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There's a resevoir of faith in secular western society
by Graeme J. Davidson,
31 May 2008

The unchurched may have a shaky generic concept of God and merge Christianity with other forms of spirituality, but there is still a reservoir of belief under our secular society, which often wells to the surface.

....Christianity is the world’s fastest growing religion, at one new Christian a second – faster than the world’s birth rate. But the multiplying worshippers in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Russia aren’t matched in the West, where churches are in decline. The Christian Research organisation in the UK forecasts that if the slide continues, by 2050 Muslims will replace Christians by about three to one in Britain and there’ll be nearly as many devout Hindus as there are churchgoers.
....Our 2006 census found the only mainstream denomination experiencing growth in New Zealand is the Catholic Church. On this basis, Roman Catholicism will soon overtake dwindling Anglican congregations as our main expression of Christianity. But even the recent increase in Catholics isn’t enough to counteract the landslide of Kiwis who claim to have no religious affiliation: about a third of us. That number’s been swelling by about one percent a year since 1991. So, within another generation, New Zealand Christianity could be a quaint, cultural oddity.
The normal reason given for the decline of the Church in the West is a takeover by secular humanistic values, a fate many predict for the developing countries now embracing Christianity, once they modernise.
....But this explanation is flawed because it ignores the rapid growth of Christianity in modern secular societies like Singapore and South Korea. So, what’s really happening with Western Christianity?
....The short answer is there’s flight from regular involvement in traditional organised religion rather than an outright rejection of belief.
....Surveys that show regular churchgoing in New Zealand has fallen to around eight percent ignore how there might be standing room only at your parish church on Christmas Eve or at a funeral. When Sir Edmund Hillary died, there was an overflow at the Auckland Holy Trinity Cathedral venue and our media covered the service in detail because they knew that’s what the rest of us expected. Similarly, we were deeply moved as we shared in the uplifting faith of grief-stricken relatives and friends of the seven from Howick’s Elim Christian College who where tragically swept to their deaths.
....The majority of us still say we believe in God and life after death and nearly a third of Kiwis claim they pray frequently – far more than the numbers of us who routinely go to Church. Similarly, despite a drop in church attendance in the United States, the Pew Research Centre found that intensity of belief has increased since the 1980s. Over 80 percent of Americans said that prayer was important to their daily lives and even more agreed with the statement: "I never doubt the existence of God".
....A recent international survey by Italy’s GFK-Eurisko research team on how the Bible is used discovered less than half of homes in de-Christianised France had a Bible, yet 62 percent of French people believed scripture was true and 72 percent said it was interesting. The figures were higher for other Western countries. In Italy, 75 percent of homes had a Bible and 93 percent in the US.
....A mere two percent of Scandinavians regularly attend a church, yet few Scandinavians opt out of paying state taxes to the Church and most Scandinavian parents still have their children baptised.
....The unchurched may have a shaky generic concept of God and merge Christianity with other forms of spirituality, but there is still a reservoir of belief under our secular society, which often wells to the surface. A survey by Lifeway Research in the US discovered that the vast majority of people who don’t go to church believe they can still have a good relationship with God. Most agreed, “Christianity today is more about organised religion than loving God and loving people".
....Numbers at Anzac Day parades dwindled in the 80s and many predicted the observance would fade into obscurity once veterans died. The reverse has occurred. The same could happen in the future with church attendance; that’s if churchgoing Christians can avoid being defensive and become more loving and welcoming.




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