Christian Decline

The UK Office of National Statistics has announced results for religious affiliation from their latest Population Census. For the first time in a census of England and Wales, less than half of the population (46.2%) described themselves as "Christian", a 13.1 percent decrease from 59.3% in 2011. This is amazing. In a nation that was once perceived as the heartland of Christianity, Christians are now a minority. In parts of London, the percentage of Christians is now less than thirty percent.

A similar change has occurred in New Zealand. According to the 2018 population census, only 37.3 percent of the population describe themselves as "Christian", whereas nearly half (48.6 percent) claim to have "No Religion". If the various ethnic churches are excluded (they are probably unlikely to reach the existing population with the gospel), the percentages would be significantly worse than in the UK.

The United States is a decade behind, but secularisation of the culture is proceeding faster there, so the decline will be faster too. Unless something changes significantly, the United States will soon be in a similar state to the UK. Pretending that this decline is not happening, or vainly hoping that revival will come and turn the situation around, is foolish.

The decline in Christian faith recorded by these statistics represents a massive cultural change in our society. A reasonable person would expect the church to recognize the problem and begin adapting so that it can be effective in the new culture that is emerging. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence that this is happening.

A military general who lost half of his troops, while his enemy's forces were increasing would be freaking out. He would probably be wondering about surrendering or suing for peace before his army was totally decimated. At the very least, he would be changing the way that he fought. He would stop all major engagements against large concentrations of enemy forces, and would disperse his remaining forces to engage in guerilla-style insurgent tactics, harassing the enemy in hit-and-run attacks.

Despite facing similar losses, the church seems to be content to go on doing what it has always done without any consideration of radical change. The "Come to Church for an Hour on Sunday" is still the norm. The worship songs have become more upbeat, and the music production is more professional. The presentation of the message uses more sophisticated visual aids, but the method is still one man preaching. The song-prayer-sermon-altar-call club-sandwich is as popular as ever.

Given the dramatic secular shift and the religious plurality emerging in our culture, Christian leaders should be thinking seriously about how the church will need to change to turn the tide. But there is very little evidence that anything like that is happening.

Failed Tactics

Given the dramatic decline in the proportion of Christians and the religious plurality emerging in Western culture, Church leaders should be thinking seriously about how the church will need to change to turn the tide. But there is very little evidence that anything like that is happening.

Continuing in a Christendom-style mode of operating as if Christianity is still dominant in our culture leaves us looking foolish and arrogant.

The Come-to-Church-Model is not effective in a culture when Christians are in the minority. It does not work for followers of Jesus, and it does not work for people who need to know Jesus. Persisting with a method that is failing is foolish. Christian leaders who understand how the world is changing should be looking at alternative ways of operating that are better suited to our task.

The New Testament church operated in a very hostile environment. They were often persecuted, first by the Jewish establishment and then by the Romans. People who chose to follow Jesus often had a very tough life. However, Jesus had left his disciples with a way of operating that proved to be very effective. The early church grew rapidly despite the hostility of the environment it operated in. Modern church leaders should be having a serious look at how they did it.

False Hope

Many Christians have strong hope for revival. Despite the decline of faith in Jesus throughout the Western world, they believe that God will send a revival that will turn the situation around and restore the church to the place of strength that it once held.

The problem with this hope is that revival is not a New Testament concept. The word "revival" is not used in the Testament

The closest to a reference to revival is in Acts 3:19, but it refers to "refreshing", not revival. It was addressed to people who were not believers in Jesus, so Peter was not challenging a dull church. He was doing evangelism in a hostile world, which is very different.

The other problem with the revival hope is that it puts the blame for the decline of the church on God. If the Holy Spirit moves in power in some seasons and then remains hidden for other seasons, then a period of decline is most likely the consequence of the Holy Spirit having withdrawn for a season. If that is the case, the solution is to persuade God to send the Holy Spirit back again to bring revival. There is nothing that God's people can do until the Holy Spirit returns again.

Unfortunately, the underlying premise of this hope is flawed. The Holy Spirit does come and go. He is not in a good mood at some times and in a bad mood at others. He is not unavailable to the church for long seasons. The biblical message is that Jesus has poured the Holy Spirit into the world. He is always working, and he never goes away. He is always available to people who seek him honestly and sincerely.

The biblical message to a church in decline is to change your thinking (repent). Change your ways. Do things differently. The Bible promises that if we will humble ourselves and fully commit to doing his will, he will move in power amongst us.

The decline of the church is never God's fault. It is never because the Holy Spirit has stopped moving for a season. It is always because the church has failed to listen to the Holy Spirit and obey his voice. The reason he cannot move in the way that he wants to is that the church is unwilling to obey him.

In this season, I see no sign that the church wants to change what it is doing and do what the Holy Spirit is desperately begging it to do. The church seems to want to carry on doing things the same way as it has always done, even though it is not working.

The church seems intent on doing what it is already doing. That means that revival is unlikely to come soon. Relying on revival teaching is a false hope.