You may have heard the phrase “Christianity is dying out.” It seems to be a reoccurring topic of discussion in America, reaching headlines in news organizations ranging from right wing to left leaning, from the west coast to the east and everything in between. During the Obama administration, many Republicans, such as Ted Cruz, made statements as bold as claiming there was a “war on faith.” Since 2015, when Starbucks released a holiday cup with no Christmas-themed decorations on it, devout Christians have been up in arms about the erasure of their holidays.
But are the accusations true? Is Christianity really dying out?
According to the Pew Research Center, the answer is kind of. Christianity in America is certainly on a decline. Between 2007 and 2014, the population of the U.S. that identified as Christian dropped from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent, with most of the decline occurring in mainline and Evangelical Protestants and Catholics. In addition, the number of people who identified as “unaffiliated,” meaning either agnostic or atheist, jumped in percentages from 16.1 percent to 22.8.
This decline has been attributed to many things. Despite Ted Cruz’s claims, it is not due to new liberal ideals, but rather to a combination of factors such as multiculturalism, shifting social morals, the sexual revolution associated with feminism and the LBGTQIA community, and one other large factor: the rise of greater secular education.
In the same report, the Pew Research Center recognized that the drop in Christian affiliation is especially pronounced in young adults. Of those who answered “unaffiliated,” the mean age was 36, compared to the overall population’s median age of 46. Additionally, 36 percent of Millennials between the age of 18 and 24 identified as unaffiliated, accounting for over one-third of the college and graduate student age range.
In a report that focused solely on the effects of higher education on religious beliefs, the Pew Research Center found that “highly educated Americans…are less inclined than others to say they believe in God with absolute certainty and to pray on a daily basis.” Furthermore, 11 percent of college graduates describe themselves as atheists or agnostic versus four percent of Americans with a high school education or less.
By most accounts, religion seems to be a factor that is less important to students and college graduates.
University campus groups are working to combat these statistics, though. Christians on Campus is a resource website for student organizations based in Christian faith, providing inspiration for Bible studies and support, as well as other services, for 46 groups around the country. But there are more popping up that aren’t registered online, such as Oglethorpe’s Christian Fellowship.
Started in 2014, Oglethorpe Christian Fellowship (OCF) was brought to life by Kathy Rice, a now-alumna of Oglethorpe University. Her mission then, and the mission still today, was build a community where its okay to get to know Jesus Christ.
“When you come to college, it feels like you can be anything,” said Jalia Killings, current co-president of OCF. “Anything, except Christian. This was the first organization that made me feel like being a Christian in college is okay.”
At a liberal arts college such at this one, devout Christians dedicated to their faith certainly seems to be a minority. In the past three years, OCF has sought to change that. They hold weekly worship services on Sunday afternoon, entitled College Church, and also host weekly Bible Study meetings on Wednesday nights, which both Killings and her co-president, Evan Furst label as more of an open discussion than a fixed study group.
“It’s an open place to lay out your heart with people that have that same heart,” said Furst.
OCF isn’t the only organization on Oglethorpe’s small campus working towards a similar goal. Created just this year, the Episcopal Student’s Association (ESA) is paving its way towards God and helping other people find the path. Though it’s focus is steeped in the Episcopal church, founder and president Margaret Light sees the organization as more than that. To her, the Episcopal church provides simply a comforting atmosphere in which those with doubts about the church can explore their faith.
“Since I’m a philosophy major, I found that it was hard to look at these huge philosophical questions about my life by myself. I felt like I didn’t have a faith community to go to for help,” said Light. “Then I remembered that this is college. I am not the only one confronting these questions and doubts. So, I wanted to create a space for people like me looking for answers.”
ESA hosts meetings every Monday, with the current turnout ranging around four to 10 people. This semester ESA conducted an “Ask a Priest Panel” where students were encouraged to ask various priests and religious leaders their biggest religious questions.
One of the people on that panel was Kat Folk, a Campus Missioner at Georgia Institute of Technology. Similar to how resident advisors provide counseling and advice for their students, Folk provides a religious outlet for her students.
While she originally worked as an industrial engineer, Folk always knew that being a campus missioner was her calling. Folk has brought to life the idea that faith and religion can be fun, working with Grace House—an organization that provides faith counseling and who’s motto is “ALL are welcome, and ALL means ALL”—to organize a weekly event called Coffee House—where specialty coffee is handed out to students for free—and mission trips to rebuild reefs out of old oyster shells.
Grace House also partners with a program called The Passion Collective, which is a Gap Year experience for young adults looking to expand their faith. Folk herself has overseen some of these Gap Year young adults.
“It’s so exciting to walk alongside them and grow with them and pray with them,” said Folk. This program, perhaps more than anything, provides a unique combat to the aforementioned “dying of Christianity.”
Though these organizations each differ in their approach to keeping Christianity alive on college campuses, they all seem to have one goal in mind: community.
“I think what students are looking for right now is a community,” said Folk. “I think this generation wants more authentic relationship…They appreciate knowing that someone cares.”
“ESA isn’t about putting out our own message; it’s about helping other people find their message,” said Light.
“Christianity is the only religion I’ve found that’s based on relationships,” said Furst. “I know it sounds crazy, but I know I have a relationship with God.”
Perhaps it is this fostering of community and building of relationships that will impact today’s youth and the youth of the future. Perhaps, as these organizations grow and more like them are started, the statistics will change, and Christianity will level out to where it once stood. Or, perhaps the trends will keep changing, just as religions do over the years.
No matter what the circumstance, one thing is for sure: these college students will always be waiting with open arms, open minds and open souls for anyone wanting to join them.