The Church Has An Advantage to Thrive In A Non-Christian World


If our churches have to be a little more uncomfortable to us insiders in order to reach even one lost soul for Christ, that’s a sacrifice we should all be willing to make.

Next month, I’ll be emceeing and speaking at Centered and Sent, on October 18 and 19, at The Summit Church in Durham, N.C. We’ll be hosting The Exchange Live from the conference on stage on October 18 at 3:00 p.m. This two-day gathering will also feature Tim Keller, Bryan Loritts, and J.D. Greear. We are going to address how the Church can thrive in an increasingly post-Christian era. I will be speaking on “Cultural Trends and the State of the Church.” Join me at this limited seat event.

As we all know, it’s election season. This isn’t ever a rosy time for America, filled with rainbows and warm hugs. But if the political season of 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that the United States is culturally confused. Competing narratives vie for attention, as we’re trying to figure out just who we are as a country. There was a time in our history when it seemed like everyone was a Christian. Now, depending on where in America you live, it can seem like no one is a Christian.

Are we losing our Christian heritage? Were we ever a Christian nation to begin with? And how should churches respond to all of this?

However you read our country’s history, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we have reached a cultural tipping point. Our society no longer assumes the gospel, which means the Church often stands at odds with the rest of society. That may make us uncomfortable and frightened. We like being in the majority.

But the gospel is always clearer in an age when it is not culturally assumed. The Early Church thrived in the midst of a hostile non-Christian world—not because they were more numerous or more powerful, but because they were both radically distinct and culturally relevant.

Radically Distinct
Many of us in North America, especially the older ones among us, grew up in a context where Christianity was assumed.

It may be more comfortable to grow up in an age when everyone calls themselves Christian, but I would argue that it’s actually harmful to the gospel. When the gospel doesn’t stand out as distinct, then we domesticate it into our tradition. That’s what we see going on in evangelical regions across the country.

Even now, upward of 75% of Americans call themselves Christians. But about two-thirds of that group don’t go to church, don’t believe the Bible, and don’t subscribe to anything like Christian ethics. Sure, they care about Jesus, but it’s certainly not central to their lives. These people are nominal Christians—retaining the name of Christ, but just about nothing else.

Recent research from Pew, however, has shown that nominal Christians are disappearing. This is hardly surprising. In the midst of a society that is growing more and more antagonistic toward Christianity, the first to abandon ship are going to be the ones who never really believed in Jesus anyway.

Nominalism is dying. And I say, “Good riddance.” I, for one, am ready for the gospel to mean the gospel, and for Christians to be known as Christians. People need to see that “Christian” isn’t just a check-box on a questionnaire, but it’s a life changed by the gospel.

In a place where most people call themselves Christians (but really aren’t), it can be hard to make people see how radically distinct the gospel is. But in a place where most people admit they aren’t Christians, where they actually find the gospel offensive, that is where the gospel is going to make an impact.

Being a Christian is more significant in a hostile or indifferent culture than in friendly surroundings.

As nominal Christianity declines, and as more people have the integrity to say, “I don’t believe the gospel,” the mission of the Church becomes much clearer, and easier. We may not like losing our home field advantage in this country, but it’s far easier to share the gospel with those who don’t think that they are already right with God.

As nominal Christians drop the façade of religiosity for the honesty of not following a faith at all, it becomes easier to share the gospel.

We can bemoan the loss of Christian influence in our country. Or we can seize this moment for what it is—an opportunity to make much of Jesus and His mission, to show our neighbors that the gospel really is radically distinct, and to realize that we now live in the midst of an enormous mission field.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today The Exchange – Ed Stetzer