Researchers in every field are busy trying to figure out what the rapidly changing world is going to look like in the coming decades. Among the studies being conducted are prognostications about the reshaping of the religious landscape for coming generations. In a recent study the Pew Research Center concluded that Muslim births will outnumber Christian births by 2035.1 The disparity in birth rates will cause Muslims to make up 31% and Christians 32% of the world population by the year 2060.
One contributing factor to declining birth rates in the Western world, where Christianity has been the dominant religion, is the ideological separation of sex from marriage and reproduction; of reproduction from marriage; and a of a weakened understanding of marriage as a “’til-death-do-us-part” covenant between man and woman.2 This thinking has preceded the rise in childlessness among all women.3 The preliminary overall birth rate in 2011, in spite of surges and declines, was at its lowest since at least 1920, the first year reliable statistics were available.4
Another factor is the age at which women have their first child. It is increasing (at 25.7 years of age – 25.6 for the U.S. and 28.1 for Canada) but not nearly as quickly as the age at which men and women marry (27 for women and 29 for men) – it is now at historic heights and continues to climb.5 In Canada there were recently, for the first time in history, more births to women in their late 30s than to those in their early 20s.6 Marriage is no longer viewed as a cornerstone but rather as a capstone of adult life and the primary reason for marriage – starting a family – is now often viewed as a relic of a bygone era.7
Laurel Koepf-Taylor examines a third factor, undergirding the first two, which is a shift in the West’s perception of childhood and the changing value placed upon children by society. Where children were once regarded as valuable and useful, they are now primarily cherished as ideally innocent cherubs without much practical value.8
Western society today is no longer primarily an agricultural society where a number of children are necessary in order to run the family business of farming. Today’s low infant mortality rates make it less necessary to bear a larger number of children in order to insure that at least some of them survive into adulthood. Overall there appears to be little concern of creating subsequent generations of humanity for the preservation of the human race. A self-indulged culture that goes so far as to celebrate vasectomy parties as a rite of passage is clearly unable to find value and meaning beyond its narcissistic ways.9
How different the biblical mindset is! In Genesis 1 God creates the man and the woman, blesses them and includes them in the creative process of future generations with the blessing to “be fruitful and multiply,” which is repeated to Noah and Abram (Genesis 1:28; 9:1; 12:1-3), and practiced by Israel (Exodus 1:7). This thinking prevails through the monarchy period of Israel as evidenced in the Psalms.
Psalm 127, one of the Songs of Ascents, accents the importance of thinking generationally by stressing the need to build according to the divine will and not in reliance upon one’s own strength. The verbs “to build” and “to watch” have to do with the establishment and preservation of family and, by extension, a community. The Hebrew verb bānāh, “to build,” is used in scripture in the context of building either a physical building or, by extension, a family or dynasty.10
In 2 Samuel 7:13 God promises David that David’s son would build a house for God’s name and that David’s house would endure before Him forever (v. 16). Here the word “house” is used in both respects of a building and a dynasty. The title of Psalm 127 places the context of the lyrics in the going up or ascension to the temple in Jerusalem yet it can be extended to include any locality or setting where God is the center of the assembly.11 The psalm is said to be “of Solomon” who was a builder of houses and cities (e.g., 1 Kings 3:1; 7:1-2; 2 Chron. 8:1-11). In light of Solomon’s track record of building and subsequently falling away from the Lord, the psalm is a warning to build according to God’s will if one wants to build anything with permanence. This theme is reiterated by Jesus who explains to Nicodemus, “That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6) and Paul, who warns the Corinthians to be careful how they build upon the one foundation, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10).
The Hebrew word “son” is bēn which is derived from the verb bānāh, “to build,” since sons were seen as the builders of the family name.12 The plural of this noun, found in v. 3, which can include both sons and daughters, describes children as a gift (or heritage), a reward and as arrows in the hand of a warrior.
The picture here, and extending into Psalm 128, is the great blessing that comes from God in the form of children. They are a blessing because they are a means of prosperity to the family which works together. This prosperity extends to bring honor to parents and to the family as a whole. Training children also benefits parents in the form character building and a greater revelation of God’s love for humanity.
Secondly, children are a protection. There are wisdom and safety in numbers. Children guard family virtues and family possessions. They provide for aged parents and take care of their needs when the parents are no longer able to do so themselves.
Thirdly, they are a blessing because they provide a posterity and a type of personal immortality.13 Biblical parents were concerned about having children who would carry on the family name, administer the family inheritance and continue to guide family members in remaining faithful to God’s covenant with His people.
Lastly, children are the means by which God will call the next generation to Himself and bless the world. The promise to Abram that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3) is carried on through those who belong to Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:29). Scripture therefore exhorts parents to teach God’s word to them diligently (Deuteronomy 6:6-9; Psalm 78:5-8).
James Dobson, Focus on the Family founder, predicts that a drop in births will have “shocking implications” for nations economically, politically, culturally, socially and spiritually.14 Currently both the U.S. and Canada are experiencing a declining population growth rate (0.81% and 0.74% respectively). Therefore Christians, as the people of God, should perceive themselves as those who can make a difference (Deuteronomy 28:13) and take the lead in populating the earth. Four practical steps can help to bring this to pass.
Firstly, rethink family in light of God’s promises. God loves family. In fact, He has the largest one on earth. Christians should not succumb to either fear of the future or the lure of material comfort at the expense of having children. No one generation has had it easy and many have had it considerably worse than the present one. Yet Christians have continued to multiply in spite of difficult times because of hope in a God who rules the heavens and the earth and who will sustain families with children. Studies suggest that “religious people” are more likely to have more children than non-religious people.15 Now the question is, which religious people will reproduce more?
Secondly, begin to think generationally instead of egocentrically. One generation should prioritize imparting wisdom, the fear of the Lord and a living faith to the next. Children should understand the significance of the treasure of faith that has been entrusted to them (2 Timothy 1:14) and, in turn, entrust this gospel to faithful men and women who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). It’s not enough just to pray that children will not end up in jail; pray that they will rise up to be might spiritual warriors of the next generation and then train them to be those overcoming warriors.
Thirdly, demonstrate the value of children by creating a child-friendly community. Support those in your family with children by giving of your time and, as opportunity allows, of your finances. Search for families and single parents who are in desperate need of help and provide practical assistance. There are many who do not have an extended family nearby to help in caring for young ones. This may be an area of ministry for those who do not have children themselves.
Fourthly, teach to coming generations the value of being fruitful and multiplying. Material possessions cannot compare with the riches of children. Of course there are those who wish to have children but physically cannot. Adoption or foster parenting may be an alternative for them. The issue is not that each family be required to have a certain amount of children in order to be validated but rather that a generation learns to desire to have children, to train them and to cherish them as a generation. Only then can generations be produced who will be a blessing to the world.
The Bible begins with a blessing to be fruitful and multiply and in the last book of the Bible there stands a great multitude which no one could count standing before the throne of God and the Lamb of God crying with a loud voice, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10). May individuals and Christian communities contemplate what their role is in filling the earth!
1- “The Changing Global Religious Landscape,” Pew Research Center, April 5, 2017 (accessed July 29, 2017), http://www.pewforum.org/2017/04/05/the-changing-global-religious-landscape/
2- Theodore Groat, Peggy C. Giordano, Stephen A. Cernkovich, M.D. Pugh & Steven Swinford, “Attitudes Toward Childbearing Among Young Parents,” Journal of Marriage and Family 59, no. 3 (Aug. 1997), 569.
3- Gretchen Livingston & D’Vera Cohn, “Childlessness Up Among All Women; Down Among Women with Advanced Degrees,” Pew Research Center, June 25, 2010 (accessed July 29, 2017), http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/06/25/childlessness-up-among-all-women-down-among-women-with-advanced-degrees/
4- Gretchen Livingston & D’Vera Cohn, “Immigrant Women Lead Recent Drop in U.S. Births and Birth Rates,” Pew Research Center, November 29, 2012 (accessed July 31, 2017), http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/11/29/immigrant-women-lead-recent-drop-in-u-s-births-and-birth-rates/
5- Kay Hymowitz, Jason S. Carroll, W. Bradford Wilcox & Kelleen Kaye, “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America,” National Marriage Project, 2013 (accessed July 29, 2017), p. 3, http://nationalmarriageproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/KnotYet-FinalForWeb.pdf
6- D’Vera Cohn, “In Canada, Most Babies Now Born to Women 30 and Older,” Pew Research Center, July 10, 2013 (accessed July 28, 2017), http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/07/10/in-canada-most-babies-now-born-to-women-30-and-older/; The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency, August 1, 2017, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html and https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/ca.html (accessed August 5, 2017).
7- Hymowitz et al., 8.
8- Laurel W. Koepf-Taylor, Give Me Children or I Shall Die (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 14, 17.
9- Ariel Zilber, “Forget Baby Showers! Young Couples Are Holding ‘Vasectomy Parties’ to Celebrate the Start of a Childless Family, and Ask Guests to Name Their CAR Instead,” DailyMail.com, October 9, 2016 (accessed July 24, 2017), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3829664/Forget-baby-showers-Young-couples-celebrate-childless-families-vasectomy-parties.html; Madeleine Davis, “Men Are Having ‘Brosectomy’ Parties to Get Vasectomies . . . With Their Bros,” Jezebel, July 24, 2017 (accessed August 3, 2017), http://jezebel.com/men-are-having-brosectomy-parties-to-get-vasectomies-1797192082
10- Patrick Miller, “Psalm 127 – The House That Yahweh Builds,” JSOT 22, (1982), 123.
11- Ibid., 128.
12- James Strong, “Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary,” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (Nashville: Crusade Bible Publishers, n.d.), 20.
13- Groat, Giordano et al., 569.
14- Michael Gryboski, “James Dobson Concerned About U.S. Birth Rate, ‘Serious Impact’ on Future,” The Christian Post, February 28, 2013 (accessed July 31, 2017), http://www.christianpost.com/news/james-dobson-concerned-about-us-birth-rate-serious-impact-on-future-90977/
15- Kevin Porter, “Do Religious People Have More Children Than Non-Religious?” The Christian Post, August 5, 2016 (accessed July 29, 2017), http://www.christianpost.com/news/do-religious-people-have-more-children-than-the-non-religious-167390/; Elisa Cipollone, “Faith Fills the House” LifeZette – FoxNews U.S., July 31, 2016 (accessed August 2, 2017), http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/07/31/faith-fills-house.html; “Religious Landscape Study: Parent of Children Under 18,” Pew Research Center: Religion and Public Life, 2014, (accessed July 28, 2017), http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/parent-of-children-under-18/