338. Why is Christianity losing members in America? Why is Eastern Orthodoxy losing members? YOU give the answers!

Before we begin: If any of you ever look back through earlier Posts (accessible on the right of this screen), you’ll note that many of the images have been removed. It would take too long to explain why. I’m replacing them as I can get to it, Post by Post.

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After writing and rewriting and re-rewriting the last two Posts, I am truly “all written out”. Therefore you, yes you, dear reader, get to write today’s Post. Why should you not? You are obviously a person who thinks – intelligent, with a perceptive and creative mind. *

  • Why else would you be reading this Blog? said the Blogger, with humble pride

Do you have any ideas as to what is behind this troubling decline of American Christianity? including our Eastern Orthodoxy? What are your thoughts? your theories?

There are no right or wrong answers here. I think all of us are searching. Let’s learn from each other.

First I’ll provide some facts and figures, charts and comments.

Afterwards I’ll ask some pertinent questions, and then you can comment at the end of this Post.

P.S. on Saturday July 9: If you wish to agree or disagree with some of the comments, please add your own comment about that. (Gently, though… gently. The world has enough dissension already.)

P.P.S. on Monday July 11: So… to date we have had many viewers (obviously hoping to be informed by the comments) but only a few comments! Come on, folks. I know many of you have thought about this. However if we don’t get more, then before this Friday’s Post goes out, I’ll attach my opinions at the end of the Comments.

Christianity in America: some startling facts, as of 2021

The latest research from Pew Research:

A few notes:

At the present rate, if I calculate correctly, in twenty or thirty years the unaffiliated (“nones”) will outnumber the Christians in America.

As of 2021, for the first time in a century *, less than 50% of Americans now belong to a church: https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2021/03/29/church-membership-fallen-below-majority/

  • Before the 19th Century Protestant revival, Christians made up a smaller proportion of the American population.

Pew Statistics from 2015 indicate that the growth in “Unaffiliated” is chiefly among the young. Among those born 1928 to 1945 (that’s me!) only 11% are unafilliated with any religion. Among Younger Millenials (born 1990-1996), 36% are unaffiliated. See: https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/#factors-behind-the-changes-in-americans-religious-identification

If you want more circumstantial evidence of this, peruse your local newspaper’s marriage and obituary announcements, and see how many weddings and funerals mention no religious affiliation or ceremony.

The decline among Protestants is almost entirely in the former “mainline denominations” – Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran and the like. Evangelicals are largely holding their own.

Currntly 60% of Protestants consider themselves “born again” or evangelical Christians. However, even they are not keeping up with US population growth. In 2007 31% of Americans identified as evangelicals; in 2014 they were down to 24%.

Look at the very bottom of the above chart, and you’ll find Mormons and Orthodox. Orthodox seem to be holding onto our traditional 1% of the American population. However that is not good news to us Eastern Orthodox, as follows:

Orthodox Christianity in America: more startling facts

I’ve share this information with you before. It’s taken from the US Religion Census 2020: Dramatic Changes in American Orthodox Churches by Alexei Krindatch (akrindatch@aol.com), National Coordinator, Census of Orthodox Christian Churches.

Quotes below are from my own Post #283.

“In 2010, the estimated membership in all Eastern Orthodox churches  was 816, 653 *.  In 2020 estimated membership was 675,785 *. This represents a 17% decline, more or less the same as Christianity in America overall.”

  • These are the number of active members. The number of those baptized in the Church but now inactive is likely considerably higher.

What is keeping us Orthodox at our traditional 1% of the population? Oriental Orthodoxy, which is growing rapidly. This includes Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Malankara Syrian Orthodox, and a few smaller churches.  “Oriental Orthodox church membership in America increased from 294,762 in 2010 to 491,413 in 2020.”

All told, if you are a practicing Christian, and in particular an Eastern Orthodox Christian, these are unsettling statistics.

Therefore:

Some questions for you to consider:

You may answer all of these questions, or some of them, or make up your own questions relevant to the subject. There are no right or wrong answers. If you are tough on the clergy, I promise not to take offense.

Why is Christianity in America declining so rapidly?

2  Why is mainline Christianity in particular losing members?

3  Why is Eastern Orthodoxy also now declining in numbers? How could we turn this around?

4 Why is Christianity losing ground very rapidly among young people?

5  Is your own parish growing, shrinking or holding even? Why do you think this is so?

That’s it. You take if from here in the Comments section immediately below.

Or if you don’t, this will be a very short Blog.

Next Week – The prophet who sounded like he was “on something”: Holy Ezekiel

Week after next – Saint Macrina: Women in the Orthodox Church

14 thoughts on “338. Why is Christianity losing members in America? Why is Eastern Orthodoxy losing members? YOU give the answers!

  1. Hi Father. Read your blog so here goes. I may have a couple of suggestions to help turn this around. Why don’t the Eastern Orthodox get together and upgrade their lectionary. As it is now you only get the same 52 Gospel stories and 52 Epistles every year. This is not right. The Laity are under nourished. It is like you are watching “All in the Family” season one year after year. We need more. The Catholic Church has done a remarkable change to set up a three year lectionary cycle. Year one centres on Matthew, year two on Mark, year 3 on Luke with John thrown in during the feasts days and so on. Why don’t we follow through to help the Laity to find more nourishment at least from the lectionary point of view. The arrangement of the present lectionary really is only good for the monastics. It is not helpful to the Laity. We need to change it for them. My suggestion is let us have a 4 year cycle, Matthew in year one, Mark in year 2, John in year 3 and Luke in year 4. I put John in third because his Gospel is much different than the other 3 and will give a change of scenery. We need to offer more Scripture variety and a four year cycle will give way more epistle readings. You want the Laity fed than give them more variety.
    Another aspect which I think will be helpful is to look at the Church of Rome and see what works for her and adapt them into the life of the Orthodox Church. Catholic devotions are not time consuming and they were made specifically for the Laity to use. Let us (the Orthodox) find out what they have and use them. I mean the Catholic Church has a lot of tools which we could pick up. Why not integrate them into our Church. Catholic devotionals are necessary for the Laity and we will have more tools in our arsenal. Anyway that is my two bits.

  2. I don’t know if I made myself clear in the last reply but I will say I am referring to change the Sundays lectionary from the same 52 Gospel and Epistle readings to a 4 year cycle which will give us 208 different Gospel readings and 208 different epistle readings.

  3. 1. I think that the end of the Blue Laws and so many folks working on Sunday took the feeling that Sunday is special, a day of worship and rest.

    3. I often wonder if this is partly due to ethnicity – folks see Greek, Russian, Serbian, Carpatho-Rusyn in the name of the denomination and think that it is a closed church, where only parishioners belonging to one specific ethnicity are welcome.

    I’ve always wanted to do a column in the local paper with differing informative topics about our church, the column being named “Saint Suchandsuch Church – Not your Baba’s church.”

    4. I think that part of the issue is that youth have seen their parents working through weekends and never attending church.

    I know of high school hockey players who practice at 6:00 AM, 8:00 AM, 10:00 AM on Sundays. I asked parents why Sunday, and the answer was always “that’s the only time that we could get ice time.” What is important to the parents? Is it Liturgy?

    5. My parish is shrinking.
    While the slide has been gradual for the past few years, Covid and the closure did us in. Liturgy was streamed online, and when we went back to in person worship, the numbers never returned. Asking folks why they haven’t come back, the answer is “we watch Liturgy streamed from such and such church.” (My church no longer streams for that very reason.)

    1. 1. Western christianity, Catholic and main line Protestant have become feminized and has resulted in discouraging men from church participation. When you lose the men you lose the children.
      2. The universities have been taken over by the post-modern, atheistic, marxist crowd. There is where the teachers of our school teachers are trained and work against the Christian worldview. They have accepted atheistic, Darwinian evolution, push it onto the students, and, this marginalized the Christian worldview.
      3. The problem in the Orthodox Churches is ethnic emphasis. When a church concentrates on ethnicity, it loses in the long run, because, children born in America and their subsequent children, see themselves as Americans, and, lose interest in the ethnicity of their ancestors. It is only natural. If we want to change the situation in the Orthodox churches, we need to do two things. First, get rid of the ethnic, Church names. St. Peter and Paul, St. Mary of Egypt, etc. is proper and best. No more russian, greek, serbian or any other ethnic name on our churches. Secondly, we need to have our own American patriarch. All Orthodox churches in America should be in one patriarchate.
      4. “People want something, for their time and money.” Virtually, both parents work, which provides money for perceived, needed things, like bigger houses, 2 cars, expensive vacations and entertainment, etc. But, when the weekend comes, there is no time left for Church. Gotta take the kids to their soccer games. To combat this, we might consider what we can do to provide Church-centered, family activities, for Saturdays AND Sundays. Can we convince sports leagues to have schedules, with one for Saturday participation and another, Sunday participation? That way, Christian children can participate on Saturday, while non-Christian can, on Sunday. Liturgy and Bible study are critical, but, we should consider what we can do, to provide a Church-centered, extracurricular alternative to the secular. In my Church, we started an annual. 5-day camping trip, to a beautiful park. We started a kite-building and flying class, for Sunday, after Church. Also, we are starting a men’s ministry that will help boys through puberty and to grow up to be good, Christ-centered husbands and fathers.
      5. The feminist movement has been a disaster. Don’t believe me? Ask the young men and women how they feel about themselves and the other sex. Consider the percentage of broken homes and fatherless children.
      While there were serious concerns that women had, in the post WWII years, they were addressed incorrectly. Instead of women and men working together, to help boys to grow up into the types of men that women needed and wanted, they attacked masculinity and Patriarchy. We are suffering greatly, as a result. This is why my Church is addressing the Boy problem. At the same time, the women in our Church are doing similarly. with our Girls.

      I could elaborate and say much more, but, that’s enough (too much?), for now.

  4. This is Father Bill with some general comments on your comments above.

    A new more inclusive Orthodox lectionary. Oh, I wish… but it’s not going to happen. We couldn’t get the authorities in one jurisdiction to agree on it, let alone everybody else, and to change alone would seriously harm our Orthodox unity. Besides… “How many Orthodox does it take..,” “C H A N G E!?” Our (almost) changelessness is our great strength and also our bane. So I think we’ve got to make the best of what we’ve got, which indeed covers most of the themes that should be covered. In preaching and teaching the rest of the Scriptures can be brought in. I know it can be done.

    I grew up in the days when stores were closed on Sundays, there were few extra activities, when there were not even any games on TV on Sundays! How did this happen? Commercialism gone wild. It’s killing us.

    Our ethnic identities are also killing us. It won’t be till long after my lifetime that we’ll have a united American Orthodox Church. However I wish parishes would identify themselves as “SAINT X ORTHODOX CHURCH (in very large letters), “x archdiocese” (in very small letters). And I wish our churches would get themselves into English as quickly as is practicable, lest they lose the entire younger generation.

    Some churches continue live-streaming and people continue to stay home. Some churches continue live-streaming and most people come back. Why? My guess is it’s because of the strength of the community life, the fellowship, so that people come to church not only for the Liturgy but for each other. They know and feel that the people also are the Body of Christ.

    The Feminist Movement: I’m in favor of much of it. I grew up in the age when women were confined to a few jobs – telephone operators, secretaries, teaching so long as they weren’t pregnant, being a doctor so long as they weren’t married. Newspaper columnists and the like on TV were almost exclusively male. I look back and grieve for all the feminine talent that was wasted. And I’m glad that many of our parishes have had no issue whatever with women on Parish Council, and chairing Council.

    I agree from my experience that when women become priests, something goes wrong. I can’t even tell you what it is. (Hey! you can have every job but mine…) Many men draw back – maybe because women are better at nurturing and pastoring than men are? I don’t know. I am not arguing for women in the priesthood. However I think the Orthodox Church does not make good use of the feminine talent we have. Could the order of deaconesses be restored?

    Anyway I’d be more inclined to say, “when you lose the family, mom and dad, you lose the children”.

    However I think the big problem is not with women but with men. Many men need serious guidance about how to work with strong intelligent capable women, and about what it means to be a man, a husband. We might begin with Ephesians 5 which tells us how to “submit yourselves to each another”. My wife and I once visited a bookstore in town. There was a shelf filled with books on “Women’s Studies”. Next to it was one book, ONE BOOK on “Men’s Studies”. Get the picture?

    Finally, will everybody come back when the Covid thing is over? I hope so. However, the overall Christian decline in America began long before Covid, so I’m not confident.

    I’ve written already as to what I think are the major causes of the decline, which I will not repeat here until I get some fresh ideas.

  5. You asked, Father, why Christianity is shrinking or not growing. Here are a few ideas I have about why that is happening to Christianity–Orthodox and non.

    Scandals, sexual and otherwise. Although this doesn’t seem to be an Orthodox problem, the fallout from the Roman Catholic Church’s sex scandals, in America and Europe, the Magdalene Laundries (abuse by nuns and priests of unwed mothers in Ireland) continues. Evangelical Christianity, as I read in The Washington Post and New York Times, also have its fair share of underreported and unreported problems with sexual abuse. Who wants to be a part of that?
    Ukraine. While many courageous bishops and priests, particularly in the Greek Archdiocese of North America, have spoken “truth to power” about how Orthodox killing Orthodox looks to the world, many more have been complicit, wishy-washy, or silent about Putin’s very un-Christian behavior and about his very real attraction to “Christian” White Nationalists in the United States. Again, as an Orthodox Christian who wants to increase church membership, who wants to be a part of that?
    Racism and sexism within Christianity. My teenage/young adult grandchildren are unchurched and, I think, likely to remain so. Their friends are of many hues, social classes, and yes, sexual orientations. I don’t think my grandchildren want to be part of any institutions, including Christian churches, that are not inclusive, both in the pew and at the altar. Having said that, I look at The Episcopal Church, from which I came to Orthodoxy; and it’s shrinking, although it’s one of the most inclusive, caring religious institutions in the country. Again, if Christianity is all things to all people as a social institution, what is the essence of Christianity that the “nons” will find attractive enough to join?
    From my vantage point, Christianity has an almost Sisyphean task ahead of it if it is to survive beyond this century. As a friend recently put it, “The Church is running on the ‘fumes’” of formerly Christian times and, at some point, those “fumes” will be exhausted.

    1. The only thing I’d add is that at a good many times in history (beginning with the First Century) the Church appeared to be doomed. And here we still are. Perhaps it has something to do with the Church being the Body of Christ who died and rose and can never die again?

  6. Having read the comments and your thoughts, Fr. I have one more to add. The view that Christians aren’t very Christian. A blogger friend recently posted a meme with a quote from Andy Rooney: “I’d be more willing to accept religion, even though I don’t believe in it, if I thought it made people nicer to each other, but I don’t think it does”.

    1. Very much good has come out of religion. I’ve got an article somewhere about the many good things Jesus brought into this world, which we now take for granted. However, sometimes religion seems to make people nastier: the Hundred Years War, Ukraine, some modern US radical evangelicals. I’d argue those are twisted perverse false religion. However, I doubt that would carry much weight with Andy Rooney.

      1. Oh, I have no doubt that there has been much good. What I meant is the perception people have of Christianity.

        1. Yes. I’ve written before that if I were an unchurched person looking only at the public image Christianity has in the world these days, I doubt that I’d bother with it.

  7. Re my comment re feminism, I should clarify my comments.
    I am a strong supporter of women, starting within my own family. But, the feminism that wants to destroy Patriarchy is a non-positive factor, in female/male relationships. Read the book The ANTI-Mary Exposed, by Dr. Carrie Gress, for a good discussion of the roots of feminism, the spiritually and psychologically disturbed women who started it and see how it has resulted in cultural degradation.

    We have a lot of work to do, to define the proper attitudes about our sexes and how each is to operate, in cooperation with the other. For example, I believe that the greatest gift that God has given to women is that of building a child-rich family, with a properly supportive husband. But, then, what does she do, once all of her children have fledged and she is home alone, or, if the father of her children abandon her and his children? Look at the black population, in America, for an example of what has happened. And, the whites are heading in the same direction – rapidly. It ain’t pretty.

    And, do women really want to have to try to raise a family alone, if at all, while working full time, to make ends meet? Is a career more important, in the end, than a Thanksgiving dinner celebrated with a multigenerational, intact family and several, well-adjusted children and numerous grandchildren? I don’t think so.

    My wife is blessed to have had the life that we have created together, with her being a full time, stay at home, with her children Mom, and, me bringing home the money that I turned over to her fully. Once her children were well into schooling, and, she had free time, she went back to college and learned architectural drafting (she is soooo talented). Long story short, she built up a fantastic drafting career, using that talent that you, Father Bill recognize, in women. Eventually, she started her own business and was sought after highly, for the best jobs in town, from homes, to industrial buildings, shopping centers, tenant improvements, etc., and, even Churches. But, first, she’s quite an amazing Mother, wife and Orthodox parishioner. I could say a lot more about her, but. I’ll close by saying that she turned me into a Man, as I helped her to be all that she could be, as a Woman.

    May God bless her, with continued good health and a long life.

    P. S.: she retired 3 years ago and relishes spending time with her 4 children and 14 grandchildren. Yup, she is an amazing woman. I’m so blessed, to be her husband!

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