Study: U.S. Christian population declining - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Study: U.S. Christian population declining

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - It's a story that lit up our website and social media: More people saying they are not Christian. 

New research finds rising numbers of people in the U.S. say they're atheist or not religious at all. 

Heartland News found this is a topic that brought strong emotions especially in our area where you don't have to look far to see a church. We talked to Christians and non-Christians about these shifting times of faith. 

"There's a lot of people that just because they've done something wrong in the past that causes them to now don't feel like they're being accepted by the church, "said Jared Saylor. 

"I think there's a lot of people that see all of the things that are happening in the world and we've kind of reached this new place in our world where bad things are happening and sometimes they're happening to good people and people are seeking God more because they don't know where else to turn," said Andrea Statler. "I think that the people in this study that claim to be non-Christian of places that outlaw Christianity there's a reason for that. I think it's because people desire control and people don't like being told that they're not in control." 

Those are just two of the many reasons we heard to a new study that finds in America Christians are losing ground. 

"I'm super sad for non-believers," said Statler. 

According to New Pew Center research released Tuesday, 70 percent of people in the United States claim to be Christians. That number is down from 78 percent seven years ago. Almost 23 percent now claim no religion at all. That number is up from 16 percent. 

"The article did not surprise me," said Pastor Mark Anderson of Lynwood Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau. 

Anderson feels the study should serve as a wake up call to the church, especially because it reports 1 in 5 who grew up in church now say they've turned away. 

"The church is not communicating effectively in some cases," said Anderson. "The church isn't connecting with people and speaking their language. What happens to a country that loses that faith? If this doesn't alarm pastors that should be questioned." 

He says there's a way to solve issues when it comes to church connections. 

"Eighty-five percent of those who come to church do so because of a personal invitation," said Anderson. 

He predicts if Christians don't take notice, numbers of non-Christians could grow. 

According to research, atheists and agnostics combined nearly doubled their voice, from 4 percent to 7 percent.  

"I think the interesting thing about the article is that the 'nones' the atheist and agnostics are coming out of the closet," said Anderson. "People that wouldn't have spoken up before are now. We knew that number was out there, now they just aren't afraid to speak up. What does alarm me and other pastors is the people that once were active and are no longer active. That's why it's important that we continue to plant new churches and make sure we take notice if our churches are growing."  

Anderson says it's time to reach those who don't see the Bible as truth. 

"People are disillusioned because they don't see that Christ is making a difference in someone's life," Anderson said. "The way to solve that problem is for people to become connected in their faith and then become connected to other Christian people. The church needs to become more connected in building relationships and then as people see God in another person's life that's what draws them. 

"I just don't feel like I need a deity to tell me what's good or bad," said Seth Keith.  

Keith went from believer to non-believer and says it's empowering to see others not afraid to speak their minds. He says he grew up in the church, studied, and ultimately questioned the Bible. He says being kind doesn't mean you have to be Christian. 

"That's what human existence is about is about questioning things and logic," Keith said. "Logic says what we have is here and now. I don't want to be good because later I am going to be rewarded for being good. I want to be good because it makes me feel good inside."  

"Why did mom and dad tell us about Santa Claus? So we'd be good. That turns out to be an imaginary friend and I don't need imaginary friends," he said. "It's not a spirit that tells me to do right or wrong; it's my own conscience. I used to think of myself as more of an atheist but maybe now it's more agnostic. I believe that there's something out there but I believe that it's more of a conscience. For me it gives me more to life that there isn't something out there that is going to judge me for what I do. I judge myself, I judge myself every day." 

"If there was God why would he allow things like famine, murder cancer in a newborn child. It all comes down to personal belief. Whatever makes you feel better, believe it," said Keith. "I have a free will. I can do things on my own." 

Meanwhile, others like Statler and Saylor say they feel this area is possibly the exception to the study. 

Saylor says he grew up in Cape Girardeau, but wouldn't have called himself a Christian until someone reached out and opened up his world to Christ. 

"One of my friends invited me to church, just for a fun day," said Saylor. "The pastor just said 'Hey, I want to go grab lunch with you,'" Saylor recalled. "Me and him just sat and talked about life. He didn't bring up God once in our lunch conversation. He just got to know me. It gave me a mentor that just got to know me, and through that he poured God into my life and that's how I came to know God. I feel there are more Christians in this community than non-Christians. It's a place that's open and vocal about being Christians."

Statler says she feels more people are turning to the church, not away as the study suggests. 

"The thing I try to do each day is just to show  God's love in each and every way that I can," said Statler. "It can be through my actions or through my words or just encouraging people. There are a lot of people that aren't in church and you have to be the Jesus that they see because Christ is alive in all of us." 

"There are people that have been burned by the church but if they will reach out of if the huge God-loving community here will reach out to them, they will see there is a place where they can find that love and relationship with God," said Saylor.  

View the full Pew Center study here.

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