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By David W Virtue, DD
December 14, 2021

Prediction is a dangerous business. It can lead to prideful notions that have little to do with reality. American apocalyptic preachers, who believe they can discern the Lord's return by extrapolating texts from the Old Testament and laying them over 21st Century American tribulations, make fools of themselves. They do more harm than good to gullible Christians when their failed prophetic views are exposed. Jesus was clear that he did not know when the end would come, only the Father knew, and he had not revealed it to him.

However, there are definite trends that one can observe based on solid analysis of things past.

There are no absolute forecasts because no one can predict the workings of the Holy Spirit in peoples' lives and church matters. But clearly there are trends that cannot be ignored, and they do give rise as to what we might expect as we approach 2022.

First, the rise of the Nones, people with no established religious tradition continues. Nones have grown from just about 5 percent in the early 1970s to at least 30 percent in 2020, and their numbers are rising. There is no indication they are falling off.

Second, religious demography is a zero-sum game. If one group grows larger that means that other groups must be shrinking in size. The rise in Nones is bad news for churches across all traditions. People without religion are growing at a faster pace than organized religious groups including the Roman Catholic Church and evangelicals in America.

Third, mainline Protestants will continue to show significant decline. Homosexuality has split most of the mainline denominations. Add COVID, aging, demographics, death and little youth replacement and the decline will only continue. By their own membership tallies, mainline denominations are showing drops of 15 percent, 25 percent, and even 40 percent over the span of the last decade. This will continue into 2022.

Fourth, there is little room for triumph on the evangelical side; their numbers are slipping too. According to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Since 2006, white evangelical Protestants have experienced the most precipitous drop in affiliation, shrinking from 23% of Americans in 2006 to 14% in 2020. This is big news and setting off alarm bells among American missiologists. There is nothing to suggest that this trend will not continue into 2022. Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination has lost more than 2 million members since 2006. Baptisms have dropped to their lowest point in over 100 years.

Fifth, the identification of evangelicalism with the Republican Party and white nationalistic rhetoric has stalled evangelical growth as Generations X, Y and Z show zero interest in a faith that has identified itself so closely with Donald Trump and Christian nationalism.

Sixth, in strictly Anglican terms, the faith is wilting in the West with declines in most western countries including the Church of England, the churches in Wales, Scotland, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In some of these countries there are green shoots of renewal, mostly breakaway Anglican jurisdictions, but the overall decline will continue.

Seventh, the rise of Anglicanism in the Global South is meteoric and will only continue in 2022. There is no sign of it slacking off.

Eighth, persecution is making churches grow as the faith works underground, only surfacing when the persecution of individuals makes world headlines. We are seeing major growth in Africa, especially Nigeria, the largest Anglican province, despite persecution from Fulani Tribesmen and Boko Haram.

Ninth, the Christian faith is growing the fastest in Iran with an estimated one million Christians. The Christian Broadcast Network found that "Christianity is growing faster in the Islamic Republic of Iran than in any other country." Shay Khatiri of Johns Hopkins University says that "Islam is the fastest shrinking religion there, while Christianity is growing the fastest." In Nepal, there are an estimated three million Christians constituting up to 10% of the country's population. There are an estimated 120 million evangelical Christians in China, a number that will surpass the US over the next five years, if it has not already done so. Six percent of China's Christians are Roman Catholic.

All these countries are experiencing significant persecution. Open Doors believes it is reasonable to call Christianity the world's most severely persecuted religion. Between 2007 and 2017, the PEW organization found that "Christians experienced harassment by governments or social groups in 144 countries."

Tenth, Christianity will continue to grow exponentially outside the US, while it continues to shrink inside the US. The politicization of the gospel has revealed that nearly 40% of all pastors in America have thought seriously about leaving the ministry because of Covid and churches polarized around politics not Jesus. The conflation of right-wing political views with the faith has alienated whole generations from the churches, with little sign that they will see the faith or the church as relevant to their lives in the coming year.

The loss of transcendence in western countries, the rise of atheism, agnosticism, pantheism and Gnosticism in what many view as an increasingly secularized, "post truth" world will only continue.

The surge in materialism, greed, bigotry, hate, fearmongering, racism and anti-Semitism resulting in alienation and isolation will continue in 2022. The churches will become more irrelevant in the lives of Americans, as God grows increasingly distant in their lives. Some Christian sociologists believe that if persecution comes to America, it might be a precursor to spiritual renewal, but that hypothesis has yet to be tested.


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