If you had to guess, what percentage of people in your community believe in God?
In the 1950s and 60s, the answer was nearly 100%. Gallup has been researching this question for decades, and the percentage held relatively consistent for a long time. But things are changing — rapidly.
By 2017, the percentage of American believing in God dropped to 87%, down from 90% in 2011. I don’t know how that makes you feel. 87% is still pretty high, but it’s a good bit less than 100%.
Think of it this way, if you pastored a church in 2017, for every 100,000 people in your community, 13,000 people claim to not believe in God. I say “claim” because people tend to answer survey questions more positively than accurately.
Dr. Jeffrey Jones at Gallup recently asked this research question again, and the growing trend didn’t improve. The latest research shows that only 81% of people believe in God today. In five years, faith lost a lot of ground.
This is a disturbing trend that demands attention.
How should we, as churches and Christians, respond?
Let’s first consider a few details within this data that help us discern our response:
Politically: According to Gallup, “Belief in God has fallen the most in recent years among young adults and people on the left of the political spectrum (liberals and Democrats). These groups show drops of 10 or more percentage points comparing the 2022 figures to an average of the 2013-2017 polls.” Other key subgroups have experienced some modest decline, although conservatives have had essentially no change.
Ideologically: Slightly fewer conservatives and moderates believe in God, but as you might expect, people who identify as liberal
are 11% less likely to believe in God today than in 2017. The research shows only 62% of liberals believe in God.
Age: Again, it’s no surprise that the younger population is the farthest from God today. Only 68% of young adults (18 – 29 years old) claim to believe in God. This percentage represents a 10% decrease since 2017.
In summary, older, married, conservative republicans are the most likely category to claim belief in God. Younger, single, liberal democrats are the least likely to believe in God.
Information without application is unhelpful.
Back to our question: What do we do about this?
I guess it depends on your church’s mission. Suppose you exist to fill sanctuaries and fund programs. In that case, you should do all you can to mimic conservative talk radio and cable news programming in your Sunday service. Church people seem more likely to be in this category, so speaking to this crowd will help grow your church, not through conversion but through sheep-swapping. You’ll have fuller auditoriums, better capital campaigns, and a more homogeneous congregation. If you want your community discipled by cable news, copy their approach.
Sarcasm aside, here is what I hope is true of you and your church: If you exist to lead people to Jesus and support their spiritual development, you absolutely cannot allow your strategy and ministry model to align with a political or ideological side.
Why? Because of the Great Commission.
Jesus called his Disciples (and us) to “go and make disciples (learners) of all nations.” This means that we must prioritize both reaching and growing. Discipleship is the combination. According to the data, if we hope to be Great Commission Christians, we can’t eliminate or alienate a particular category of people in our community by taking a one-sided political or ideological stand.
Resisting this temptation may take all that you have. You will lose the people who want their church to look and sound like their cable news platform. You’ll lose people who give. You’ll lose some volunteers. And you’ll find some new church enemies in your community.
But what will you gain?
A church that looks and sounds more like what God probably intended.
Let me give you three specific tactics to consider:
1. Focus on people, not politics.
Jesus told Peter that the church would be built on the Son of God. Not on politics, ideology, or age. When we devolved our church to political persuasions and ideological leanings, we ceased building our church on Jesus.
And let’s not pretend that including His name is enough. A sign reading “Guns, Babies, and Jesus” isn’t what Jesus meant.
If you want to be political, go into politics. If you want to be a pastor, lead people to Jesus.
2. Equally offend everyone.
If you want to bring politics or ideology into a sermon, bring both sides to ensure you aren’t taking a side. Be an equal opportunity offender. Let’s be honest; both sides of any conversation are right and wrong. Let’s be intellectually honest about that.
3. Lead with love.
My friend and former boss, Andy Stanley, often asks a question in his sermons: “What does love require of me.” The parameters were simple when Jesus gave us his new command: love people like Jesus loved you. That’s pretty clear. Painfully clear. Our churches should mimic Jesus’ commandment, not a cable news network.
I will say something that some of you will not like, but don’t cancel me quite yet. Think about this: Most liberals and democrats lean more towards the marginalized and underprivileged. Not in totality, and not to suggest that a conservative republican doesn’t, but this is relatively true as a group. Jesus might be a liberal! Not necessarily in his theology but in his gracious and merciful ministry. Jesus wanted a relationship with people, not a religion for people. Relationships are messy and unclear. That’s what we are called to do.
Let’s stop with the political action packs and candidate support. Instead, let’s elevate Jesus and his mission for all people above everything else we do.