Research Suggests Accurate Count of Christians Closer to 4% in US

Some troubling research according to Greg Laurie:

  • Only 1 in 20 Christians has ever shared the Gospel.

Let’s combine that with some data from ARIS 2008:

  • US Population = 307,006,550
  • Self-proclaimed Christians in US = 233,324, 978 (or 76%)
  • 1 in 20 US Christians who has ever shared the Gospel = 11,666,249 (or 4%)

What does Jesus have to say about this?

Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33)

One of the definitions of deny is “to refuse to grant a request.” If 19 out of 20 self-proclaimed Christians won’t acknowledge Jesus with their lips and deny his request command to make disciples (Matthew 28:19) and be witnesses (Luke 24:48, Acts 1:8) then what are we to conclude?

What does the apostle Paul have to say about this?

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:9-10)

Our modern interpretation of “confess with your mouth” is to come forward after a church service and shake the pastor’s hand. For Paul and for the early Christians, confessing Jesus meant proclaiming to others your confidence that Jesus is Lord with the understanding that you might lose your life as a result.

We are not saved by works (by saying something for example). Ephesians 2 makes it clear that we are saved by grace. But we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works…” (Ephesians 2:10) Isn’t it clear that one who truly believes in his heart will also confess with his mouth? It makes you wonder how many of the 19 out of 20 self-proclaimed Christians are even saved? After all, Jesus says, “You’ll recognize them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:16)

Can We Draw A Conclusion?

Not really. Only God knows who is truly saved. Besides, “confessing” doesn’t mean “sharing the Gospel” per se and statistical figures can’t be applied universally and infallibly. If they didn’t share the Gospel, might they have shared their personal testimony or given someone a Bible? Statistics can be misleading and our interpretation of the data can be slanted. I’m not even sure where Greg Laurie is getting his info.

Having said that, my guess is the number of true disciples may be closer to the 11.7 million (or 4%) than the 233 million (or 76%) but it doesn’t matter what I think. The point is that roughly 1 in 20 Christians has ever shared the Gospel. It’s not our job to determine who’s in and who’s out. It is, on the other hand, our mandate and our privilege to share the amazing good news. Now that we know so many Christians aren’t sharing, let’s help equip them to join in the task!

The research may be troubling, but enough about the bad news, we’ve got good news to share!

Nathan is the pastor of City Life Church in Ridgewood, NY. He and his family are committed to making and multiplying disciples in the most diverse county in the US. Read more about Nathan here. Visit the City Life Church website here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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  • Matt P

    I only became a Christ-follower in college, and ever since then I’ve always wondered anytime I hear a reference (whether from Christian or secular sources) to such a huge percentage (76%) of America being Christian. Now, it seems hard not to take your line of thought (which I appreciate very much) and end up with an attitude of looking around saying, “Well that person doesn’t seem to be a *real* Christian, whereas this other person does…”. And yet Jesus does establish some clear lines in the sand — discipleship is not just a fluffy sometimes-in-sometimes-out mentality, such as your suggestion re: Matt 10:22-23 above.

    But what are some other Biblical criteria too? Or – perhaps what I’m more interested in is: what are NOT Biblical grounds for separating “true” Christians from nominal? How do I make sure that my assessment of a person’s allegiance to Christ doesn’t just turn out to be me judging his/her allegiance based on differing theological convictions or cultural preferences that are, in reality, still within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy? (I’m curious your thoughts because, as I expose myself to the Christian blogging world more and more, I am troubled when I see a couple of Christian pastors or writers ready to completely dissociate from a formerly dear colleague simply because they think that person isn’t “truly evangelical” or “truly Biblical” anymore, when it seems to me that they’re more upset about a difference in ministry strategy than a legitimate theological difference.) I dunno…just musing on your post. Thanks!

    • Thanks for the comment Matt. Great questions!

      I think our attitude should be the one that Jesus encourages us to take in the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Only He ultimately knows “who’s in” and “who’s out” so, until then, the “wheat and the weeds” grow together until judgment day. I agree with you that there are too many Christians who are quick to reject someone based on something they said or something they wrote. Instead, we need to remember that all disciples are on a journey to become more like Christ. I feel like at any point in my life I’m probably harboring five or six heretical ideas that just haven’t been sufficiently thought through enough for me to change my thinking. I hope someone doesn’t reject me based on my thinking today!

      One other thought comes to mind. And that is, the first four verses of Matthew 7. We are not to judge. However, we are to exercise church discipline (Matthew 18) and accountability in and through the church. So, when I’ve taken the time to remove a log from my own eye, I can see clearly to remove the speck from my brother’s eye. I can also think of Jesus’ words not to cast stones if you’ve ever sinned in your life.

      All of this together and we find a vision for a grace-filled and loving interaction with our brothers and sisters whether or not they are truly wheat or if they are in fact weeds. It’s not our job to know. It’s our privilege to love them and hold them accountable.

      Hope that helps some.

  • Matt P

    I’m a week behind on replying to you on this one… but wanted to get back to you: yes, yes, and yes. Thanks for the Biblical references to build on.
    On the Matt 7/”do not judge” point: I’ve had 2 distinct conversations recently with people about the distinction between correction/accountability/calling-sin-sin and “judging” others. So I’ve been finding the need to clarify and nuance these two, both for my own sake as well as for others who see any mere naming of sin or error at all as a case-closed, whole-hearted judgment against a person. It’s a tricky balance, but a more and more necessary one to articulate in our “tolerant” (quotes very much intended… and ironic :)!) culture.
    Example: In our denom’s (PCUSA) muck and mire of ordination standard changes, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7) is a popular citation by those of a liberal view. They seem to forget that 8:11 — 4 verses later — says “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Jesus named it, and *then* forgave it. Not saying it’s easy, but who said discipleship was easy? 🙂

    • Matt, the clarification between judging and accountability is nuanced. Yet, when grace is added to the equation it becomes perfectly clear. I like to say that when we are saved, God’s grace changes us from being a guilty convict to an adopted child. We are transferred from the courtroom to the castle of the King. God is no longer our Judge, God is our Father! The implications of this are huge. First, there is no sin that we will ever now commit that will transfer us back into the courtroom (though our Father may need to exercise discipline if we get out of line). Secondly, as children, we are not to judge one another, not even our Father does that! Instead, we need to look out for one another. We need to love one another by not letting our brother continue in a destructive habit! Judging is a form of pride and selfishness. Removing the plank from your own eye and helping your brother remove the speck from his eye are a form of love and discipline. Thanks for encouraging your circles of influence to show grace!

  • Matt P

    Yes – that underlying, foundational “adopted child” identity is so crucial to shedding the negative connotations on the word “discipline.” That’s a helpful connection for me, since I don’t come out of an upbringing or tradition of viewing “discipline” (church or otherwise!) positively… so yes, good thoughts.

    …And sorry for hijacking the original subject of this post. Back to that original subject (1-in-20, etc…), I host a men’s group at a pub discussing theology in daily life, and evangelism was the topic last night. Had your stats and thoughts in my head throughout the conversation. It was interesting to listen to (and work with and respond to) everyone’s different excuses or justifications for not sharing our faith. (Myself included!) Anyway…thanks for writing.