A friend recently shared a DVD with me that contained a number of statistics regarding the church in America. It is interesting to see that 9% of Americans attended an evangelical church this past Sunday. According to this study, only 5% of Americans attend a Catholic church service in a given week. Throw in mainline denominations, orthodox, and any other type of religion and you get up to about 17% or 18% of the population attending a religious service during any given week. This information is challenging in that it shows the great need in our country to reach people for Christ.
An old saying declares that "figures don't lie, but liars figure." With that pithy wisdom in mind, I still decided to research my community more specifically. I was not surprised to learn that we are vastly different from the national averages. What did absolutely shock me is the lack of evangelicals.
I discovered was that 45% of the residents in Middlesex County, NJ are in some way associated with the Catholic Church. That does not mean that they attended mass last week, but only that they are on the membership role. After Catholic, the most statistically significant religious group in Middlesex County is "unclaimed." 40% of our population falls into this group, which includes people who don't go anywhere to church, but also some people who do. The 6% Jewish presence somehow falls into this "unclaimed" category, along with any adherents of Islam, Hinduism, cults, etc. That six percent of the population that is Jewish is equal to the combined number of evangelical protestants and mainline protestants. But unlike the majority of the country, mainline adherents are three times more common here than evangelicals. The evangelical presence comes in at just 1.6% of the population of our county (total population around 750,000, but only 12,000 people are claimed by evangelical churches). As a side note, neighboring Monmouth County, NJ has an almost identical breakdown of the percentages of people in each religious group.
What do these numbers mean to Christians in central New Jersey? First, it means that God has placed us in proximity to many people who need to hear the great news of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. The Catholic church does a good job of letting people know that they are sinners in need of salvation. Many people that we talk to grew up in the Catholic church and have not been back since. They already have an understanding and a respect for Jesus. They just need to hear that Jesus is all they need. Please don't misunderstand what I am saying. I absolutely believe that Catholics can be Christians, but I am concerned that too often the message of salvation is unclear in the Catholic church, or it is combined with works.
Second, these number reinforce the truth that most people you talk to about God are approaching the subject from a completely different point of view. They have no idea how to classify you since they run into so few people who believe like you do.
Third, we as evangelical Christians in central New Jersey have been placed into a position where we need to share the gospel. We need to grow in our own faith. We need to develop healthy churches where we can bring our friends and neighbors. We need to help more churches get started who will reach additional people with the life-changing message of Jesus.
The numbers are grim. But they are challenging as well. The numbers mean that you don't have to work very hard to find someone who needs to hear about Jesus. Let's ask God for His power to share His gospel to people that He will call into His family.