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#72 Is Christianity Shrinking?

Summary:

A new study from the Pew Research Group has some interesting numbers. Do they show that Christianity is shrinking? While it's true that people are leaving the Church, we can't panic. Instead, we should use these numbers as a challenge. Our challenge is to be the bee and live Orthodoxy: to help people find God and to live the Faith everyday. 

Questions:

As you watch the episode, consider:

1. Does the shrinking number of Christians in America cause us to panic about the future?

2. What is the Church?  What does it mean to be a member of the body of the Church?

3. Is the Church composed of just institutional leaders?  What are some way we can see Christ, and the Church, transfigured throughout all of creation?

4. How can you embrace others outside of the Church to embrace it? 

Check out these model lesson plans / retreat sessions for JOY and GOYA!

Links:

And here are some articles you may find to be helpful:

1. Bible Gateway, Luke 18:8

2. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Stewardship Resources

3. Mystagogy, The New Spirituality

Script:

Hey everybody this is Steve and, according to some, Christianity is shrinking.  Last week the Pew Research Group published a really interesting survey which shows that at least in the United States, number of people who identify as Christian is decreasing.  This is pretty consistent with other surveys over the years which have tracked the rise of the nones.  No, not nuns: nones.  Those who don't identify with a specific Church.  Some people say this shows the country is getting less religious, others that Christians need to change their beliefs to keep people engaged.  When we see that Church membership is down, our first instinct is to panic.  We panic because we fear declining Church membership shows that the country is becoming less religious, or that it's moving in a direction that makes us uncomfortable.  But these reactions aren't about the Church; they have more to do with things like culture and politics. 

The problem with a lot of these responses is that they reflect a misunderstanding about what the Church really is.  So let's look at this all with the eyes of a bee.  When we say "Church" we actually mean two different but related things.  On the one hand, the Church is the Body of Christ.  The Kingdom of God; a perfect and glorious and timeless thing.  On the other hand, the Church is us, still struggling, still in the process of being sanctified and perfected.  Still, like we said last week, pilgrims on our journey to Christ.  Because we live in an interesting tension: we both are Christians, and are still learning to be Christians.  We both are the Church, and are still in the process of becoming the Church. 

The Church is a mystical reality, the truth of our union with Christ.  It isn't just another club or organization or group.  It's our salvation.  And that means our membership in the Church is about much more than just numbers.  To be a member of the Body of Christ is to live a life guided by the Holy Spirit.  To radiate the light of Christ and to do His work on this earth. 

Here at Y2AM we have a little shorthand we use to describe our lives in the Church, two short sayings that are constant reminders to keep our minds and hearts focused on Christ.  Those reminders are pretty simple: be the bee, and live Orthodoxy.  By being the bee, we learn to see Christ in the face of every person we meet, to see all creation as revealing God and His love.  We learn the beautiful truth that the Church has been preaching from the very beginning.  And of course, like a bee, we take that beautiful gift and share it with everyone we know.  By living Orthodoxy, we take steps every day to live our Faith in practical ways: in taking care of our brothers and sisters, praying, fasting, attending Church services, receiving Holy Communion.

The practical steps we take on our pilgrimage to Christ in His Church.  Part of living Orthodoxy is realizing that we still aren't fully members of the Church yet, in the sense that we're still becoming Christians, being perfected in Christ.  It means repenting and changing when we fall short of our high calling to love as Christ loves us.  Our goal is to keep our hearts focused on Christ, to love Him more and more each and every day, and to share Him with those we love.  And as we become more fully ourselves, more fully members of the Church, we can share the Gospel with more love and more joy. 

Now, it may be the case that people are leaving the Church, for a variety of reasons we can't oversimplify.  And perhaps Christ Himself warned us that this would be the case when He asked: "Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, "will he find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8).”  But instead of despairing or losing hope, perhaps the numbers are a challenge to us.  A challenge to repent more; to pray more; to love more completely and unconditionally.  To come to truly know Christ and become members, not simply of an earthly institution, but of His Heavenly Kingdom. 

History is full of examples of millions upon millions of people who joyously and enthusiastically embraced Christ because they received the Gospel, the Good News of God's unconditional love for us, that He has trampled down death by death and given us eternal life and joy.  These Christians weren't preoccupied with survey data and demographic studies; they were preoccupied with Christ, and couldn't help but share Him with everyone they knew.  The Gospel is inherently beautiful and inspiring and uplifting; it's the best news we can imagine.  People are free to reject that good news, for whatever reason.  For the last two thousands years, people have been free to say no to the Church.  And yet, Christians have still continued to live in Christ and share the Gospel with all who care to listen.

That s a job for all of us who identify as Christians: rich and poor, young and old, clergy and laity, everybody.  It's our job to be the bee, to find God where the world otherwise might not be able to find Him, especially in times of doubt or trouble, and to share that gift with others.  It's our job to live Orthodoxy, to live our lives in a loving and Christ-centered way every moment of every day so that our lives light up the dark and doubting world. 

So let's Be the Bee, and connect people to Christ by becoming true members of His Body.  Be the Bee, and Live Orthodoxy.  Remember to like, subscribe, and share.  I'll see you all next week.

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