In Brief: Christianity’s Real Growth Problem
Perhaps it boils down to choosing marketing over fertility.
The Southern Baptist Convention has made headlines lately for the political rancor that has overtaken the denomination. It led to a lengthy and predictably antagonistic New York Times report on all that ails the Baptists, but it also led Joy Pullmann, executive editor of The Federalist and mother of six, to weigh in on what really ails the church in America: a lack of babies.
The Times reports that one of the SBC’s concerns is “15-year decline” in members, both through potential theological schisms intertwined with politics, such as critical race theory, and through an aging and thus declining membership. …
While the Times makes much of contrasting the SBC’s political conservatism with its forecast of demographically decisive American leftism, it doesn’t note that the SBC’s decline is directly related to following broader American culture, instead of Christian beliefs, on a keystone of institutional vibrancy: fertility.
For years, the number of Christians has been declining as a percentage of America’s population. Pullman rehearses some stats from the Times and other places to reveal that evangelical Christians skew whiter and older than the overall population. It all led her to ask (and answer) a question she says she’s been asking for years: “Why doesn’t evangelization start at home?”
In fact, I think it does start at home. Before running out and attempting to “gain more souls for Christ” (itself theologically suspect, as scripture — at least as Protestants understand it — clearly teaches it is Christ who does all the work to save souls), what about attentiveness to the “feed my sheep” charge Christ gave the Apostle Peter in another mic-drop gospel ending, in John 21?
Shepherds — the antecedent of our word “pastor” — don’t go around rustling sheep. Shepherds tend an existing flock that grows almost exclusively organically, from within the herd. Shepherds cultivate those they are given; they don’t go around trying to convert goats or leaving their flocks to search for others. From where this Christian sits, our Western churches and most of their leaders have done a perfectly horrific job of tending to the lambs Christ has given into their care.
Too many men commissioned as shepherds are off wandering the mountains, leaving their sheep unfed and unprotected while wolves make off with the babies. The answer is not to focus more on wandering around in alleged search of random sheep, nor to steal sheep from other people’s flocks. It is to sacrifice anything necessary to beat off the wolves and protect the lambs.
Protecting lambs means making more of them, too. She asks, “Why is it that evangelicals constantly cite the Great Commission but not the original it echoes from Genesis, which commands people to ‘Be fruitful and multiply’?”
She’s hesitant to fully decide the correlation/causation debate, but she does conclude:
It’s not clear how much American Christianity’s decline stems from unthinkingly accepting our culture’s antagonism to sexual fertility and our refusal to prioritize evangelism in the home, but it’s clear there’s a relationship between these that bears deep introspection.
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