Why this is will be the source of much handwringing over the next decades, both in the old-line world that I inhabit and among the evangelical, independent churches. Sure, the culture is still majority Christian, but if trendlines continue, that may eventually change.
Part of this, as I read it spun, has to do with the changed expectations of our society. You no longer *have* to go to church to be a part of your community. There are no grumbling pew-sitters, eagerly checking their watches/phones and awaiting the end of the freakin' service already. There are fewer folks who go to church primarily to schmooze and drum up business.
Either you want to be there, or you're not there. It's pretty simple. And honestly, that's a good thing. Whenever the church relies on the outside culture to drive participation, it's a poor reflection of what we were meant to be as the Beloved Community.
Another part, I have come to think, has to do with the increasing fragmentation of our society. Net-era relationships are different, more tenuous, less rooted. Ours is an ephemeral society, in which depth of connection--rooted in place and blood-ties--has been replaced with transience, clicks and likes and follows. We relate broadly and instantly, with nownownow-neural-immediacy but with less depth.
I'm not sure our culture even values that depth any more. It is too slow, too intimate, too demanding of time and energy.
And that is not a favorable medium for healthy faith community, in which intentional organic relationships and unmediated presence are central. There are outliers, sure, places in this virtual world where we can find real connection. But as we grow acclimatized to this way of being together, and it becomes the norm, that we're increasingly "unaffiliated" is unsurprising.
It got me to thinking about that word, and its root.
It's Latin, of course, and I could see the root word just by looking at it. My grasp of Latin being as shallow as it is, I looked it up.
To "affiliate" comes from the prefix ad, which means "towards." And then there's that root word, familiar in my theologian's ear. Filia. Son.
"Not towards sonship," is what "unaffiliated" means.
Which is, from this side of the ebbing tide, an interesting resonance.