Religious Believing and Belonging

Rowland Croucher wraps up some interesting trends and insights (via Dean Peters’s Heal Your Church Web Site) surrounding Christian churches and today’s social/cultural implications based on a series of papers by Kevin Ward.

  • In Canada, church attendance declined from 55% to 22% from the beginning of the 60s to the 2000s. (Britain drops from about 18% to 7.5%, while the US remains relatively steady from about 49% to 40%.) Belief in God, life after death, and prayer haven’t really dropped–people just aren’t interested in organized religion.

  • Evangelical, conservative, charismatic/Pentecostal churches (particularly “megachurches”) are growing or keeping steady. But these statistics can be misleading, as the results are merely due to “church hopping“. In Canada, only 5.5% of church attendees come from an unchurched background.

Ward sees five trends in particular that seem to have significantly impacted the church:

  • Individualism
    Belief that church going and church authority are optional and no longer necessary to sustain spirituality and faith, or to be a good Christian
  • Privatism
    Instead of religion being a central and integrating force for all of life, it is banished to the private sphere of life.
  • Pluralism
    The more varied, or plural, the beliefs held in a community or society, the weaker the reinforcement is for any one particular set of beliefs.
  • Relativism
    Casting doubt on the whole concept of absolute truth and falsehood, right and wrong, good and bad.
  • Anti-institutionalism
    Developing a deep cynicism toward public institutions as well as an inclination to make decisions irrespective of conventional traditions.

Ward sums it up:

“This has created the paradox of a highly spiritual culture yet declining involvement in organised religion. In other words it appears that people who are seeking spiritual experience and meaning in their lives are not finding it presented in a form that meets their values and aspirations in what the church has continued to offer.”

So what happens now?

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