The Christian faithful need a community of believers who are confident in their faith, who understand not only what they believe but why they believe it, who are encouraging and supportive when people ask questions (even difficult questions), and who love their members even when their members question the truth of their faith.
In a 2019 study, the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of “religious nones” (those that identify as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular”) rose from 17 to 26 percent in the previous ten years. During this same time, the number of self-identifying Christians declined 12 percent. This study is not the first to find a pattern of overall decline in the American Christian church; it is clear that Christianity is shrinking as a percentage of the population.
When asked, those who leave Christianity give reasons for doing so that echo statements made by their non-religious counterparts. One of the most common of these reasons is a lack of belief, sometimes characterized as “common sense,” “logic,” or a “lack of evidence.” Simply put, many doubt that Christianity is actually true and as a result are uninterested in engaging with the religion.
In discussing the Christian church (as a whole rather than a particular congregation), Christian writer Gary Habermas identifies several “myths” which have persisted within the Christian community and which are damaging to those experiencing religious doubt. Three of the most crucial of these myths state that Christian doubt is uncommon, that true believers never experience doubt, and that Christian doubt is always bad. Historically, many Christians have preferred to ignore, suppress, or dismiss religious doubts, essentially telling their members (as characterized by Os Guinness), “Believe this! Believe that! Stop doubting and believe more firmly!”
Unfortunately, as can be seen in the data from Pew Research Center, traditional strategies for responding to doubt appear to be ineffective as more and more Christians are leaving the faith. Research into religious doubt supports Guinness’ criticism of the church; religious persons who suppress their doubts and / or do not have a supportive Christian community with which to share those doubts are likely to see their experience of doubt accelerate. If the church is to stop the “bleeding” it must address the doubts and concerns of its members head on.