What the Falling Birthrate Means for the Church

In 2014, Jonathan V. Last published What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, a book that brings attention to America’s falling birthrate. Like most of the secular West, America’s birthrate has now fallen below replacement level. In a few decades, our nation’s population will peak and begin a long and steady decline.

Last’s book argues that secularism, the prevailing ideological commitment that seeks to conceptualize modern life without reference to religion or God, means less children. Pets are now more common than children in many U.S. cities. The author concludes that at the end of the day, there’s only one good reason to have more children: because you believe that God wants you to.

The book of Exodus opens with this description: “But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (1:7). Israel was not yet a nation. They were an extended family descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and at this time they were living in Egypt.

Interestingly, the language used to describe Israel’s rapid birthrate was borrowed right out of Genesis. After God created man and woman in his own image, Genesis 1:28 tells us, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.’” God wanted his image-bearers to populate the planet. He wanted to spread his image over all creation.

By the time we get to Genesis 6, however, we learn that the only thing being spread is sin and wickedness. God then decided to judge the earth by sending a worldwide flood. Only Noah’s family would be spared, and God would start over with them. He repeated the call of Genesis 1:28 to Noah: “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’” (Gen. 9:1).

Out of Noah’s family, God chose Abraham and promised him that he would multiply his family into a great nation that would fill the earth and become a blessing to all the other nations (Gen. 12:1-3). This family would eventually produce a descendent named Jesus who would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem. In Jesus, all of these promises would find their fulfillment. As the gospel is preached to the ends of the earth, and all who believe are adopted into Abraham’s family, joining the people of God.

The multiplication of the people of Israel at the beginning of Exodus was a sign of God’s blessing. It was an indication to God’s people that his promise to Abraham was coming true. From the beginning of the Bible all the way to the end, the birth of children is a blessing and sign of hope.

But not everyone is happy about children being born. Pharaoh wasn’t. He saw Israel’s multiplication as a threat and devised a strategy of infanticide to wipe them out (Ex. 1). His plan wouldn’t work. Thousands of years later, another paranoid king would act in a similar way. Like Pharaoh, Herod would seek to annihilate children from the land, searching for one in particular (Matt. 2). His plan didn’t work either. Only God controls life and death.

The spirit of Pharaoh is still alive and well today in secular culture. Falling birthrates remind us that children are not viewed as blessings from God but as liabilities and unwanted burdens. Dogs are easier. We execute nearly 2,500 per day of our own before they even leave the womb. Pharaoh and Herod would be proud.

Jonathan V. Last is absolutely right. The only good reason to have more children is because God wants you to, and God has made it absolutely clear that he wants you to. Children are a blessing, not a curse. The more children we have, the more God’s image covers the earth. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ must not take its cues on children from secular culture.

The Spirit of Christ speaks a different message than the spirit of Pharaoh. Christ’s people follow our Lord, who said, “Let the little children come to me” (Matt. 19:14). If the world doesn’t want them, we must be willing to take them. We must be at the front of the line to foster and adopt. We must be ready to lay down our own lives to love them and treat them with dignity. Finally, we must commit to raise them to know their Creator through his Son, Jesus Christ.

The population may be declining soon, but church membership rolls don’t have to follow the trend.

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