I haven't yet read the whole study released Monday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life titled, "U.S. Religious Landscape Survey," just some of the news reports. But what I have read confirms what I see on the road every week. U.S. citizens are on the move religiously. Many people are not staying in the churches of their upbringings. "This is not your parents' church," many now could say as they show up on Sunday mornings. But where are they going? What we have known for a long time now is backed by the data -- namely that many evangelical churches are growing, and especially congregations that are "non-denominational" or "unaffiliated." And a decline in Catholic Church attendance is being somewhat offset by an influx into the country of Catholic immigrants.
But what most struck me about the Pew Study was that U.S. citizens are moving to places where faith is "personal." I bumped into one of the authors of the new study, John Green, at the Washington, D.C., CNN studios yesterday afternoon where we were both doing commentary on the results. And John confirmed the conclusion about the attractiveness of more personal, dynamic, and vibrant faith communities. But, as I said to the CNN correspondent who, of course, asked about the political implications of all this, personal doesn't neccessarily mean private, conservative, Republican, Religious Right, abortion, and gay marriage.
On the contrary, what I see rising up all around the country is a new evangelical agenda focusing on poverty, the environment and climate change, human rights, war and peace, and, yes, the sanctity of human life -- but much more broadly applied to include places like Darfur and the 30,000 children who died again today globally of unnecessary poverty and disease. Why pit unborn children against poor children? Rather, let's see them all in the category of the vulnerable that Jesus calls us to defend. In fact, my observation is that a concern for social justice is breaking out precisely at the places and in the people where faith is more personal. After all, as I often preach on the road, "God is personal, but never private." Many people are now hungry for a faith that is powerful enough to change their lives, their relationships, their neighborhoods, their nation, and their world. Churches that just focus on doctrine or on principles will continue to lose people to churches that offer a personal faith that cares for the world. When faith is no longer restricted to just our private lives, but breaks out into the world, new things can happen. Like revival.