The new data from the Pew Research Center is sobering and important. With hard numbers, it confirms what we have observed for decades now. We are witnessing the rapid and accelerating secularization of America. The numbers point to a disappointing pattern of lessening identification with Christianity and falling church attendance rates. There is also no sign that these trends will be slowed, much less reversed. This is, for Christians, a confirmation of the fact that our nation is growing more distant from the Gospel and hardening its resistance to Christian truth. These trends have been visible for some time, but there is a startling new velocity to these changes, and one that we and our churches had better look closely and think hard about what they mean.
The saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ remains as true as ever, but the fact is that the evangelistic landscape of our nation is changing right before our eyes. The rise of self-identified unbelievers as a percentage of the population is one significant factor, but the falling rates of church participation among those who identify as Christians is perhaps more alarming.
All this points to the fact that the United States, following the sad example of Europe, is becoming a post-Christian culture—one in which decreasing percentages of Americans operate out of a Christian frame of reality. We are on the threshold of a radically new reality. This had better awaken American Christians to the new evangelistic and missions challenge right before our eyes and in our own neighborhoods. Our nation is becoming one vast mission field, with growing numbers of Americans who have virtually no knowledge of Christianity at all. We are going to have to rethink how we see our own nation, and redouble, again and again, our commitment to share Christ.
These changes will mean a reshaped moral landscape as well. The eclipse of Christianity and the rise of secularism means less commitment to Christian morality—especially sexual morality—and points to greater hostility toward those who contend for Christian morality. Secularization has immediate theological consequences, but comes with moral and political consequences as well.
These are indeed sobering trends, but Christians can handle the truth. Our responsibility, regardless of the survey data, is to preach and teach and tell and take the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. This new report from Pew should make us even more determined to be faithful in our evangelism, starting right at home.
Dr. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.