There is a continual danger that the church is driven by various trends. Evangelical churches are most susceptible to this danger. “Trendier than thou” is a real problem if our vision of discipleship is stunted and consumer oriented. Given the great desire to reach people with the good news we can easily adapt our methods and approaches in ways that are inconsistent with our message.
Having acknowledged this real problem to be trendy I retain a deep and growing concern that churches (in general) have very little idea about how much the shift in values and religious practices has impacted the mission field that we call the United States of America. There can be no serious doubt that the religious makeup of our population is shifting very rapidly. And there can be no serious doubt that most Christians understand very little about what these trends actually mean for the future of mission in America. One of the core values of a missional church is that the whole church will seek to incarnate the whole gospel in ways that serve the people who are their neighbors. The church does not do mission so much as the church IS mission. For this to happen we need to equip people to exegete culture. And this requires us to teach some basic principles of contextualization. I am not suggesting we need to teach academic courses on mission to the whole congregation, as I studied these issues in doing a degree in mission. But I am suggesting that we need to teach people who their neighbors really are and how they really live and think. We do this when people go to a far away land as missionaries but we forget that the same is increasingly needed in America. I was reminded of this by two recent Barna Research reports about changes in American religious views and practice.
In a November 3 report Barna noted that 15% of Americans say their experiences with religion have caused them to question God, a sentiment most common among 20-somethings, college grads, unmarried adults, non-Christians, and unchurched adults. Similarly, 16% of Americans have been hurt by experiences in churches. This perception is most common among women, Boomers, and divorced adults. This report does not surprise me since I’ve noticed this through my own ministry over the past five years.
In a November 19 Barna report we learn that 1 in 9 young people who grow up with a Christian background loses their faith in Christianity. 4 in 10 become nomads and wander away from the institutional church. They still call themselves Christians but are far less active in church than they were during high school. Another 2 in 10 young Christians feel lost between the “church culture” and the society they feel called to influence. “I want to be a Christian without separating myself from the world around me” typifies this group. Only about 3 in 10 young people who grow up with a Christian background stay faithful to church and to faith throughout their transitions from the teen years through their twenties. Read that again. Only 3 in 10 young people who grow up in Christian homes stay faithful to the church through the transition years between their teens and twenties, thus our failure to truly disciple our own young people is very evident. Will churches consider these extremely important facts in their plans for ministry to teens and young adults?