A recent survey has shown that people in Europe are becoming less and less religious, and young people in particular are moving away from all expressions of faith. An article in The Guardian announces it with the heading “Christianity as default is gone” and summarises the findings as:
70% of young people (ie 16-29 year olds) in the UK identify with ‘no religion’This is sad reading, but not surprising, and nor is it surprising that it applies to much of the rest of Europe as well. It is perfectly true that Christianity is no longer the default religion right across the continent—in fact, in several countries the percentage of believers is swollen by the fact that migrants or immigrants are more likely to go to church than the locals. So things don’t look good. But what are we going to do?
59% of young people never attend a religious service
Nearly two-thirds never pray
One is not to believe the propaganda that God is dead. The decline of Christianity in the West is very real, but in every other continent the church is mushrooming. What we are experiencing is difficult for us, but if you read your Old Testament you will see that on many occasions faith in God waned. Most of the prophets continued their ministry in times of decline and unbelief, but that unbelief did not stop them affirming that God is on the throne. He still is today.
Secondly, we pray earnestly for those around us who do not know the hope that is found in Jesus Christ. It should grieve us and even cause heartfelt pain that people are slogging through life without any real hope. Read the words of Jeremiah or Ezekiel to understand the pain and sadness they felt for a people who had rejected the truth and were clutching at anything that would give them hope. That pain is illustrated in the life of Jesus who was moved to compassion at seeing people as “sheep without a Shepherd”, and who wept over Jerusalem when it would not turn to him and be healed. If you feel something of that—perhaps for members of your own family, as much as anyone else—then turn it to prayer.
And don’t give up. There is a story of a shoe company that sent a salesman to a poor country in the hope of establishing a new shop, but he soon returned, defeated. “We can’t do anything,” he lamented. “No-one has any shoes.” So they sent another rep who saw the same situation, but looked at it completely differently. “Send shoes!” he said. “No-one has any shoes!” I suggest that we adopt the second salesman’s attitude. Very few people go to church, which means that the market is wide open! I know that people are very cynical about Christianity, but in reality most have no idea what it is actually about. We have a unique opportunity to show what faith in Jesus involves, because relatively few people are trying to follow him.
And that brings us back to being Salt and Light. We are going to stand out among those we work with, in our neighbourhoods, and perhaps in our families, too. So let’s pray for ways in which we can live out the faith before a sceptical society and speak of his love, new life and peace to those who need it. After all, we have shoes and those around us do not!