An important thing to remember about surveys is that one in isolation is of limited value. Are the numbers accurate? Is it showing us an anomaly, or does it signal something wider and deeper? But a cluster of surveys, pointing in the same general direction, can help us accurately identify emerging trends.
And there’s little doubt that the Christian church in America is trending downward.
Consider these data points: A Gallup survey in August 2019 found that only 36% of Americans said they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the church or organized religion – an all-time low. In April 2022, Gallup found that church membership in the United States was at a record low. Only 47% of Americans said they belong to a church, mosque, synagogue or another place of worship. And in September 2022, a Pew Research Center study forecast that Christians may become a minority group in the United States by 2070.
How then, as Christian leaders, should we respond?
Jesus gave us the answer to that question in Matthew 5: 13-16: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Salt is a preservative. It prevents food from spoiling. Salt also flavors our food, serves as a cleanser, melts ice and helps to heal wounds. It was considered so valuable at the time Jesus shared these instructions with his disciples that it was called “white gold,” and Roman soldiers were at times paid with salt rather than money.
Salt then is essential, then and now. So too, a healthy Christian church is essential for our society – and for any society – to truly flourish.
I think Jesus is telling his followers in these verses that, as Christians, we are to help preserve the faith, the church, our families and our communities by standing firm on the truth of the Gospel and by loving our neighbors.