Is Christianity losing its relevance in the U.S.?
A recent report by the renowned research institute, the Pew Forum, has drawn a great deal of attention for its finding that in just a handful of years, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christians has fallen from 78 to 71.
While on the one hand that is certainly a statistically significant drop, on the other it still means 7 in 10 of us continue to identify as Christians—an overwhelming majority. From a faith perspective though, how much does any of that matter?
I’ve never understood faith as a “numbers game”—as something which the meaning, importance and impact of could be gauged by the size of the population that claims a Christian, or any other specific religious identity. To claim a Christian identity is not the same as claiming the way of life it calls us to. As the religious scholar and author, Reza Aslan, put it in an interview last week, for many American Christians that label is more a cultural identity than it is a lens through which they see and live in the world. Aslan says that for many, identifying as “Christian” carries no more, or even less real world significance than their political, gender, social or racial identification.
If Aslan is correct, the real issue for our faith is not the quantity of those who identify with it, but the quality with which they do. The real issue is whether it is our primary spiritual, moral and ethical worldview—the one that most clearly guides our words, decisions and actions—or just one of many relatively equal ones.
Wouldn’t it be better to be smaller in numbers but more faithful in individual and collective impact? To use one of Jesus’s spiritual metaphors, instead of worrying how big our loaf of bread is in society, wouldn’t it be better to be the smaller portion of leaven, the smaller portion of yeast that makes the whole loaf—the whole society, the whole world—rise toward what God created and calls it to be?