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Denominational loyalty imploding?

Charlie Butts   (OneNewsNow.com) Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Christian commentators and researchers reacting to a recent study on religious demographics in the U.S. say the findings reveal more than is being discussed about the downtrend in Protestantism.

A new religious demographic survey from the Pew Forum asserts that a record number of Americans profess no religious affiliation, and that Protestants are now a minority in America. The study is being widely reported as showing that a growing number of people are rejecting at least organized religion, that Protestants are receding in importance, and that America is becoming more and more secular.

But Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, points out another important aspect of the statistics - one he says is being essentially ignored.

Tooley, Mark (IRD)"The study also shows that most of the religious unaffiliated still believe in God and still pray -- and although very few have commented on it at all, it also shows that about the same percentage of Americans are still attending church regularly, close to 40 percent, which remarkably has remained the same across 80 years now."

Tooley says the Pew survey does not mean necessarily that America is going the way of Europe and deserting religion. "I think the study mostly just illustrates the implosion of denominational loyalties and affiliations, especially among the mainline Protestants, but among Protestants and evangelicals as a whole," he offers. "Even those who are very devout increasingly don't express any strong loyalty to any particular denomination or tradition."

Tooley concludes that "what the study illustrates should not be exaggerated."

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A need to reach across generations

The same Pew Forum poll shows a disconnection between youth and the church, suggesting that one-third of adults under age 30 have no religious connection. LifeWay Research's Ed Stetzer tells OneNewsNow people do tend to show a connection with religion as they go through phases of life.


"But there are some disconcerting numbers here, and it's not the first one, but where we see a lesser commitment and interest in things of faith to young adults and youth," he remarks. "And I think it reminds us that as Christians the need to redouble our efforts to engage and reach across generations."

The key to that, he believes, is discipling children within the framework of the family.

"We've shown studies at LifeWay Research where we've found the number-one correlative factor to students being engaged and remaining engaged in church and ministry and life is having two parents who are married, who go to the same church, and who are engaged in the spiritual formation of their children," the researcher explains.

"And so I think we don't want to ever lose sight that this is not just a church issue, though it is; this is [also] a family issue. That's the fundamental unit of discipleship."

Stetzer believes Christians should examine "how we live as agents of God's mission; how do we seek to be those who represent Christ in our community -- not simply those who go to church on Sunday, but people who represent [Christ] and live for him every day."

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