I will never forget my experience with “Marcus.”
We were of different backgrounds, different races. I was surprised he even started to come to the church that I pastored. Wanting to welcome such diversity, we invited him and his wife to our small group. I was surprised when they came.
Near the end of a 6-week bible study, I asked Marcus where he was at spiritually. “So Marcus, “ I asked. “If my house was God and Christianity, where would you be: sitting in the car by the curb, walking up the front walk, knocking on the door, or wanting to come into the house and be part of the family?” His answer was, “Knocking on the door!” I was so excited. The journey had begun.
Many months later, I had received a call to another church and believed it was God’s call, so I accepted. In the “farewell line” at a reception, Marcus came up to me and started to weep. Hugging and sobbing he said, “You brought me back. You brought me back!” I was shocked he had been impacted so deeply. As a long-ago churchgoer, he had come home to God’s family.
I had been reading Rick Richardson’s “Evangelism Outside the Box” about the shifts necessary to reach people for Christ in a post-modern context. I had these thoughts prayerfully in mind in witnessing to Marcus and his wife. This was about fifteen years ago and the shifts emerging were coming more clearly into focus. Working in evangelism for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Rick saw the trends on college campuses. I was seeing it in the church. Evangelism now was more of a journey than an event.
The chorus of witnesses about shifts in evangelism in a “post-Christendom” world have now been proclaiming a similar message for two decades.
The message? This ain’t your grandma’s world, and what reached her for Jesus won’t reach her grandchildren — and certainly not her great-grandchildren.
This chorus of witnesses have ranged from fundamental to evangelical, from emergent to Anglican, from para-church to the mainline church. Authors on the topic include Elmer Towns, Ed Stetzer, Rico Tice, Nicky Gumble, Elaine Heath, Mack Stiles, Mark Mittleberg, Rick Richardson, and Brian McLaren. And yes, that is a theological range from fundamental to emergent, and everywhere in-between!
So where are we now in sharing faith in a Post-Christian United States?
I am afraid we haven’t moved much in twenty years. One does not need to be a pundit or a researcher about the Church to know things have not been going well. While the Evangelical church has been holding its own (Ed Stetzer reminds us that the “sky is not falling!), Christianity is not growing in any county in the United States. And we have all probably heard about the “nones,” those claiming no church identity. While the nones tend to be younger, the millennials, what is noteworthy is that ALL age-ranges are trending in the direction of no church involvement.
In the Western World, where historically Christianity has been culture-shaping, the Church is now on the margins of culture. For example, as is so clear and so often lamented, we are losing the “culture wars.”
Being on the margins of the culture is not all bad. IF, we discern the necessity of changing our identity to be missionaries. Missionaries first seek to understand the culture.
Four cultural shifts have taken place. While I know them by memory, my recollection is to give credit to Rick Richardson and Gary Rohrmayer for the concepts.
The shifts are these: 1) from apologetic argument to compassionate demonstration; 2) from large events to personal process; 3) from monologue to dialogue; 4) from short term presentation to long term relationship.
We will consider these four shifts over the course of a week’s time. Stay tuned.