It might be that what John Kay claims is plaguing finance is also plaguing the faith.
One of the most helpful books I’ve ever read is Other People’s Money: The Real Business of Finance by John Kay. He’s a professor at the London School of Economics, a financial consultant, and a good writer to boot. Kay’s book is based on Adam Smith’s The Wealth of the Nations (published 1776). In it, Smith criticizes those who are managers “of other people’s money.” “It cannot well be expected that they should watch over it with the same anxious vigilance” as they watch over their own money.
Many haven’t. Kay feels that many financial advisors have been devoted to financialization. This has brought extraordinary opportunities to some but has contributed to inequality and economic dislocation for many. It also contributes to unsustainable debt loads and unfunded liabilities that will eat future generations’ lunch.
And therein lies the rub. Try raising the prospect of a declining financial future to present-day investors. In most cases, Kay writes, the response is I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone. No worries, I’ll be dead and gone by then.
I say all this in light of a new study from the Pew Research Center. It shows America’s Christian majority has been shrinking for years. If trends continue, Christians could make up less than half the U.S. population within a few decades. The study modeled four scenarios over the next few decades. In every case it found a sharp drop in Christianity.
Yet I can count on one hand the number of Christians who seem even aware of the Pew study. I gave a sermon this summer in a church whose tradition if present trends continue faces extinction by the end of the century. A few listeners seemed troubled about this. Most seemed unconcerned: I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.
I get it. Kathy and I live in Annapolis, located on the Chesapeake Bay where sea levels are rising. The downtown, called City Dock, experienced 63 high-tide floods in 2017, compared with about four in the early 1960s, according to a Stanford study. The projections show City Dock underwater half of the year in 30 years. But public support for solutions is difficult as most waterfront homeowners shrug: I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.
So why do most Christians seem to be unconcerned about this likely sharp drop in Christianity in the U.S.?
My hunch is most Christians don’t know what to do about it. Larger churches tend to ignore it, as they report attendance growth. From their vantage, the faith is growing. It isn’t however as most growing churches are experiencing transfer growth, Christians switching from smaller churches to larger churches offering more consumer services. The net effect is an overall decline in Christianity in the U.S.
This decline is why I’m developing resources for Christians who recognize the times in which we live. Not braggin.’ Others are doing this as well. We recognize what Stephanie Kramer, the senior researcher who led the Pew study, reports. Christians accounted for about 90 percent of the population 50 years ago. As of 2020 that figure had slumped to about 64 percent. “If recent trends hold,” Kramer says, “we project that Christians could make up between 35 and 46 percent of the U.S. population in 2070.” By the end of this century—who knows? Christians could constitute a very small minority.
Which raises a question. Given these trends, which direction will you go? Invest in developing resources for addressing our decline? Or: What, me worry? I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.
 William Chadwick, Stealing Sheep: The Hidden Problems of Transfer Growth (InterVarsity, 2001).