By Ed Stetzer
Gloom. That’s what many Christians feel about our culture today.
We live in a time when many cultural trends are headed in a direction away from biblical values—morality, life, attitudes and so much more.
Yet, I am not discouraged. I’ve read the end of The Book—and Jesus wins. However, I think there are other reasons to be encouraged, including the fact that cultural Christianity is dying. Churches are becoming more focused and fruitful, and Christians are engaging their communities.
Cultural Christianity is dying because nominal Christians are becoming more and more comfortable with giving up their labels.
I typically see three types of Christians. Census Christians mark “Christian” on a survey rather than another world religion since they know they are not Hindu or Jewish. Churchgoing Christians identify as such because they occasionally attend a church. And conversion Christians claim to have had a true faith experience in which they were converted or “born again,” resulting in a deeply held belief in Jesus Christ as Lord.
The recent decline in American Protestants, I believe, comes from census and churchgoing Christians shifting to the category of those who don’t have any religious identification at all. As culture changes and no single belief system is broadly held, the value of identifying as a Christian decreases. When that happens, if the connection was more an identifying mark than a deeply held belief, the label doesn’t really matter anymore.
Having no affiliation at all is more acceptable than choosing one that is in name only. Rather than this representing a collapse in Christianity as a whole, it points to a clarification of sorts. In a sense, the real Christians are standing up.
While cultural Christianity declines, biblical Christianity has the opportunity to shine. I’m encouraged that many churches are seeking to be places of real transformation – not being satisfied with just doing church but actually seeking to be the church.
In our research for Transformational Church, we encountered great hope. Some churches were seeing great conversions, robust discipleship and church unity in mission.
Thriving small groups, evangelistic outreach and community ministry are all around us. These are not “pie in the sky” ideas – these are realities of churches right now all across the U.S.
As our culture becomes less Judeo-Christian, in a sense, we lose some of our home-field advantage. Yet, this gives churches the opportunity to be the church – to show and share the love of Christ. This, indeed, helps people understand what Christianity is and what Christians do – joining Jesus on His mission in the world.
So, challenging times? Sure. Yet, whoever thought we should be the exception? The gospel has always advanced in challenging times – and we should be no different.
God is at work, and I am encouraged.
Let’s seize these moments and be about transformation – seeing people, churches and communities changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.