This week I had the pleasure of spending quality time on Skype with author Jim Tomberlin, known as the Multi-Site Guy. Jim’s specialty is to help churches move from ‘one church/one site’ to ‘one church/many sites.’ He shared some revealing statistics on the percentage of Christians in the United States. Jim quoted a study done by Ed Stetzer with Lifeway Resources. Lifeway Church is the biggest church in the United States.
The study revealed that seventy-five percent of all people in the United States call themselves Christians. This means twenty-five percent of United States citizens would call themselves something other than Christian, perhaps another religion or secular.
What interested me was Stetzer divided Christians into three categories. The first two categories that I list in this article are decreasing rapidly in numbers and affiliation. The third category is increasing rapidly in attendance and affiliation. Here is what Stetzer discovered.
“The first category–Cultural Christians–is made up of people who believe themselves to be Christians simply because their culture tells them they are. They are Christian by heritage. They may have religious roots in their family or may come from a people group tied to a certain religion, e.g., Southern Evangelicals or some other group. Inside the church, we would say they are Christians in name only. They are not practicing a vibrant faith. This group makes up around one-third of the 75 percent who self-identify as Christians—or about a quarter of all Americans.
The second category–Congregational Christians–is similar to the first group, except these individuals at least have some connection to congregational life. They have a “home church” they grew up in and perhaps where they were married. They might even visit occasionally. Here again though, we would say that these people are not practicing any sort of real, vibrant faith. They are attendees. This group makes up another third of the 75 percent—or about a quarter of all Americans.
The final group–Convictional Christians–is made up of people who are actually living according to their faith. These are the people who would say that they have met Jesus, He changed their lives, and since that time their lives have been increasingly oriented around their faith in Him. Convictional Christians make up the final third of the 75 percent—or about a quarter of all Americans.”
Look at the Convictional Christians. They grow when the other two categories are slumping. This has always been true of Christianity. Most of those whose commitment to Christ is high multiply in influence, community involvement and numbers. Most have life. Most have passion. Most have confidence. If they fall down, they get up. Most survive in the hardest of times and circumstances and thrive. Most know the grace of God. Most know real forgiveness. Most have real discernment. They know Christianity is real. They love God’s word, the Bible. The church growth they have on the outside is a reflection of the personal growth they’ve had on the inside. Hint: Buy their ‘stock’ when the cost is low for their ‘stock’ will go up.
Look at the first two categories. The trend is downward. Why? I would say two primary issues: Commitment to Christ and a commitment to comfort. First, many, not all, people get too comfortable and lethargic. They don’t want to jeopardize their comfortable existence. When that happens, their commitment to Christ suffers. They seldom access the life of God that comes from God. They disengage from authentic Christianity. Then they hold to a form of godliness with mental ascent but little life transformation.
Please don’t react to this message. Act on this message. It’s not criticism of cultural or traditional Christianity. It’s an exhortation to make sure we are in the third category of the committed no matter what category of Christianity or church we were formerly in.
Church-Community Connection is published weekly in 10 newspapers all over the world. Most of these newspapers are local paid subscription newspapers. The goal of these 450 word articles is to build a bridge to the community through humor, wisdom and changing mental perceptions that the community has of the church.