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Islamic growth, minority groups: trends cited by LifeWay strategist

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–It’s unlikely Islam will overtake Christianity in sheer numbers in the 21st century, but it remains the world’s fastest-growing religion, a strategist for LifeWay Christian Resources told a group of state Baptist newspaper editors at a Sept. 21 briefing at the Southern Baptist entity’s Nashville, Tenn., headquarters.
Cliff Tharp of LifeWay’s strategic information and planning section shared more than a dozen religious, social and demographic trends expected to affect American society as it enters the next millennium, including the continued growth of Islam.
Muslims currently number about 1.2 billion worldwide, Tharp said. That’s nearly 20 percent of the world’s population and double the total adherents in 1970. The number is expected to grow to 2 billion by 2025.
Estimates of Muslims in the United States range from 3-8 million, a small number when you look at the religion’s total membership. But their growth rate here is rising, Tharp said, pointing out:
— Some 950 mosques and Islamic centers currently are located in the United States.
— Some 350 Muslim student associations and professional organizations are active in America.
— 60 private Islamic elementary and secondary schools, including one in Nashville, are in operation.
Revenues from oil-rich Muslim nations are fueling the U.S. growth, Tharp said, adding the Islamic faith also seems to be filling a “spiritual vacuum” for some Americans, particularly African American males. Also contributing to the growth is a high birth rate among Muslims and the large number of Muslim immigrants and international students who study here, he said.
In comparison, Southern Baptists are plateaued as a denomination, he said.
“We’re adding 250 to 300 churches a year, but when you index it to the U.S. population, our growth is basically flat,” Tharp said.
The U.S. population is expected to swell to 393 million by 2050. Even so, Tharp said the nation’s growth rate is slowing down, the result of an aging population.
The largest growth in the next decade is expected among those 65 and older, from 34.2 million in 1996 to almost 80 million in 2050. And not only are people expected to live longer, more seniors will be healthier in their golden years, Tharp said.
“The evidence suggests you’ll see an increase in their quality of life. They will be a real resource for churches to tap into.”
Little growth is expected in the number of children and youth in the next decade, Tharp said, adding the 25-34 age group is actually expected to decrease for several years.
The U.S. population isn’t just getting older, it’s also becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, Tharp said.
Anglos accounted for 72 percent of the country’s residents in 1990, but are expected to comprise just over 50 percent by 2050. In addition, Hispanics are expected to move ahead of African Americans as the nation’s largest minority by 2025.
Minority groups will continue to be concentrated in specific regions, not spread evenly across the country, Tharp said. For example, the largest number of African Americans will continue to live in the South and urban areas of the North, Hispanics in the Southwest and Asian Americans along the Pacific coast. Currently, 58 percent of Hispanics are located in 10 metropolitan areas in the Southwest and 43 percent of Asian Americans live in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.
“Most communities lack true racial diversity,” Tharp said, pointing to a 1997 survey by American Demographics magazine which identified only 21 “melting pot metro areas” where the percentage of Anglos was less than the national average and the percentage of at least two minority groups was above it.
Re-intermediation, or bringing back the “middle man,” is another trend expected to emerge in American society, Tharp said. Their return is being driven by:
— an increase in choices. “We have more choices than we’ve ever had. Thirty years ago, the average grocery store had 1,000 products on its shelf; today you can find more than 30,000. … That complicates the marketplace and makes us want more intermediaries.”
— a changing of authority. “Authority used to be driven by education and experience, but now we tend to give authority to someone who has the same opinions we do.”
— a scarcity of time. “Whether it is real or perceived, people feel they have less time to get things done.”
Some of the intermediaries we choose might be technical rather than personal, Tharp said, such as software that can help us sort through the myriad of options for information and services available on the Internet.
Speaking to another trend, Tharp said competition is becoming faster and more unpredictable. Kroger, for example, probably didn’t view American Airlines, FedEx, IBM and MicroSoft as competitors in the retail supermarket business, he said. But all three are players in “Net Grocer,” the first and only nationwide on-line supermarket offering thousands of products at discounted prices.
In other trends, Tharp said:
— Fundamentalism continues to rise, crossing all faith groups.
— Globalization is increasing as national economies continue to link and communications technology further shrinks our world.
— Many Americans are practicing a “Burger King” or “McFaith” religion, searching for a convenient church that lets them “have it their way.”
— Customer loyalty continues to decline. “Like Santa Claus, the last time customer loyalty was seen, it was going south.” The result? People “defect” and complain more often, are more sensitive to pricing and less interested in affiliation with a particular company or organization.
— Virtualization is on the rise, from on-line shopping malls to “virtual aliens,” people who live in one country and work for a company in another country via technology such as e-mail, the Internet, fax and telephone. As space becomes tight at LifeWay’s headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., for example, leaders there are exploring options to allowing certain categories of employees to work at home.
— The Internet’s World Wide Web (www) continues to experience explosive growth. Tharp said 43 percent of American households have at least one computer and one in four are hooked up to the Net. Current estimates say more than 80 million people are on-line worldwide.
To give a little perspective on how fast the Internet’s growth has occurred, Tharp said it took 23 years to install the first million telephones and 15 years to install the next 9 million. By comparison, it took only six months for 25 million copies of Netscape, a popular Internet browser software, to be installed on personal computers around the world.
— Children remain a hot topic with more discussion about how to better protect them from harm and provide them with a better education.
— Concerns about privacy continue to mount as more information is shared and transactions carried out over the Internet. A recent survey revealed 87 percent of adult Americans were concerned about threats to their privacy and 83 percent feel they have lost all control over how companies collect information about them. Not surprisingly, Tharp said 8,485 bills related to privacy were introduced in state legislatures last year.

    About the Author

  • Chip Alford