America, that “Christian nation,” is rapidly becoming post-Christian.
When I share this with my normal (a.k.a. non-Christian) friends, they shake their heads and disagree. “Naah, Christianity is still dominant.” And while it may still be more dominant than secularism (and other religions), I regularly see signs that its cultural power is waning in the United States.
Here’s a church building we saw while in Mendocino this past August:
Well, it used to be a church building. Now it’s an organic grocery store.
I worked at Adobe on and off for a total of eight years. When I consider all the people I knew, I can think of six people who I knew were Christians. Six, over eight years. In my new job at PayPal, I am meeting a new set of people. One of them might be a Christian.
Tournaments, on Sunday morning?!
A tournament, on Easter Sunday morning?
I spent all day yesterday at my daughter’s volleyball tournament. Yesterday was Sunday. This is the second time we have missed our worship gathering for a tournament, and there will be more. When I shared this with my father, he was shocked. Not too long ago, this would have been unthinkable.
I did share this with my pastor. He asked me, “Are you surprised?” No, I replied. Now we had also missed Easter service, though that was a decision to get some family-only time. Our church, like many in this area, meets in a school. My pastor said, “You know, when we had our Easter service, there was a basketball tournament taking place in the gym.” Now that shocked me. A tournament, on Easter Sunday morning?
Granted, I live in California. The joke is that California is like a bowl of granola, because “what ain’t fruits and nuts, is flakes.” But the coasts are also the leading edges of cultural change; what you see here will eventually make its way to the heartland. All my experiences tell me that Christianity is not the cultural focal point it once was. At the very least, you have to acknowledge that the USA is increasingly becoming a pluralistic society.
How should we respond?
How should Jesus communities respond? Well, one way is to beat your drum louder. Even in my supposedly progressive church, I have heard more than one sermon mention “our pluralistic society” as though it were some kind of blight or cancer. Yeah, that’ll certainly charm people.
I have also seen a few local churches have meeting times other than Sunday morning. That’s a start, though I’m afraid it is usually in the context of multiple services: Sunday morning, plus other choices. And I wonder how that feeds the consumeristic mentality that infects American Christianity: “We have several offerings, depending on what is most convenient for you.”
Recommended starting points
I don’t think there are easy answers that will satisfy the desire of American Christians for a “just do it this way” model. The road requires courage, a boldness to rethink what a Jesus community is and does, and a missional mindset. But let me offer a few starting points from my experience:
- Skip your Sunday morning church service. Instead go to a mall, a coffee shop, a tournament, and observe: There are people there! Who are they?
- Stop talking about “non-Christians,” where the prefix implies they are deviations from the norm. Instead, acknowledge that they are the norm, and do what I learned from Dave Jacobs: I call them “normal people” and “my normal friends.” It is disciples of Jesus who are unusual.
- Stop pretending that normal people have any interest in attending a church service. There was a time when an invitation to a church gathering held weight because it was a social norm. That time is gone. Get over it.
- Read The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. The author, Lesslie Newbiggin, left England to be a missionary in India. When he retired from the mission field, he returned to England, only to discover that it had changed.
- Ask your coworkers about their worldviews and belief systems. How many of them “went to church” growing up? (Be careful to do this to learn, not to proselytize.)
- Learn from Jesus communities in other countries that are more post-Christian. They’ve had many more years at this than we have. Pay close attention to the ones who are not beating the church drum louder, but are playing a different tune — the alternative worship folks in the U.K., or the recent Forge folks in Australia.
What changes are you seeing in American culture? What responses have you seen from Christian churches? Have you done any of the starting points above?