We are awash in numbers. From polls tracking the popularity percentages of potential presidents (Bernie Sanders is at 60% in New Hampshire), to statistics measuring every conceivable social trend (9.3 percent of persons aged 12 or older have an alcohol problem), to gadgets that count the number of our steps per day (today's Fitbit challenge is 10,000 steps), we are constantly measured and reported. So many statistics flood us that really important numbers can get swept away.
Two truly significant numbers emerged from recent news reports. We do not need to let them get washed away in the torrent.
- 51.8% of Charlotte, North Carolina is non-Christian.
- 70% of Evangelicals (mainstream Protestants) read the Bible seldom or never.
Home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte typifies typical. Charlotte is just a short drive from Mount Airy, North Carolina, the city used as the model for Andy Griffith's Mayberry. Although Presbyterians outnumber Baptists in Charlotte, Billy Graham was born there.
And, according to recent statistics, 51.8% of the residents of Charlotte are non-Christian, slightly more than half.
Who are those non-Christian residents of Charlotte? They are increasingly Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, but that number is still quite small. Most of them are non-affiliated with any religion. That's right. All-American Charlotte has a huge population of residents who are totally unreligious.
According to a very recent Pew Research report, "the religiously unaffiliated now account for 23% of the adult population of the US, up from 16% in 2007." Twenty-three percent is roughly one-quarter of the population. In other words, one in four Americans now neither identify with any religion nor adhere to any religious faith.
As if irreligiousity in the Bible Belt is not shocking enough, another recent study surveyed Bible-reading habits among Evangelicals. Thirty-five percent of mainstream Protestants indicated that they "never" read the Bible. Another 35% indicated that they "seldom" read the Bible.
Do the math.
- That means that 70% of church-goers seldom or never read the Bible.
- On the bright side, 30% of church-goers read the Bible "at least once per week."
What if only 30% of the workers at a chemical plant paid attention to the instructions for operating the machinery, the written communications from the office, or the memos that come from supervisors?
Combining the two numbers results in the dismal conclusion that less than 15% read their Bibles (if they even have one) more than once a week. Like a plant grinding to a halt due to willingly ignorant workers, American religious and moral operations are poorly informed and likely to fail.
- Christian assumptions no longer dominate the American social landscape. If the trend continues - and it is likely to continue - Christians will become America's most marginalized minority. Head's up - not one of the nine Justices on the US Supreme Court is a mainstream Protestant.
- The Bible's books, chapter, and verses no longer dominate the American religious landscape. In place of scripture, contemporary social trends are driving church buses. How bad is it? How often do you hear church people say, "I don't know much about the Bible, but..."
- Although these numbers do not directly apply to Churches of Christ, the general trends are affecting us. Living in the generally irreligious American landscape, our members find a lot of encouragement to be less and less religious themselves.
The rush from scripture is also affecting us. The voice the small number who still read the Bible is growing weaker. The "I don't know much about the Bible" majority has little patience with our most marginalized minority who still study and respect the word of God.