The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey came out a few weeks ago. Unsurprisingly, it found fewer religious Americans. People claiming no religion constituted 15% of the sample or an estimated 4.7 million people in the country. Christians declined to 76.7% of the population.
The statistician in me would revel in better data, the ability to drill down within that "no religion" group to find out if they're among the people who consider themselves "spiritual, just not religious." CNN noted that the trend may be partially due to individualism and discomfort with the seeming burden of "Thou shalt not" commandments.
It might also be partly due to the social acceptability of being agnostic or an atheist. I'm told anecdotally that some people in Brazil will answer the question of "Do you have a religion?" with "No, I'm Catholic." Religion can become simply a cultural expectation rather than a deep belief. It seems that every church is struggling with filling the pews and staying relevant.
It's often repeated that weddings, baptisms, and funerals bring people back to the church. For funerals especially, I give partial credit to the music that we want to hear, the comfort and the solace that familiar hymns and songs can provide. Maybe it's "Amazing Grace" or maybe it's "Tears in Heaven" or even "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (for you fans of The Big Chill).
A great hymn of stewardship and ministry is ELW 696, "Jesus Calls Us; o'er the Tumult." We need to hear it for ourselves and spread it to others:
Jesus calls us from the worship of the vain world's golden store,
from each idol that would keep us, saying, 'Christian, love me more' (verse 3)
Jesus calls us! By your mercy, Savior, may we hear your call,
Give our hearts to your obedience, serve and love you best of all. (verse 5)