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Protestants No Longer Hold Majority in the US

CBS News reports:

The percentage of Protestant adults in the U.S. has reached a low of 48 percent, the first time the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has reported with certainty that the number has fallen below 50 percent. The drop has long been anticipated and comes at a time when no Protestants are on the U.S. Supreme Court and the Republicans have their first presidential ticket with no Protestant nominees.

This is actually less important than it looks. One reason that the number of Protestants fell below 50 percent is the rise of new non-denominational megachurches whose members aren’t affiliated with traditional Protestant denominations. However, the theology of these churches is usually Protestant, even ultra-Protestant.

Beyond that, part of what we are witnessing is a youth bulge. The millennials like most generations of young people reach a nadir of religious affiliation in adolescence and early adulthood. They have broken away from the institutions and beliefs that shaped their childhood and they are working through the great questions of life on their own.

This is as American as apple pie and is also a very Protestant thing to do. Religious identity for Protestants isn’t grounded in community membership or ethnicity—at least in theory. “Christian” is supposed to be an individual choice, not a collective identity. The most powerful forces in American Christianity these days symbolize that belief by refusing to baptize infants; they believe that baptism is something that can only be done after an independent personal choice.

The real question for the future of American Protestantism is this: every new generation of Americans finds its own version of the faith as their circumstances and issues change. The Great Awakening of the 1700s reinvented as well as reinvigorated American religion. Will Christian millennials find a way to state the Gospel in terms that make sense for their own generation so that, over time, as young people mature and make serious decisions about their values and beliefs, they will find Christianity speaks to them powerfully and directly?

We shall see, but Via Meadia is not going to be joining what is sure to be a media wake for American Protestantism as this news spreads. Instead, some of us will probably stop by Redeemer Church‘s services next Sunday night, where hundreds of Manhattan-based twenty- and thirty-somethings gather with a sprinkling of older folk to build a new kind of church for a new kind of society.

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