Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Demographics are Destiny: And that is Bad News for the Church

Demographics are radically changing the context of evangelism.  When I started teaching church leaders in the Diocese of Texas in the late 90s the importance of paying attention to generations, I liked to point out the church make up of different Generations. 

The GI and Silent Generations are 60% churched
Boomers are 40% churched

Gen X, or the Survivor Generation, are about 18% churched

Millenials are less than 10% churched 

I would often point out that as these dynamics played themselves out to the year 2020 there would be some major changes in the church landscape.  Here are three that I would offer folks with the caveat that “if these trends remain the same then by 2020:” 

Main line denominations such as TEC will be in major decline

The trend of church membership remaining between 40 and 44% would drop to 20%

The majority of those church members would be Evangelicals and Roman Catholics 

The trends have remained the same and churches in North America are now living through a major Tsunami of social change that affects every denomination and local congregation. 

I would point out in the late 90s that the extension of life due to medical technology and treatment had contributed to church membership remaining around 40% because GI and Silent generation folks were living longer.  What I did not say was that they would not live forever, but I thought church leaders could figure this out.   

What I can add to this today is that the Millenial mark a substantial increase in the birth rate and that their numbers are significant, rivaling the post WWII Baby Boomers.  Add this into the North American landscape combined with the substantial passing of the older Generations and our society is rapidly changing and thus so is the context of evangelism in North America. 

Note this; church membership is rapidly dropping toward the 20% number and consequently North American is rapidly becoming a secular society.   

Lost amid all the reactions last week to the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage (or as it is better identified “marriage equality), is the relationship of this demographic and social shift (increasing secularism and growing Millenial numbers) to how the court and wider society sees this issue. 

One reporter on PBS observed that he (an about to retire Boomer) had never seen such major and rapid change in a social issue during his life time.  He noted that 20 years ago, there was very little support or sympathy for the idea of same-sex marriage.  He pointed out that on the day of the court ruling 37 states allowed this and the majority of the population was in favor.  But of course, it is not the same population we had 20 years ago.   

Here is what we know about the newest Generation and their effect on this issue.  Hold on to your proverbial hats!

Polls show a substantial number of Millenials support same-sex marriage.

60% of Millenials who identify themselves as Republicans support same-sex marriage
(Somebody please tell the 15 or so Republicans running for President about this)

And today, Millenials outnumber Boomers  

Well, certainly “the times they are a changing” that should be obvious.  What I want to do is not focus on the issue of same-sex marriage, but how all this will affect the church’s attempts at Evangelism in the future. I suggest the following; 

1.       First and foremost, secularism and its subsequent values (legalizing marijuana, marginalizing the place of religion in public life, multi-culturalism, and diversity in everything – to name but a few) will continue to develop.  There is no reason to believe that the children of Millenials will be more churched than their parents unless there is another Evangelical Awakening. 

2.       Second, Evangelicals and Roman Catholics will find evangelizing younger generations will be very difficult if that means converting them to one man and one woman view of marriage.  Polls show that younger people already see Christians as judgmental and homophobic. 

3.       Episcopalians and other mainline churches will find that being “inclusive” will NOT lead to evangelism among younger generations.  Just because a church shares a Generation’s values does not mean that they will join the church in any substantial numbers.  (You can add to this the fact that Progressive Christianity has a very poor track record in evangelization of any kind.) 

This means that evangelization among post-Christian secular people must be substantially different and will be harder than in other eras. Knowing this demographic information should allow church people to better understand the changes taking place and stop us from just reacting positively or negatively to each change.  Knowing this should also lead church leaders to the recognition that developing strategies for reaching Survivor and Millenial Generation people should become a top priority.  Whether it will remains to be seen.