Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ministry Shifts in a Non-Religious Culture

I just read through some findings from the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), which paints an interesting picture of the American religious culture:
The percentage of Americans claiming no religion, which jumped from 8.2 in 1990 to 14.2 in 2001, has now increased to 15 percent. Given the estimated growth of the American adult population since the last census from 207 million to 228 million, that reflects an additional 4.7 million "Nones." Northern New England has now taken over from the Pacific Northwest as the least religious section of the country, with Vermont, at 34 percent "Nones," leading all other states by a full 9 points.
Some other cultural shifts is that Protestant influence is slowly dropping while Catholicism, Eastern religions, New Age/Wiccan, and atheism/agnostics are gradually increasing.

Alan Hirsch shares some great practical thoughts on the cultural shift and how the church must respond:
What implications does this have for the church in the US? Attractional methods alone will have decreasing effectiveness, though they will reach some. Not only theologically, but pragmatically, we must make the structure of the church be missional in nature and make dramatic changes in how we allocate our resources. This might mean moving all “Bible studies” off site, in coffee shops, Starbucks, homes, schools, etc.to meet people where they are. With antagonism and apathy towards religion, fewer will show up because we have better programs. And those that do will already be Christians. We need to train our members in knowledge of other faiths and resurgent atheism and methods to reach these adherents.
This makes me wonder about the future of youth ministry, where the assumption tends to fall towards "if we have a cool and fun youth group, students will want to come." There is also an assumption that most young people are at least familiar with Christianity and the Bible to some degree. Yet more and more I am encountering students who don't know much of anything about Christianity (apart from the image portrayed in media and film) because Christianity was not the default religion of their family. I wonder about students in my community who likely would never consider showing up at a church building on a Wednesday night, but might like to chill in someone's living room. I wonder about families who live in our apartment building who either don't know about Jesus or simply don't care, but need a friend after moving to a new city. A new program or building or teaching series isn't going to connect with them; maybe a friendship or a loving neighbor would.

Any thoughts on where culture and the church are headed? Do you see any real-life evidence of the survey's results?


  1. Speaking from personal experience, I didn't know much about Christianity before I started going to OSBC. If it wasn't for Worm convincing me to go to my first snow retreat, who knows where I'd be now. In a way, I think the retreats are great techniques for evangelism. There is always an event or location that everyone wants to go to no matter what your beliefs are. When everyone gets there, it's nice to start sharing a little of God's message and history, but not be overbearing like one would at a youth rally. During that weekend, I got to see how everyone got along well together and seemed to always be in high spirits. I wanted that and so made it a point to start going to church, youth group, and team meetings.

    Obviously, you know more about this than I would, but that's kind of how I look at my saving.

  2. Cam, I think you hit on something in your testimony--if Andrew had never befriended you before that snow retreat, would you ever have gone? I would assume not; even your love for snowboarding probably wouldn't have drawn you to hang out with a bunch of church people you don't know. (I'm assuming all this, so perhaps I'm mistaken). Yet there are a lot of churches who are striving to create the perfect program or even to attract those outside the church without focusing on the relationship first, a kind of "if we build it, they will come" mentality. That might work every so often, but I believe it will become increasingly less effective as the culture continues to shift.

    I'm glad God was working in Andrew's life--and your life--prior to that retreat, to draw you to Himself. Think about how much that weekend radically affected your life's direction, the friends and relationships you've made, the way you view the world, etc. Long live the Van Crew! :)