Is America a Christian nation? The numbers don’t look good.
Glenn and Stu were stunned on today’s show to hear about American Christians by the numbers from Jonathan Bock, co-author of “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get It Back.”
Bock and co-author Phil Cooke looked at statistics from Gallup, the Pew Research Center and LifeWay to get the data on how many so-called Christians are living out their faith. Did you know that 40 percent of Christians who go to church “rarely or never” open their Bible?
“We were absolutely shocked,” Bock said. “All of the things that non-Christians are saying about us, that we’re hypocritical … it’s true.”
Here are some of the numbers he cited on today’s show:
- While 70 to 80 percent of Americans call themselves Christians, just 20 percent go to church.
- That 20 percent counts people as “regular” church attendees if they go just 19 times a year.
- 37 percent of Christians who go to church don’t think prayer is essential.
- Of the 20 percent who attend church, only 10 percent tithe a tenth of their income.
What do you think? Are we still a Christian nation? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.
Carl Court/Getty Images
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
GLENN: You know, and in that spirit of asking these — these questions, you know, one of them is — there was no absolute anymore.
Nothing is known anymore.
There is no higher reason for being. I was at Silicon Valley, and I was listening to a — I was listening to one of the venture capitalists. And he was talking about the future. And, I mean, he is Facebook, Twitter, everything. Biggest venture capitalist guy in the world.
And he said, you know, I have to tell you, the Christians and people of deep faith have a leg up on the rest of us.
Well, how do you mean? He said, because jobs are going to become so scarce. Life is going to become so easy, if we’re right about technology, and if we survive this turnover, that most people get their meaning out of what they do. And he said, people of real faith get their meaning out of service for others. They find their meaning outside of themselves.
That’s really important. And I think that’s what’s happening to our kids. We’ve lost meaning. But what does it mean to be a Christian anymore?
What does it mean? It’s — it’s like it’s not even living in the world we’re in. Not that it should be of the world, but it has to be in the world.
So there’s a new book out, called The Way Back. Now, this is written by two people, Eric Metaxas turned me onto this. Phil Cook and Jonathan Bock. Now, Jonathan Bock is the founder of Grace Hill Media, which has done every movie that you can imagine that you might like, that has a good message to it. It was — it’s the company that did Chronicles of Narnia. The Lord of the Rings. What else?
Blind Side. So here is a guy who is in the media. He works in Hollywood, and yet he says, Christians have lost their credibility. And here’s the way back. We want we wanted to get him on now. Jonathan Bock. How are you, Jonathan?
JONATHAN: Brother, Glenn. How are you?
GLENN: I’m very good.
JONATHAN: I’m actually happy to hear that the (inaudible) has moved to Saint George, Utah.
GLENN: Yeah. Isn’t that bizarre?
JONATHAN: That’s a real retreat.
GLENN: Yeah, it is. Yeah, it is.
Okay. So, Jonathan, it’s interesting that, you know, being Hollywood people, that you see this.
And you’re not — I shouldn’t say you’re Hollywood. I mean, you’re a — you’re a believer. But you’re seeing this. And you’re — you’re largely responsible for the renaissance of spiritual and faith-based films in Hollywood proper. What is it that we are missing? How — what do you mean, that Christianity has lost its way?
JONATHAN: Yeah. Well, I sit and have for the better part of 20 years on a funny fence, where I market mainstream films and television, to the Christian community, to the faith community around the country. And even now around the globe. But I’m also a practicing, believing Christian. And so it’s — it’s an odd little place to perch and sit. And so I get to see, maybe into both sides of things in a way that somebody sitting on one side of the fence doesn’t necessarily get to.
And, look, I don’t think I’m saying anything extraordinary here, to say that over the last several decades, we’ve seen a real failure on the part of the Christian community to influence culture.
We’ve just seen it ebbing away kind of day after day after day.
And we’re to the place now, where people can be openly hostile. And are openly hostile to — to the Christian community and to Christian values. I mean, for example, Bernie Sanders, like, 18 months ago, said that Christians shouldn’t be in a position of any kind of authority in politics. You know, it’s things like that, like, what is going on, right?
And so my concern is as simple as this, is that there is a disconnect between how Christians perceive themselves and how non-Christians and the world actually sees us. And so a very simple example of that is the fruits of the spirit, which Christians are supposed to be known for. You know, you know the list: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness. You know the list.
Tell me which of those words, non-Christians use to describe us.
GLENN: None of those.
JONATHAN: Right. That’s a real problem, right? It’s a PR problem.
JONATHAN: You know, it’s how we’re viewing ourselves and how they’re viewing us, are just — just not —
GLENN: Okay. So help me out. Is this a — I know perception is reality. So you have to deal with the reality that you’re handed. But is that perception coming from — is that because there’s this movement on the left to crush Christianity, or is it, well, Christians aren’t living what they preach, or a combination of both?
JONATHAN: Yeah. Well, as a PR and marketing guy, and my cowriter Phil Cook, is also a media expert. He actually works on the Christian side of things. I like to say that Phil helps Christian television suck less.
And he’s been doing that for, you know, the better part of 30 years.
We came at this — you know, we’ve been friends for a long time. And we talk about this kind of constantly around fire pits and conversation.
And, you know, we come at this as PR, marketing guys. So we viewed this initially as Christianity has a PR problem. So every marketing problem can be solved by better marketing. So if your house is small. Don’t call it small, call it cozy, right?
And so that’s how — where we started. We started at a place of, great. How do we fix this PR problem? Let’s use our expertise to do that. But the more that we dug into it, the more we wrote the book, it just didn’t feel like we were really capturing what the real essential problem was.
So we decided to go back and look at our community, the Christian community and just look at behaviors, and where the Christian community is right now.
So, for example, on the movie side of things, if — if you do research, you ask people, hey, do you like movies? Everybody likes movies. It’s like 99 percent of the country says, yes, I like movies. Okay? Well, as marketers, we’re not interested in those people. We’re actually interested in the people who show up and actually go to movies and plunk down their money once a month and go to movies, or who are on Netflix. You want people who are actively involved.
So we went to all of the best researchers out there, bar none. Gala, the Pew, Lifeway Research, to dig into the actual stats of what’s going on in the Christian community behaviorally.
And I have to say, we were absolutely shocked. So depending on the researcher you talk to and the question that gets asked, essentially, somewhere between 70 to 80 percent of this country classifies themselves as a Christian. Okay?
Then you start to look at — we just decided to just look at basic behaviors. You know, where do you spend your time, where do you spend your money? And what are the markers that you would say, okay. Yeah, that’s definitely what Christians should be — they should be going to church, right? You would assume that Christians would go to church.
We looked at prayer. We looked at tithing. And we looked at Bible reading. And we were shocked. So, for example, if 70 to 80 percent of the country claims to be Christian, how many people are showing up on a weekly basis to church? It is 20 percent.
GLENN: Oh, my gosh.
JONATHAN: Right. And the new rule of thumb, with churches, with pastors, is you are now a regular at church, if you’re showing up three out of every eight Sundays, or 19 whole times a year.
GLENN: Holy cow. That makes you a regular congregant.
STU: How many years again was it?
JONATHAN: Nineteen. You’re a regular if you show up 19.
STU: It’s like my gym attendance.
JONATHAN: Exactly. And you can see what difference that’s making.
STU: Yeah, I know. I look great.
GLENN: Hey, wait a minute.
STU: Wait a minute.
JONATHAN: So then we looked at —
STU: You didn’t laugh. You didn’t laugh.
Are you actually just calling me fat? I don’t understand what just happened.
GLENN: Hey, he’s a Christian. He can get away with that. He loves you.
JONATHAN: I speak truth, man. I speak truth.
GLENN: That’s right.
JONATHAN: So then we looked at, prayer. Okay? And what we found is that 63 percent of Christians say prayer is essential, which sounds like a great number. Oh. Okay. That’s a good number. Except the corollary to that is 37 percent of people who go to church don’t think prayer is essential.
GLENN: Wait. Wait. 37 percent, what?
JONATHAN: 37 percent of Christians who go to church do not think prayer is essential.
STU: What. How is that possible?
GLENN: How is that — I mean, it’s the Lord’s Prayer. He thought it was pretty — how is that possible? Okay?
JONATHAN: Well, this is where we are in the world.
So here’s the really shocker, which is Bible reading. So Lifeway Research. This is Southern Baptist. This is not — I mean, they want this to be a good number. But their researchers, what they found is that of church-attending Christians. We’re talking about that 20 percent, right? We’re talking about essentially the regulars that show up. Forty percent of them rarely or never open the Bible. So, again, we’re not talking about Christmas and Easter Christians. We’re talking about people who are actually showing up in the pews on a regular basis.
GLENN: Nineteen times.
JONATHAN: Right. Well, 40 percent of them are never cracking the Bible at all. Okay?
And then, of course, tithing, you would assume it’s terrible. And it is terrible. Of those, 10 percent — excuse me, of those 20 percent who are showing up on a regular basis, only 10 percent of them are giving 10 percent.
GLENN: Well, at least they’re consistent. It’s a 10 percent rule.
JONATHAN: But you look at those numbers and you start to realize, oh, my gosh, all of the things that non-Christians are saying about us, that we’re hypocritical, that we’re negative, all those things — that whole list, it’s true.
JONATHAN: It’s true.
GLENN: So hang on, Jonathan, because we want to continue the — continue the conversation. So how does that change us? And then, also what do we do? Because I think people feel this. They just know, Christianity is on the ropes. It’s declining everywhere. And it’s on the ropes. And it’s because perhaps we’re not living it.
So we’ll go there here in a second. And how do we make — how does it become relevant to people?
GLENN: We are talking to the author of a new book, Jonathan Bock, and Phil Cook, have written The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility, and How We Can Get It Back.
He is a marketer. And started looking at the problems of Christianity. And saying, well, we just have a marketing problem. He said, no, after doing research, no, we actually have real fundamental problems. And, you know, people are not viewing Christians as we view ourselves.
STU: Yeah. He brought up a list — you know, positive virtues that you must associate with Christianity to keep it as secular as possible.
STU: And it was —
GLENN: Nobody associates any of those words with Christians.
STU: Right. And part of me believes that because there’s been, A, kind of a negative — there is a PR problem. I think that is part of it.
GLENN: Yes, I do too.
STU: But also, you know, maybe we’re not living the lives we’re supposed to live. I’d love to see what people do associate with Christianity.
GLENN: So we’ll get into that. And — and how much of this is — is — you know, he mentioned that he — a lot of the research they did, one of the big research firms is Barna. And I’ve seen the Barna research on Christians. There’s no difference between Christians and non-Christians in divorce, pornography, you know, lying, cheating, stealing. There’s no difference. We are not different because of our faith. And I think that’s why a lot of people say, you know, you’re just a bunch of talk. You’re just a bunch of hypocrites. Oh, you preach goody-goody. But there is no difference in studies done by religious pollsters. There’s no difference between us. That’s a problem. So how do we get it back? Continue in just a second. The name of the book is The Way Back.
GLENN: There is a new book out, it is called the way back. How Christians blew our credibility, and how we get it back.
Jonathan Bock is one of the coauthors. He is with us now.
He is in the film-promoting industry. He is a Christian. And his coauthor is a Christian. And they thought that this was a PR problem. And as they looked into research, they realized, no, it’s not a PR problem, alone. There is a problem in Christianity, and he just addressed, you know, people who say they go to church, that’s only about 20 percent of the population that says they’re Christian. Twenty percent of those go to church on a regular basis. And that means 19 times a year. 63 percent of Christians say prayer is important. But 37 percent of Christians say, no, it’s not. And only 40 percent — or, sorry, 40 percent of Christians rarely or never read the Bible.
STU: So going over some of the positive terms that are not associated with Christianity, apparently, for good reason. In some ways, Jonathan. But what do people think of when they think of Christians?
JONATHAN: Well, I mean, we’ve all heard the list, right? We’ve all heard the — the terrible adjectives that are used. But what we discovered with — when we started to look into this research is that, you know, the fact that Christian is now essentially synonymous with hypocrite, is not a PR problem. What it is, is it’s a sales force problem. It’s on us. Because we’re just not living the life. We have essentially become the fat guy on the gym who is lecturing other people about good health.
JONATHAN: And so researchers know that when conversion happens — and it doesn’t matter — we’re not talking only about religion. It could be anything. Good health. Anything. It’s because you see someone else and you want to be like them.
JONATHAN: So when you have 80 percent of the country saying they’re Christian, but only 20 percent showing up, you know, you look at that and say, well, who wants to be part of that group? Who wants to be part of that? And it’s a little bit like if you went to — for a meeting at Coca-Cola. And three-quarters of the people around the table are drinking Pepsi. Like, what would you think about it?
GLENN: Right. I will tell you — I have a problem, but even in my own church, but all churches. You know, they talk about baptisms and getting people in the faith. And I just keep — it drives me nuts. Because I just feel like, yeah, okay. That’s important. But love people. Love people.
And they will just come themselves. Jesus didn’t have to say, get into the water. Get into the water. He loved people, and that’s what turned their life.
They saw it and they wanted that fruit. And I don’t know what our fruit is anymore.
JONATHAN: Exactly. Exactly. And so we looked at this and said, okay. Well, here’s the symptoms, right? But what’s the real cause of this? And it really also shocked us is essentially what we determined is that when — you know, when you talk about idol worship, that — that sounds like an Israelite problem. Right?
GLENN: Right. Right.
JONATHAN: A long time ago kind of problem. Oh, those silly Israelites. The second Moses is away, they’re making a golden calf. We don’t do that if our pastor goes on vacation. We don’t make a golden calf.
GLENN: Speak for your church. Should have seen what happened to our church last week.
JONATHAN: But what we feel is that a lot of Christians out there — a lot of people calling themselves Christians are actually the most sophisticated idol makers in the history of humanity. Because essentially what they’ve done is they’ve created a God that looks like God. That has the veneer of God. But it’s God who doesn’t mind that I’m only going to church 19 times a year. And fine with me not tithing and reading the Bible. You know, is cool with us divorcing, as you brought up. Divorcing at this exact same rate as everybody else. Who demands no obedience from us all. And it’s essentially, we have created a God, who — who conforms to our view of the world, as opposed to the other way around.
That’s idol worship. And I think that’s what’s going on here. And what you realize is the greatest threat facing American Christianity in 2018, is not radical Islam or the rise of secularism or prayer in schools or gay marriage as a whole. The greatest threat to American Christianity in 2018 is American Christians.
GLENN: That’s a powerful statement. I will tell you this, I had to write something this week, this last weekend, for church. And so I was doing some study on — on unconditional love, and how God’s love is unconditional. And started doing some research and found that was not part of the Christian vernacular until the 1960s. God’s love is not unconditional. He has divine love. He loves all of us, no matter what we’ve done, but it is also conditional. You — you know, all of his promises are, if you do these things, then I will promise you these things.
That is the very definition. And it was put in there — you know, the unconditional love really kind of entered our vernacular, because it was, you know, hey, you can just be a good person. You can sleep with people and whatever, and God doesn’t matter. It does matter. It does matter.
JONATHAN: Yeah, well, and, you know, as you read the stories of Jesus, you know, he’s got all the time in the world and all the love in the world for murderers and prostitutes and lepers and, you know, the list goes on and on and on. The folks he can’t stand are the complacent.
GLENN: The hypocrites.
JONATHAN: The hypocrites.
JONATHAN: You know, he has no patience for them. None.
GLENN: So what is the way back?
JONATHAN: Yeah, well, so we had to — that’s one of the things that we did. We said, well, how do we fix this? Right? Because a lot of people have accused us as having the spiritual gift of discouragement. So what do we do about this, and how do we fix this?
And so what we decided to do was just go back and say, well, how did the early church do this? Right? Essentially on the Mount of Olives, when Jesus disappeared in the sky, you know, the disciples were standing there. And as they’re standing there, they have nothing. Okay? They have no political power. They have no money.
They have no influence. They have essentially no education. They have no plan. As a matter of fact, two angels had to show up and say, come on, fellows. Let’s get to it. You know, it’s time to go. So they had nothing. So how do they go from being a backwater cult, you know, in the far reaches of the Roman Empire to 200 years later, Christianity being one of the most influential forces in all of the western world. How did that happen? How did they go from nothing to that? In a relatively short period of time?
And it’s really two things, what we came up with. First is, they were all in. I mean, these guys were 100 percent committed.
JONATHAN: They were in it for sure. And that’s the first thing. And the second thing is that they went about a process of deciding intentionally to astonish Roman culture. Roman culture — let me give you an example of it. Roman culture was a culture of death, really. I mean, militarism was really strong. Infanticide was a huge problem, in the early church. I mean, excuse me — in Roman culture. Right? They — they didn’t really name their children for ten days after they were born. Because they were still deciding if they wanted to keep this or not, if it was a girl. Or too many mouths to feed. They would just expose the child. They would just leave it by the side of the road or out in the trash or put it in a field.
GLENN: They put them literally in garbage barges.
JONATHAN: Yep. Just garbage. It was a piece of garbage. So the early church who believed in life and believed that everyone was sacred, started picking up these children and raising them as their own. And the idea of that so astonished the Roman culture. They didn’t know what to do with it. Who are these people, and what are they doing? And how are they doing it?
And so, we looked at that and said, all right. Well, what are the ways that we can astonish culture again? And if you go back again to the early church — think of the things that they created. Hospitals and orphanages and universities. I mean, the list goes on and on of things that were so extraordinary, that culture decided, hey, we need one of those. We want to be part of this.
And so what are the things — I don’t think a hospital or soup kitchen is really — another one of those is going to astonish culture. But what are the things that we can do as a Christian community, both individually and corporately, that can astonish culture once again?
So as an example — we have a bunch of examples in the book of those kinds of things that we can do. And I’ll give you an example of one.
The foster care system is a disaster in this country. 450,000 kids living in the foster care system, essentially abandoned. They’re abandoned children. That’s what it comes down to. And we can look at that and go, oh, my gosh, that’s an unbelievably huge number. What could I do where I’m sitting?
Well, there’s actually a lot you can do. 450,000 doesn’t sound so terrible when you realize there’s 350,000 churches in this country. So if one family in one church, in every single church in the country, took in a foster — an orphaned child into their family, and everybody else in that church supported them, we could wipe out the foster care system in this country in a year, just like that. That’s the kind of thing that would astonish people and go, well, who does that? How did this happen? That’s unbelievable. Because everybody knows this is a tremendous societal problem right now.
Foster kids have a 1 percent graduation rate from college.
JONATHAN: Within one year, 25 percent of them will be homeless, when they’re finally emancipated. Seventy-five percent of girls who go through the foster care system are pregnant by 21.
STU: Seventy-five percent, wow.
JONATHAN: Seventy-five percent. So if we want to do something about it, we need to — this is the kind of ways we can astonish culture, is by working together. But we have to be committed.
STU: That’s amazing.
Now we’re like, oh, I can’t believe Chick-fil-A is closed on Sunday. Jeez, what are they doing? These basic steps now mesmerize us. That’s not even close to what the plan was.
JONATHAN: And what’s especially amazing about Chick-fil-A is that they make more money — they’re only open six days a week — than other chains.
GLENN: It works. Yeah. Yeah.
So, Jonathan, what about the — instead of the grand plan — which I love — I love that about, you know — you know, the foster care idea.
Too many of us are just not doing it. I mean, we’re just not living it. We’re not — we’re no different than the rest of society.
GLENN: So, I mean, how much of a role do we as individuals play? Because if our churches can say, hey, we’re going to do this. But unless we — unless we reduce our divorce rate, you know, our pornography usage, our drug usage, our lying, our cheating, whatever. Unless we start to moving those numbers, we’re not a unique or peculiar people at all.
JONATHAN: No. Right. And it’s going to start with ourselves. Right? Because we have to look at ourselves and decide, what do I want to be? Right? Do I want to be this complacent person, or do I want to essentially be a Navy SEAL for the Lord? Right? Like all in. And then the church you go to is important. Is your church pushing you hard like a trainer for your soul, into a deeper and more profound relationship with Jesus? Or is it like a rose-scented convalescent hospital, which is keeping you warm, dry, and comfortable, right? What’s your faith? Is your faith an active, all-in faith? Or is it a 401(k) faith, where you’re just putting a little bit away and hoping you have enough for the very end.
GLENN: So great. Jonathan Bock. Thank you. The name of the book is The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get It Back.
JONATHAN: Thank you.
GLENN: I have to tell you, the book has a companion devotional on YouVersion. It has hit 800,000 downloads in the first ten days.
GLENN: Yeah. So it’s — this is gaining traction, and that’s a good thing. The way back. Available everywhere.