Fewer People Are Calling Themselves Christians: Here’s Why That’s A Good Thing

The magazine Christianity Today recently reported the results of a national poll that showed a huge drop in the number of people who self-identify as Protestant Christians.

At first glance that may seem alarming. Many of us might see it as another sign of continuing national spiritual decline. But we’d be wrong.

Upon closer examination of the data, the large drop in the number of Americans who call themselves Protestant Christians is not a sign that people are turning from the faith in massive numbers. It’s a sign that those who used to call themselves Christians (but neither believed scripture nor followed Christ) are now coming clean.

In the absence of any particular cultural advantage to calling themselves “Christian,” lots of folks who were nominal (in name only) Christian, now choose “None” as their preferred spiritual moniker.

That’s not a bad thing.

In fact, here are some reasons why I find the results of this recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life encouraging.

  • Cultural Christianity has never done anything to advance the kingdom. It only inoculates against the real thing. When large numbers of nominal and cultural Christians wave the banner of Christ, it confuses the message of the gospel. But now that they have ditched the title, it opens the door for genuine disciples to get the word out without all the confusion.
  • Despite the drop in the number of people who chose the label “Christian” the actual number of people who identified as evangelical and attend church continues to increase (even among those under 30).  In other words, the nominals have fallen off, but they were never aboard. And the number of committed Christ followers has increased.
  • The decrease in the number of people who call themselves “Christian” also shows the folly of messing with God’s Word in an attempt to make it more palatable. The drop in self-identified Christians is roughly equal to the drop in self-identified mainline Protestants. That’s right. The churches that left scripture and orthodoxy in an attempt to be culturally relevant, have become culturally irrelevant. Those who try to improve upon God’s Word or bring a new gospel have always done so at their peril. Jesus said he would build his church, not ours.

* For more information on this Pew poll, see Christianity Today’s December Issue: Briefings , page 13