A lifetime of watching societal change from a social science perspective has made me marvel, sometimes, at overlooked variables.
A couple of decades ago crime and “gangs” seemed to be the big villains plaguing this country. There were congressional hearings nationally and “gang task forces” locally.
Social scientists said the increase in crime was due merely to a blip in the number of young men passing through the demographic window. When that group passed their teens, they predicted, crime would drop. It did.
I’ve wondered if today’s decline in church membership and participation is related to a demographic variable, the decline in family size. While everyone can see a smaller pipeline of children in Sunday School would feed fewer people into church life, I’m wondering about something else.
In the economics of family there is something called the difference between quantity and “quality” of children. Quantity, of course, means numbers of them. “Quality” refers to the amount of time and money spent on a child.
Generally, families have some finite amount of money and time to spend on raising children. Therefore, when quantity goes up, “quality” goes down.
With fewer children, parents have more money to spend introducing a child to more experiences–camps, sports, clubs, art, intellectual pursuits, computers and so on. Perhaps this is where the church, which for a large families is a cheap place to spend time, gets crowded out.
If this is part of the problem churches are having, it will be hard to solve.