Where is God Leading RFH to Serve?

As Reasonable Faith Houston (RFH) continues to explore how apologetics can best be used to strengthen and grow the local Christian community, we turn to two foundational questions: “What does apologetics have to offer?” and “Who is the local Christian community?” Scott mentioned in last week’s blog post that we have been meeting with local church leaders and finding many are unfamiliar with apologetics. In addition to defining the term in those conversations, it’s important to discuss the value and potential impact this type of thinking might have on members of their congregations.

Answering these questions also helps RFH and other ministries better understand the people that apologetics can most effectively support, and which of those people are present in the local community. All believers and seekers are welcome at RFH, but with limited resources, who should we pursue and what can we offer to them?

What Does Apologetics have to Offer?

Apologetics is not a topic for everyone and is certainly not a requirement for salvation or genuine Christian faith. Many Christians, including Christian leaders, are not drawn to the systematic, philosophical, and scientific nature of apologetics. Individuals are different, and the Holy Spirit draws each of us closer to God in unique ways.

However, many Christians and non-Christians find the methodologies and conclusions of apologetic thinking to be very compelling. I have difficulty imagining how my own path back to the Christian faith could have occurred without apologetic-minded Christians showing me that the Christianity is consistent, reasonable, and trustworthy. The unanswered questions that led me to abandon my faith as a teenager had to be addressed before I could consider Christianity’s claims again as an adult – the existence of suffering, the reliability of the Bible, the apparent conflicts with science…

The value of apologetics is abundantly clear to me in my life, but it’s useful to think more broadly. After reviewing several articles, I happily found the answer to the question “What does apologetics have to offer?” is actually well-summarized in the mission statement of RFH and the national Reasonable Faith organization:

  • Provide an articulate, intelligent voice for biblical Christianity in the public arena
  • Challenge unbelievers with the truth of biblical Christianity
  • Train Christians to state and defend Christian truth claims with greater effectiveness

Here are a few other resources addressing variations of the same question, including Dr. Craig’s much longer essay that is boiled down to the three-part Reasonable Faith mission.

Who is the local community?

The most effective way to understand how we can serve the local community is through prayerful engagement with local church leaders, Christians, and seekers. When we’re talking about demographics and behaviors across a large community, however, we also find a good deal of information is available through published surveys and census data. This cannot replace honest discussions about individual and community needs, but there is useful information out there. I’m including brief comments with links to resources inline and at the end of this post.

Demographics

The Census Explorer from the US Census Bureau has a range of tools for visualizing and drilling down into census data by location. The American Fact Finder and American Quick Facts tools also display popular data sets for states, counties, cities, and zip codes. A very short description based on data from several sources – Houston is a large, young, racially diverse city with a significant foreign-born population, a lower-than-average median household income, a high housing rental rate, and a higher-than-average rate of bachelor degrees.

It’s difficult to pull meaningful occupation data from the sources I was able to find (large list below), but Houston’s biggest industries are highly technical – oil and gas, specialty chemicals, medicine, biotechnology, and aerospace. Houstonian’s also average about a 30-minute commute.

ReligionChanging U.S. Religious Landscape

Very recently, the Pew Research Center released it’s latest Religious Landscape Study and a study of America’s Changing Religious Landscape. They did a great job of making the data accessible, and the second link has a very good write-up of the findings. The headline is that the share of the U.S. population identifying as Christian fell from 78.4% to 70.6% from 2007 to 2014. The biggest drop was among young adults, but all demographics (ages, ethnicities, genders, education levels) saw a decline. In contrast, the number of people identifying as “Unaffiliated” increased from 16.1% to 22.8% over the same period.

There is a lot of interesting data in these studies: the racial and ethnic diversity of Christians is increasing, marriages between individuals with different religions is increasing, Evangelicals are the only Christian group that is growing in absolute numbers (not % of population)…

Back in 2012, Pew released a study titled “‘Nones’ on the Rise” that looked in more detail at the religiously unaffiliated. This is another very interesting read, as the trends identified have continued in the 2015 Pew study. My primary takeaway is that the increase in the “Nones” actually indicates a reduction in church affiliation and not necessarily a reduction in seeking God. Most of them believe in God and many indicate some form of spirituality – they just don’t like churches. Overwhelmingly, the Nones are not looking for a church and think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules, and too involved in politics. Interestingly, the 2012 Pew study found that 80% of Americans (not just the Nones) reported that they never doubted the existence of God. That number is 8% less than in 1987, but still amazes me – 4 out of 5 people said they never doubt that God exists!

What about in the Houston area? Sticking with the Pew Religious Landscape Study, they have specific data on the Houston metro area. Houston’s Christians represent a slightly larger portion of the population, 73%, compared to the national average, and the unaffiliated represent a slight smaller portion, 20%. The unaffiliated in Houston are predominantly under 50 (83%), male (70%), and either Latino (44%) or white (38%). They span all education levels and may or may not be married. It is worth noting, however, that the sample size for the unaffiliated demographics was only 102 people.

Generational Differences

Across the country, younger generations are consistently less religious than older generations, ranging from 5% unaffiliated among the Greatest Generation to 34% unaffiliated among Young Millennials. This explains a portion of the overall drop in religious identification, as the younger generation enters adulthood and the older generations……represent a smaller portion of the overall population.

In 2010, Pew published a study on Religion Among the Millennials that includes additional information, but the bottom line is that younger generations are less likely to identify with a religion. The reasons for this, as well as predictions on whether the group will naturally become more religious with age, are up for debate.

Conclusion

We must be careful not to make assumptions about individuals based on this aggregated data. However, the information can serve as a useful starting point for discussions and help guide us in seeing where apologetics ministries can have the most impact. God is already working in individuals and groups in Houston, and there are countless way to engage. We continue to pray, to plan, and to seek guidance on the right path forward.

References and Resources

Global

The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections 2010-2050
Source: Pew Research Center
Date: April 2, 2015

The Global Religious Landscape
Source: Pew Research Center
Date: Dec 18, 2012

National

America’s Changing Religious Landscape
Religious Landscape Study Data
Summary of this poll vs other polls
Source: Pew Research Center
Date: May 12, 2015

“Nones” on the Rise
Source: Pew Research Center
Date: Oct 9, 2012

Book: unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters
Author: David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
Date: 2007

National Census Data
Source: US Census Bureau
Date: 2012/2008

Fewer Americans Affiliate with Organized Religions, Belief and Practice Unchanged
Source: NORC at the University of Chicago
Date: March 2015

Gallup Polls Topic: Religion
Source: Gallup
Date: Various

ASARBA US Religious Census
Source: Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies
Date: 2010

Local – Houston and Clear Lake

Census Explorer
Focused Data on Young Adults
Source: US Census

Pew Religious Landscape Study Data for Houston Metro Area
Source: Pew Research Center
Date: May 12, 2015

ARDA Texas State Membership Report
Source: Association of Religion Data Archives
Date: 2000

ARDA Harris County Membership Report
Source: Association of Religion Data Archives
Date: 2010

Texas Almanac – Religion
Source: Texas State Historical Association
Date: 2010

BAHEP Regional Profile
Source: Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership

SOCRATES Texas Occupational Stats
Source: Texas Workforce Commission
Note: I wasn’t able to get any useful data out of this site

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2 Responses to Where is God Leading RFH to Serve?

  1. HeavensHound says:

    One of the problems I see as that many Christians are too denominational or group tied, which tends to break down the unity of being Christian. As you know there are three groups of that follow and adhere to the basic tenants of the Christian faith (ex. Incarnation, Resurrection, the Trinity, etc) the Roman Catholics, Protestants and the Eastern Orthodox. There is little to do between each of these groups as each one usually very verbally expressive about the negative virtues of others. This is shameful. What must Christ think? I think this might be a starting point for Christian of all denominations and groups to become more aware of their brothers and sisters and their input on Apologetics and worldviews. It is ashamed that we are so divided as to not have an understanding and a love for those that labor with us for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    In Him,
    don

    • Scott Swiggard says:

      I agree! You bring up great points Don. I’m not sure we have a good solution to removing the denominational barriers to a good dialog between them. How glorious it will be when we all stand side by side with one focus!

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