Top 5 faith & culture stories: What is the future of American Christianity?

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Top 5 faith & culture stories: What is the future of American Christianity?

December 29, 2011 - Jim Denison, PhD

Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove California. View from NE (Credit: Wattewyl via

The Crystal Cathedral was once the best-known church in America.  Rev. Robert H. Schuller’s “Hour of Power” was watched by millions on television each Sunday.  The church’s glass structure in southern California is an architectural marvel.  When I visited several years ago, I was awed by its beauty and sophistication.

Two years ago, the church declared bankruptcy.  Last November, a bankruptcy judge ruled that the campus will be sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County for $57.5 million.  The congregation will be permitted to worship in their sanctuary for three years before they must find a new home.

In our survey of my top 5 faith and culture stories of 2011, today let’s discuss the future of the American church.  No congregation more epitomized the market-driven tech-savvy megachurch explosion in our country than the Crystal Cathedral.  The contrast between its cutting-edge, seeker-sensitive strategies and the ancient rituals of traditional Catholicism is remarkable.

Last week, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a fascinating report on the size and distribution of the world’s Christian population.  In 1910, 66.3% of the world’s Christians lived in Europe; by 2010 that number had shrunk to 25.9%.  Christianity in the Americas grew from 27.1% to 36.8%.

The real story lies outside the traditional home of Christianity.  The Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia-Pacific regions have grown from 5.9% of the world’s Christians in 1910 to 36.7% today.  Five of the ten largest churches on earth are in South Korea.  There is a true Great Awakening sweeping the non-Western world.  According to David Barrett’s World Christian Encyclopedia, 76,000 people come to Christ every day, the largest number in history.  However, only 6,000 are in Western Europe and North America, combined.

While world Christianity is exploding, the number of atheists and agnostics in America has quadrupled in the last 20 years.  I recently heard an address given by a minister who focuses on university campuses; he estimates that 1% of American college students attend worship on Sunday mornings.  The number of Muslims in Western Europe is growing so quickly that some scholars have predicted the region will one day be characterized as “Eurabia.”

Is the American church facing inevitable decline?  Not at all.  There have been four spiritual awakenings in our history–in 1734, 1792, 1858, and 1904-5.  Each was sparked by the Holy Spirit working through Christians who prayed fervently for God to move in power on their churches and nation.  Does God want to bring a fifth Great Awakening to our country in 2012?  I pray every day for him to do so.  Will you join me?

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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