Not long ago a friend on the east coast went through a major moral failure. After much prayer and sharing, I sent an email to him sharing my best advice on righting his personal life.
Because he was not a believer, I decided to appeal through a popular concept that contained sound biblical principles. That teaching is called “Confronting the Brutal Facts.”
We need that same truth today to face what might be the most consequential development of our lives.
History may one day call it “The Great Turning Away.”
My friend is a millennial. He’s a part of the largest generation in American history that is currently turning its back on God in droves.
I longed for him to repent–change his mind–by viewing the “brutal facts” that caused his life to crash. I turned to a reputable textbook I use in my college courses to offer him counsel.
James Collin’s book, Good to Great, explains why some American businesses rise to the top and others don’t. He concludes that the road to greatness is paved with honesty and a willingness to learn from past mistakes–what he calls “Confronting the Brutal Facts.”
That’s a great definition of repentance.
Just as a business needs to learn from its miscues, do a U-turn and change the way it operates in order to prosper, so human beings must understand the sins that have caused problems, turn away from them, and do things God’s way–if they want to live fruitful lives.
Brutal honesty, a willingness to change (and in the biblical context, forgiveness from God) propels people into better lives.
God’s ways work.
I shared this truth with my friend hoping for a humble response. Instead of confronting the brutal facts about why he fell, he responded by saying, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
I hope that’s not the response of modern-day America. If it is, we are in more trouble than we could ever imagine.
The highlights (or low-lights) are these:
- Religious membership in the USA (church, synagogue or mosque) reached an all-time low of 50% in 2018.
- This “turning away” represents a staggering 20% drop in faith affiliation in just twenty years (since 1999).
- The rejection of faith coincides with a 17% rise in those who say they profess “no religion.”
- The generational breakdown of those who have NO faith in God: Millennials (born 1980-2000) – 29%, Gen Xers (1965-1979) – 18%, Baby-boomers (1946-1964) – 14%, and the Builder Generation – (1945 or before) – 9%.
As you can see from the statistics, the younger people are, the more they are turning from God.
Here’s Gallup’s summary of the “Great Turning Away:”
“Although the United States is one of the more religious countries, particularly among Western nations, it is far less religious than it used to be. Barely three-quarters of Americans now identify with a religion and only about half claim membership in a church, synagogue or mosque.”
“The rate of U.S. church membership has declined sharply in the past two decades after being relatively stable in the six decades before that. A sharp increase in the proportion of the population with no religious affiliation, a decline in church membership among those who do have a religious preference, and low levels of church membership among millennials are all contributing to the accelerating trend.”
“These trends are not just numbers, but play out in the reality that thousands of U.S. churches are closing each year. Religious Americans in the future will likely be faced with fewer options for places of worship, and likely less convenient ones, which could accelerate the decline in membership even more.”
Does that match with your experience? It does mine.
My parents’ generation (Builders), by-and large, were church-going people of faith. Many were nominal, but there was a reverence for God and biblical principles that made America strong and stable.
My generation (Baby-boom) rebelled against moral values and authority figures and started the “Great Turning Away.” Today, many boomers are out playing golf rather than in worship.
Gen X and the Millennials followed their parents’ rebellion and unbelief into narcissism and life “on the machines”–devoid of God.
It’s true young people sometimes come back to faith when they marry, have families, and confront the real world. But that’s not a guarantee. Secular humanists in the media, education, and popular culture have clearly discipled the past three generations better than God’s Church.
The facts–the turning away–don’t lie.
It’s even worse in Europe, the “historical parent” of the United States. Western Europeans are turning from God in even greater numbers than their American counterparts.
The Pew Research Center in an article titled, “Being Christian in Western Europe,” exposes the flight from God on the other side of the Atlantic:
“Western Europe, where Protestant Christianity originated and Catholicism has been based for most of its history, has become one of the world’s most secular regions. Although the vast majority of adults say they were baptized, today many do not describe themselves as Christians. Some say they gradually drifted away from religion, stopped believing in religious teachings, or were alienated by scandals or church positions on social issues, according to a major new Pew Research Center survey of religious beliefs and practices in Western Europe.”
“Yet most adults surveyed still do consider themselves Christians, even if they seldom go to church. Indeed, the survey shows that non-practicing Christians (defined, for the purposes of this report, as people who identify as Christians, but attend church services no more than a few times per year) make up the biggest share of the population across the region. In every country except Italy, they are more numerous than church-attending Christians (those who go to religious services at least once a month). In the United Kingdom, for example, there are roughly three times as many non-practicing Christians (55%) as there are church-attending Christians (18%) defined this way.”
“Most Europeans call themselves ‘Christian’ but most deny the faith in their everyday lives. Pew says that 91% were baptized (most as children) 81% were raised in Christian homes, yet now only 22% attend services monthly or more.”
Talk about a slippery slope into unbelief.
American church attendance is nearly double that of Europe. Yet, both remain on downward trends.
Why did Europe turn away from God more quickly? Because Europe became “Christian” through kings and edicts more than personal decisions. Europeans simply followed the faith of their ancestors–with little depth. Cultural faith is easier to divorce.
On the other hand, America’s trust in God grew through spiritual awakenings, Gospel crusades, and personal decisions to be “born again.” This deeply-personal faith quotient is harder to jettison.
For two millennia the Western World brought great blessings to people due to its biblical faith. From the Roman Empire (which became 50% Christian), to the Catholic Middle Ages, to the Renaissance/Reformation, and finally America becoming a “shining light on a hill,” faith in God served as the foundation of one of the greatest civilizations of all time.
In other words, God’s ways “worked” in family life, education, government/human rights, economics, and cultural achievements.
With the Church now growing primarily south and west (Africa, Latin America, Pacific Islands and Asia), other parts of the world appear to be picking up the torch from the back-slidden West. God remains at work in willing hearts.
But what about “The Great Turning Away?” Is it a part of the end-time doomsday reality? Or is it a down-cycle that God can reverse? Has any free people ever turned away from its God faster than the Western World has done in the past twenty years?
I don’t know the answers. But I do know this: we can’t do anything about it unless we confront the brutal facts.
Let’s start with repentance. It’s the first word of Jesus’ inaugural message (Mark 1:15). The second is believe.
Will you be a part of the Western World’s “Great Turning Away” or a part of its hopeful renewal?
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).