A bestselling Christian author is optimistic that reports of dwindling church numbers to all-time lows in America isn't as bad as many believers fear, but rather an opportunity for revival that no one is talking about.
True or fair-weather believers?
Lee Strobel (pictured), author of "The Case for Christ," is questioning polls and conservative media outlets that assert America's Christian identity is disappearing at unprecedented levels due to apathy and anti-Christian cultural influences across the nation.
"I'm not so sure that all of it is negative," Strobel recently told The Western Journal, wondering whether America was ever a fully Christian nation in the first place. "When we looked at the change in so-called religiosity of Americans – church attendance, for instance, was measured – and you know, we're not losing people who are truly committed."
He argued that social Christians – not devoted believers – are the ones falling away; i.e., those who never made a wholehearted eternal decision to follow Jesus Christ.
"We're losing people who may identify as a Christian, but they're not really a Christian, and so those are the kind of folks who are falling away," Strobel continued. "So, I don't think we're necessarily losing people who are committed and knowledgeable about the Christian faith."
The Christian apologist would rather people be real about their commitment to Christ than fake it.
"That makes it a challenge for us who want to see people come to faith. How do we reach those people?" Strobel asked. "But I don't think it's necessarily unhealthy for people to realize, 'You know what? I've been kind of playing the Christian game. I'm not really a Christian.'
"Well, that's probably a good realization to come to. [I'd say,] 'Yeah, great. Now, let me help you understand what it means to really be a follower of Jesus.'"
Behind the numbers
Strobel's contention comes in the wake of Gallup's church membership survey that was published at the end of March, when it reported that Americans' membership at churches, synagogues and mosques dropped from 76% in 1950 to less than 50% in 2020 – the first time it fell to less than a majority of Americans.
Another Gallup poll also released on March 29 divulged that between 1965 and 2021, the number of Americans professing religion as being "very important" in their lives dropped from 70% to 48%.
However, Strobel's contention about true vs. professed believers appears to be valid when looking at Gallup's numbers showing that Americans claiming to attend church on a weekly basis has consistently hovered between 30% and 40%.
Wheat from the chaff
According to The Western Journal, the strong cultural forces at work through the media, government, education system and entertainment industry merely "separate the wheat from the chafe" and make churches less like social centers – where people come out of conviction, rather than out of routine.
This is why Strobel doesn't see the declining numbers as the fall of Christianity in America, but rather as a new opportunity for evangelism.
"I think that there's a weighing of values – I think the main value the church has to weigh is: How do we love God and love our neighbor as ourself? What does that look like?" Strobel mulled."
He acknowledges that may look different in different settings and places. "But I think that's what we have to wrestle with and ultimately implement a strategy that's consistent with Jesus' teachings in protecting our fellow neighbors, who we love, and being a good witness to them," he added.
Strobel also said that as the coronavirus pandemic made many Americans realize the "fragility" of life, it was a missed opportunity for many churches to evangelize because they were busy arguing over partisan issues instead of sharing the gospel.
"There's always been a tension in the church, you know? … We know how God has changed our lives for the good. We want our friends and family and neighbors to have that same great experience," Strobel explained. "And so, we have a desire to reach out and we have a biblical mandate to reach out.
"But the tension comes with what are we reaching out with? Are we softening things to just make it attractive to people, or are we telling them the truth? And I think, you know, biblically, we need to tell people the truth."
He indicated that when the gospel message is watered down to make it more palatable and less offensive, the urgency for Jesus Christ is lost – and results in lukewarm Christians who often fall away when the slightest wind blows.