catholicism than all the others combined in the last quarter century. Nowhere had people switched religions just because of some gimmicky thing like praise bands, or other special programs that their previous Christian religion did not have. The main thing over and over they state was “Joy” then “Love” and then more meaning in their life. Not a single person says well this fit my interests or tastes better. So one thing that we can learn from this study is that consumerism is not the driving factor in religious switching but rather a search for deeper meaning in their life and relationship with God. The same study shows that the people who switched were sincere pious members of their previous respective denominations those who were only part timers were not the likely ones to switch. So a question that would provide greater perspective is why and what deeper meaning have the switchers found in their new religions? One answer resounding answer is “Joy”. There are many others but this is the one that was heard over and over in the interviews CBS did with the switchers when they aired the study a few weeks ago. My wife recorded it for me and I watched it several times

  • Joe, When I wrote the article above, I gave a lot of thought to whether consumerism could be a significant factor in this migration. Two days after I wrote the article, one of our members, not knowing that I wrote the article, handed me a national publication. (I don’t remember what it was, maybe U.S. News & World Report…just not sure, but it was one of those national magazines). Anyway, it contained an article about this report. And the title of the article was something like, “Consumerism Goes To Church.” (Again, that title is not exact, but it is close). My point is, I’m not the only one who sees consumerism at the root of this moving from one religious body to another.

    After I read your comment, I went online and I found dozens of articles making the same point.

    The fact that these interviews you watched did not mention consumerism is not surprising. I mean, think about how shallow that would sound. I think those interviews gave us correct “religious answers.”

    You’ve heard about the teacher that asked her Bible 1st grade Bible class students what is brown, has a bushy tail, climbs trees, and eats nuts. No one would answer, but after a long pause, one little girl said, “It sounds like a squirrel to me, but I’m going to go ahead and say, ‘Jesus’.”

    While I appreciate your comments, and agree that “joy,” and “love” were factors, but I don’t think they were the only factors. It would be interesting if they would have surveyed the 44% and asked them what factors motivted their change, but they didn’t.

  • The idea of consumerism is this “the search for the greatest value”. People pay $5.00 now for a cup of coffee because Starbucks coffee is a better value than the stuff at the 7-11 or stop & go. But 10 years ago that is all there was. If we will listen to those who have switched religions it is rooted in natural search for the greatest spiritual value. So while some of the answers may be those that seem the correct religious answers they are being honest. You are probably correct in presuming that people would not publicly admit to switching because of shallow things like praise bands or t-shirts. Let me share an example within the churches of Christ. Many congregations especially rural and inner city are now predominantly older folks 40+ in age. When a young family happens to move to town and there are few to no young families with Children at a particular church they will almost always go to the church with the younger families and kids even if it means switching religions. Just think back to Flavils 20% that leave the churches of Christ for other religions. So to take the idea of consumerism and break it down is this how is spiritual value now determined? It used to be whoever won a doctrinal argument had the highest spiritual value but not anymore. The main things that people look at today in searching for spiritual value is how does a religious group treat each other and others?

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