Ken Howard’s groundbreaking research article, “The Religion Singularity: A Demographic Crisis Destabilizing and Transforming Institutional Christianity.” was published in the peer-reviewed journal the International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society in July 2017. The result of five years of research, two years of open-source review, and almost a year in peer review, “The Religion Singularity” traces the emergence and impact of a worldwide church demographic crisis that has recently entered a critical stage, but has been developing without attention for more than a century.
The crux of the crisis described in the article is this. For nineteen centuries, Christianity experienced strong and steady growth in the total numbers of Christians, worship centers, and denominations worldwide. Since then growth in the number of Christians has continued largely unchanged. But growth in the number of denominations and worship centers, mostly due to fragmentation and schism, turned sharply upward in recent decades, substantially exceeding the growth rate of the total Christian population.
This in turn will send attendance and membership numbers in every denomination into a free fall that will soon make denominations and churches unsustainable in their current institutional forms. Denominations are unlikely to survive in any form. Churches on the other hand, given their smaller size and more organic structure, worship centers may be more likely to survive the religion singularity than their larger counterparts, but only if they are willing to become vision-guided and experimental. Stated plainly, we are witnessing the death of institutional Christianity as we know it, and we have already passed the point of no return.
The author suggests that this presents us with a window of opportunity. We can choose to view the impending death of our longstanding institutional paradigms as an evil and try to fight it (…and fail). Or we can choose to view it as the work of the Holy Spirit, bringing about the death of the old Way, and join with the Spirit in welcoming the birth of the new Way. Yet the author also suggests that our window of opportunity will not stay open long – perhaps ten years at most. Which means we need to get start getting ready now, preparing ourselves not only for the emerging paradigm but for the journey to get there. The journey will not be easy. In the article, I compare it to taking a dangerous trip through a wormhole, and ending up in an entirely different place and time.
We plan to publish future blog posts and articles from FaithX’s executive director, Ken Howard, it’s research director, Darren Slade, and others that will explore the religion singularity in greater detail, as well as ways to both survive and thrive through the journey and beyond.
We hope you will join us in that conversation.