Part 2: Some Christian leaders concerned about decline in Christianity

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WHAS11.com

Posted on May 5, 2009 at 12:01 AM

Updated Thursday, Oct 15 at 3:43 PM

(WHAS11) -We live in the Bible Belt. And we earned it.

Churches have been the spiritual and social center of American life for centuries.

But the belt of religion has been tightened.

The number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has doubled since 1990 and is now at 15%.

But Dr. Jimmy Watson of St. Andrews United Church of Christ sees this as an opportunity.

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"It gives us an opportunity, I think, to go in with a unique message to these people," says Dr. Watson, "to reach out and say, almost start over the way I look at it and say, 'This is what Christianity is.'"

What Christianity is, has always varied from church to church. But Dr. Albert Mohler, who prepares ministers for service at the Southern Baptist Seminary advocates a return to the basics of Christianity.

"What the church needs to do is just be the church," advises Dr. Mohler. "The church needs to be about preaching the Gospel, preaching the word of God, building a vibrant congregation of believing Christians. That will have all the effect we need in the community.

But other churches believe in a more flexible approach.

The Unity Church of Middletown accepts a wide range of beliefs.

"That that particular church says you have to believe this wayif you don't there are severe consequences. I think people are just so astute spiritually; they are not buying that anymore. And I thank God they are not, because the God that is evolving in Christianity is now a much more loving, accepting God," says Reverend Carole Mahaffey.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz says a member might have left a church because they were offended in some way.

But he says they stayed away because no one noticed that they were missing. Now an effort must be made to find those that were lost.

Kurtz says, "Part of building a future of hope is helping families and parishes to be renewed-calling people who are kind of on the fringes to become part of the parish again.

The United Church of Christ has a more radical vision of their mission to the community.

"The presence of lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual people in the church and how they fit into the church and whether people welcome them" explains Dr. Watson.

It seems it is part of the human spirit that people want to be included.

"We're all the same, and so inclusivity is very important to me," says local church-goer Jason Hundley. "And I think Christianity, if it moves in that particular direction again, will get stronger because it includes everyone."

The new survey on religion in America has already produced more than a few sermon topics because of what the loss of members represents.

"And to take responsibility to be faithful Christians, where we are understanding that every one of those statistics represents very real human beings. And as a Christian, I believe every one of those very real human beings needs the Gospel of Christ," says Dr. Mohler.

Even though survey numbers show a decline in Christians, America is not even close to a post Christian era.

But the numbers do show that Christians and Christianity are changing. As one observer noted, Christians are now more likely to describe themselves as spiritual rather than religious.

All of this introspection in Christian America was sparked by the American Religious Identification Survey that showed a continuing loss of self-identified Christians.

The report has so far produced a Newsweek magazine cover story and more than a few Sunday sermons.

How Christian America responds to the challenge of a secular society will be played out in the next few decades. But this seems to be a wake-up call

We are not living in a post Christian America, but the churches are losing members and many are not being replaced.

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