The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church by Christine Wicker

Christine Wicker has a blog one may subscribe to via RSS or Google Reader that keeps abreast of the book's latest reviews and reader's comments. Meanwhile, Steve Locks, at Leaving Christianity has done us the favor of reading her book and summing up its contents...

The author is a Christian of sorts, an ex-Southern Baptist and ex-evangelical, but still a mild believer (she has a mini-testimony at the end of the book) saying that she accepts Jesus as her saviour and would count her self as born again on certain days when she is in the mood for it! She also prays when she wants to but has many doubts and disagreements with the church.

Her data comes from interviews with leading Christians, polls and published studies. If you want her references for any of these below, let me know.

Here are a few notes of interest that I found within it:

* Church attendance figures are inflated as many Christians attend more than one church and are multiply counted.

* Roughly 1,000 evangelicals leave Christianity altogether every day and don’t come back. As a whole American Christians lose 6,000 members a day (i.e. the other 5,000 going onto their own private views of religion – leaving organized religion, whilst maintaining some unorthodox religious belief like Christine Wicker, the author).

* Conservative religious causes and spokesmen are over-represented on TV as they are featured 3 times more often in TV and print reports than moderate and progressive Christians.

* The proportion of Christians who subscribe to all core evangelical beliefs is about 25%.

* The fastest growing “religious group” in America is non-believers.

* There are twice as many people claiming no religion as there are participating evangelicals that have made the religious right powerful.

* Southern Baptist growth isn’t keeping up with population growth and it hasn’t for years.

* 86% of baptisms are of people who are already Christians. (i.e. Christians “changing brands” rather than conversions of unbelievers).

* In the remaining 14% baptisms are going down in every group except children under five.

* Southern Baptist baptisms were 100,000 in 1980 but 60,000 in 2005.

* Evangelicals are slightly more likely to believe that astrology impacts one’s life (13.6%) than Americans as a whole (12.3%).

* Mega-churches are often heavily dept-laden and suffer particularly when an influential pastor retires or dies, or the local population demographics change.

* 11% of Americans identify with the religious right.

* 20% of evangelicals identify with the religious right.

* Some evangelicals blame the Internet for allowing people to think differently about Christianity. (note: exactly as Farrell Till predicted in The Skeptical Review many years ago!)

Steve Locks, Leaving Christianity


vjack said...

That sounds like an interesting read, and I would earn magic Jesus points for reading a book by a Christian author. Thanks for the tip.

Jamie Steele said...

Explain Southern Baptist Baptisms. Over 400,000 this year i think. Book is wrong in this regard.

But a very accurate picture.

Jesus dealt with this as well in John 6:66

Joey said...

@ Jamie Steele

400,000 looks like a lot but I think the point is dealing with trends. According to a recent study done by The Pew Forum on Religion And Public Life, the "non-believers" are growing around three-times as fast as any other religious segment. The non-believing segment is still small, but the trend is what is important here.

From Christine Wicker's blog:

Since children who can’t yet read are among the SBC’s most fertile mission fields and converting an adult who hasn’t been raised in some kind of church is nigh unto impossible, it might be true that Southern Baptist women need to get busy in the bedroom.

Baptisms are down too, despite everything Southern Baptists can think of to do.

First the denomination’s 2006 campaign to baptize a million people, a valiant million-dollar effort, turned into a humiliating failure. They baptized even fewer people than the year before.

Then they extended the million-baptism campaign into 2007.

When the results came in this week, the numbers showed an even bigger drop than in 2006.

The 5 percent decrease put the number of baptisms, 345,941, at its lowest level since 1987, according to an April 25, 2008 story from the Associated Press.

Southern Baptists dunked their largest number in 1972, when 445,725 were baptized. Either Baptists aren’t toiling in the fields of the Lord as they once did, or the fields have gotten a lot rockier.
In 1950 churches noticed that for every 19 Baptists, they could convert one person. Now it takes 47 people for each convert.

Now as for the John 6:66 comment. Well...I wouldn't say it really deals with anything as much as the passage really just mentions what occurred in the 1st Century. I'll let that one go.

Joey said...

Some personal microeconomic analysis:

I don't think anyone would disagree that the escape from hell is a huge selling point for Christianity in the religious market. (It's what convinced me to get saved.) Just look at how much perceived utility one extracts from the promise of NOT frying for the entirety of eternity. The cost to subscribe to Christianity's package of beliefs is absolutely negligible compared to a certain promise of being spared eternal torture.

Now, we could go into the discussion of how "Christianity isn't really a religion" but a "personal relationship" yet what are we really saying here? Obviously Christianity has accepted the oligopolistic competition in the religious market, so I think it uses this rhetoric to create an illusion of superiority over other competitors that carry a similar package of goods. It's why, given the choice, most people would choose Levi's over the Urban Pipeline brand at Kohl's. They may look and feel the same, but Levi's is perceived as superior and therefore we extract more utility from owning the Levi's jeans.

I think the illusion of Christian superiority is dying.

Once it really sinks in that we're ALL going to hell in someone's dogma, everything starts look very much the same. People start to see perceive less utility from one religion's promise of salvation than before. Once this happens, I think the perceived costs of believing a religions package of dogma starts to look big.

Christianity started to crumble for me once I began to notice that my Christian beliefs in how the world works didn't really line up with reality. That people can be good and loving (not totally depraved, not even a little bit) without God was a real earth-shatterer for me. I started realizing that evolution explains much more than I ever gave it credit, and I realized that the arguments for the Christian god, or any religion's god, were more than lacking. I realized that a salvation from a hell that probably doesn't exist wasn't worth believing delusions for the rest of my life.

In my experience, and the experiences of many other incredibly strong Christians in my life, all it took was some good books on other schools of thought about religion and some well-placed doubt concerning prior beliefs to reduce the conceived utility in Christianity to match that of Buddhism, Judaism, Atheism, etc. Once doubt comes in concerning the probability of hell, the utility found in a belief system no longer is found in the salvation from torture, but in the form of what it does for the person in the here and now. Maybe it’s not to late for Christianity to negotiate a merger with the Hindus or something.

BTW. For the sake of simplicity, I left a lot of factors out of this picture of religion. But I do think that most of it holds. I doubt very much that Christianity would have much influence, if any at all, without hell, which is very sad.


Jamie Steele said...

The hell analysis is wrong.

Most preachers rarely mention it anymore.

Also, Christianity is growing in other countries at a greater rate than America.

Joey several billion people have a different view of christianity than you do, so good luck with your new found faith. Hope it works out for you.


lee said...

Jamie: "Joey,
The hell analysis is wrong.

Most preachers rarely mention it anymore."

How can this be? If scripture is God's revelation to his people, the final authority of faith and practice for the believer, how can preachers simply omit telling adherents about such an important doctrine? UNLESS, christianity is like a chamelion, It evolves to remain relevant to the culture and society of the era.
I often hear "liberal" christians who can no longer buy into some doctrine of the church, because it is either considered barbaric or untenable, and I wonder, once you begin to dismiss doctrines, at what point do you throw the whole baby out?
If god did such a poor job superintending the compilation, corpus and preservation of his revelation to man, what does this say to his omnipotence and omniscience? Even if he did exist at what point would you consider him unworthy of worship?

Once I came to realize that there were "parts" of scripture that I no longer believed in, the whole concept became untenable.

Joey said...


If I accept your premise that hell is actually rarely preached about at all in any form, than we have to ask ourselves "why?" There's a reason Jonathan Edwards type sermons cannot spark a revival anymore. Christianity is no less susceptible to market forces than any other business. As Lee observed, Christianity has been forced to change it's M.O. in order to keep up with society. As they say, "There's no accounting for taste", and taste is one of those things that can change demand in the market. If Christianity really is losing the hell part of its doctrine, it can only mean that society has lost its taste for it. Christianity is a price-taker.

Christianity certainly is a chameleon, but really what business isn't?

You're right, we don't see a ton of sermons preached explicitly on the topic of hell and all of its horrors. Thankfully, one could walk into a random church and probably not hear a rendition of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." I can throw up an "amen" to that. But to say that hell is not a factor just because it's not explicitly preached about is quite a logic jump. All Christians, or those at least growing up around a Christian environment, have a decent idea of what "atonement" is without it having to be explained.

That hell is not mentioned by name does not mean that it is not inferred.

Now for the anecdotal evidence:
I went to Dare2Share last fall just for S & Gs, and I don't remember hell being talked about explicitly during the two days of sessions. However, I do recall 15,000 teens being taught for two days about Judgment Day and how God will judge everyone based on whether or not they believed in Jesus as their savior. Did Greg Stier need to mention hell explicitly? Nope. Was the punishment of hell still factor? Hell yes! :-)

We live in a culture that is savvy to Christian rhetoric. It should not be surprising that everything does not have to be spelled out.

Also, It should not surprise anyone that Christianity, or any other religion for that matter, grows faster in less-developed countries.

"Joey several billion people have a different view of christianity than you do..."

"...good luck with your new found faith. Hope it works out for you."
Hey, thanks! I hope so too :)


Jamie Steele said...

The reason hell is inferred is because Jesus talked about it so much.

Just like the picture of "the thinker" on vjack's comment.
He was a response to the subject of hell.

Glad you went to Dare 2 Share- hopefully you will reconsider your faith.

"Christianity is a price-taker." that is a very funny comment. Some churches may be price takers but most Christians who have a real relationship with Jesus would disagree with that.

Jesus never scared people with hell. He also didn't beg or chase followers who left either.

MomKat64 said...

Not ALL Christians are Southern Baptists/Evangelicals...look up Episcopalians. They were the first church to supply a separate chalice for parishioners with HIV/ protect the helplessly immunity deficient patient from possible harm from others' germs on the edge of the chalice. And the first church to ordain, as a bishop, a practicing gay man. Such liberal thinking!!!!

Jeffrey said...

>Roughly 1,000 evangelicals leave Christianity altogether every day and don’t come back. As a whole American Christians lose 6,000 members a day

Is this net or gross? Is this like 500 converted evangelicals and 1500 deconverted evangelicals a day?

>Some evangelicals blame the Internet for allowing people to think differently about Christianity.

Absolutely. The internet was instrumental in my recent deconversion (April) from evangelicalism. The internet is doing to evangelical ideas what the printing press did to medieval Catholicism.