The newest Transformers® movie holds a unique title: Age of Extinction. Every attempt is made in the movie to eliminate the Transformers, but we all know that is not going to happen!
Following Christ in 2014 can make you wonder about the future of the church in North America; news media reports are replete with statistics that the church is facing extinction, repeating the pattern of the European church. Ed Stetzer’s response to those who would write the epitaph for Christianity in the West is, “Not so fast.”[i]
He divides the United States population into four categories for the purpose of understanding the church’s condition: The “nones” – these are those people who claim no affiliation with Christianity and make up about 25% of our population. The “nominals” – about 50% of the nation identifies themselves as Christian, but their lifestyles do not reflect Christian values. This group can be roughly divided in half: those who are cultural Christians (25%) and those who are congregational Christians (25%). Cultural Christiansbelieve they are Christians because their culture tells them they are; they typically come from a religious heritage, but they do not have a vibrant, active faith in Christ. Congregational Christians have some connection to congregational life; they have a church they call “home” and participate in its activities occasionally. They do not, however, have a faith that is transforming their lives.
The fourth category, Convictional Christians, consists of those who are living according to their faith. Their relationship with Jesus Christ is vital to them and results in a changed life and deep belief. This group has consistently remained at 25% of the population for decades (and is not expected to diminish any time soon). The real church, made up of born again believers who treasure their connection to Christ, is not dying, but it is becoming more clearly defined.
The “nones” group is growing in the U.S. because the “nominals” no longer feel the pressure of society to call themselves Christians. The label never fit them in the first place, and they are experiencing newfound freedom from the expectations placed on those who follow Christ. They are missing from the attendance counts on Sunday morning, their money does not make it to the offering plate, and their voices of support now rally behind secular causes, resulting in a loss of Christianity’s home-field advantage in the United States. These realities have created a deepened sense of loss and grief among those who remember the “glory days” of the 50s, 60s and 70s in church life. The “squishy middle” 50% has slouched away from the church and it often means the children and grandchildren of Convictional Christians have failed to acquire the vibrant faith of these believers.
I will be teaching a breakout session on this topic with more details, including future repercussions and healthy leadership responses, during the Fall Leadership Training Events on the Southside (Great Bridge Baptist Church) on September 11 and on the Eastern Shore (Zion Baptist Church) on September 16. Call the office at 938-9793 to register.