We’ve all seen the recent developments in our day that just don’t align with the way things used to be. The statistics used to be that more than half of our country consisted of followers of Christ. There used to be a time when we could freely speak about prayer, Jesus or sin without much criticism or debate. Before, in the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s, the Christian seemed to be the majority. Mega Churches, national days of prayer and para-church organizations led the way, but now we have seen a radical shift in that culture. The United States lived up to the moniker of the “Last Christian nation” back then, but as we can see, we are seeing a great shift into something increasingly more un Christian.
STATE OF THE CULTURE AND IT’S RAPID SHIFT
In this century, church is dying. Less people are going to church now than ever before. More importantly, less people understand and agree with the foundations of scripture and who Jesus is. Young people especially have completely abandoned traditional biblical principles in favor of the new ‘tolerance culture’. This new culture is a pluralistic, therapeutic one that says everything, no matter what, is tolerated and accepted by all, with one exception, Christianity. John Dickerson writes in his book The Great Evangelical recession, that culture is shifting faster than it ever has. If we look back to the 70’s or 80’s or even early 2000’s we will see the most rapid cultural shift our nation has ever seen. In the last 15-20 years, culture has shifted more than it had in the previous 100 years.
Simply looking at the occurrences of our day can help prove this point. Last year, for the first time ever we had a presidential election without an Evangelical Christian as a candidate. At President Obama’s most recent inauguration, evangelical Christians lacked a representative for the first time in the nation’s history. 25 years ago, it is hard to imagine we would see the full-fledged acceptance of things like abortion and homosexuality as we do today. TV shows like Glee and the New Normal are promoting homosexuality. Entire networks like MTV have dedicated their programing to miserable celebrations of sin with shows like 16 and pregnant, the Guy code and Jersey shore. And the most obvious occurrence of all is the suppression of Christians who speak in opposition to any of the above. Christianity is downright hated in today’s culture.
THE CHURCH BUBBLE
Before I venture into the 21st Century Church and how we can better reach todays young people I need to preface with something. Many older people reading this perhaps have something around them I call the “Church Bubble”. Many were raised in the church, serve in the church, all of their friends are part of a church and all of the activities they do are church related. These people have few if any non-Christian friends; they only read Christian media and watch Christian friendly programming. SO when they read the idea that culture is changing, they vehemently disagree. They have no clue what it means that things are changing, and to them, we still are a strong Christian nation. As John Dickerson writes in his book, “You don’t have to talk, work or study outside evangelical circles long to realize that we (Christians) are not possibly that much of the United States population I the 21st century.” I encourage anyone in the Church Bubble to step out and take a look around. For those that spout of a bloated statistic like “75% of the country is Christian,” or “at least 50% of the nation is evangelical”, I would challenge them to reconsider. Do we really believe that if we asked 10 people to come forward in a grocery store in Los Angeles or New York that 7-8 of them would say they are a bible believing Christian? If we were to ask a few sub questions like, “is Jesus the only way to heaven?” “Is there a hell?” “Can you be a good person without Jesus and go to heaven?” or, “Does your sexual orientation matter to God?” Do we really think that even 5 out of 10 people would still align with Christianity? We must look at the sobering facts of reality.
THE SAME OLD CHURCH
Since I work in ministry a little, I hear the calls of some to continue pressing on with what we have been doing the last 30 years, particularly with young people. Many suggest being more and more relational. Some want to abandon teachings of the cross in favor of more worship, games and one-on-one hangouts. Multiple retreats, secular games and vague, vanilla teachings of Jesus are tactics of old. They perhaps worked on the majority of youth in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. When most churches spoke the hard truth of the gospel, these methods were great ways to show the youth that you can relax about Jesus, be informal and not get hardcore every second of every day. But this dynamic has shifted. The majority of our churches have adopted this soft form of church. The vanilla, plain Jesus message coupled with the omission of calling people to repentance has entered our churches in the name of making church non-Christian friendly. Unfortunately, everything in the culture is giving us a plain, relaxed, no pressure way of doing things. Additionally, the culture treats children like adults more now than they every have. Flick on the Disney Channel or MTV to see that. We still want to get 17-year-old boys to stuff marshmallows in their mouth and play board games, instead of dealing with their sexual sin and their call to manhood. Unfortunately, kids are kids anymore. But, as a result they are far more receptive to direct teaching
We cannot assume that the youth of the 70’s and 80’s are the same as the youth of 2013. They are different. They need a different style of church to fit their different personas. If you don’t agree, just look at the numbers of youth walking away from church and never coming back put out by Lifeway, Barna group, Josh McDowell and even secular researchers at UCLA. All of these researchers agree that somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-80% of young evangelicals are leaving church, never to return (Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession).
21st CENTURY CHURCH
Today, people lack knowledge of the bible. Many have no clue what the bible says about key issues. They have been fed this watered down Christianity for so long they don’t know who Jesus really is and what the Gospel really says. Take, for example, the number of “evangelicals” who recently affirmed the coming out of the closet of Jason Collins, the NBA player. Or the number of “Christians” who are undecided about a real hell or if Jesus really said he was God. Here are a few key components we will need going forward to assimilate to the 21st century
1. PREACH THE WORD
The art of sharing the true gospel has been lost in our day. We must hold fast to the teachings of scripture, call people to repentance of sin and faith in Jesus. For our youth, this method is extremely effective. I recently took over a young adults group. I changed nothing except I opened the bible and preached the word of God. I told them that God doesn’t like the sins they commit and desires more for them: to be reconciled to Him through Jesus death on the cross. Bang. All that happened is that they went home and came back the next week with more people! The group has grown 10-fold all because God’s word changes people lives. If we back down from preaching it because we are afraid of what people think, then we are in sin. God wants his Word preached.
2. CONTEXTUALIZE OUR CHURCHES
The Apostle Paul said, that we should become all things to all people so that we may save some (1 Corinthians 9). We must do this for this new generation. Older, Godly people should be humble and assimilate their church to what helps people get saved. Our processes and method of church is secondary to people meeting Jesus. I once heard Missiologist Ed Stetzer say, “I am convinced that some churches want to die holding on to their method of church while the region around them goes to hell.”
We must alter our church to fit the 21st century. This does not mean the word of God Changes one bit, but that if we need to become more technologically sound, get a better website, use social media and get more modern décor then we should do it for the sake of the Gospel
3. MAKE DISCIPLES
We need to quit feeding and tending to the same sheep for 20 years and instead make that sheep a co-laborer and a disciple that can go serve the lost. Non-Christians are out there waiting. We often let our ministry turn in on itself. Its time to turn our ministries outward and be instruments for Jesus in his saving work to those outside of our church.
4. LETS PRETEND THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS A SAY
We have we forgotten that God sends the Holy Spirit to save? We are not the salvation police. So why do we soften the message of Jesus to make it easier to swallow? Don’t you remember that the God of the Universe is greater than any culture and any strong spirit? I think it’s time we pretend Jesus is in charge and we do as he asks, to boldly proclaim the gospel in His name. We have shared the gospel for too long. Sharing it worked for a season. But we must return to proclaiming the gospel.
The new church we must present to the lost is not anything spectacular or crazy. What it is is a radical call back to the gospel of Christ. We must boldly share our faith in a way that can be understood by the lost, and we must not be a afraid of the consequences. The criticism of Christianity is as harsh as it’s ever been. let us hold fast to the teaching of Jesus, let the Holy Spirit do his work.
Eddie Williams(Twitter: @realewilliams) is a Christian, a husband and a father, and public speaker, he also leads a ministry as a pastor, called REACH, a young adults ministry at his home church. The 5 year NFL veteran (Cleveland Browns, Seattle, Seahawks) speaks weekly at the ministry and has spoken across the U.S. at high schools, colleges, conferences and ministries about a vairety of topics, including leadership, hea'th and faith. Eddie has been a part of numerous programs for youth, including NFL Play60. He has also given back to the community at organizations like the Cleveland Foodbank, Feed My Starving Children and Veterans hospitals.For more on Eddie, visit: Eddiejwilliams.me