Tim Tebow’s article about them applauds “the genuine passion they have for making a difference in people’s lives.” He adds, “They are also grounded in a strong faith, which keeps them focused on what truly matters in life.”
Any time followers of Jesus make the news because of their cultural relevance, the kingdom advances and God is glorified. As we noted yesterday, Christians across history have made an amazing difference in our world. From women’s rights to the Scientific Revolution, educational excellence, modern medicine, and the abolition of slavery, believers have played a crucial role in human flourishing.
However, it seems that many today see the church as less relevant than Christians. Far less, in fact.
How many religious Americans go to church?
Last Sunday, most churches experienced their highest attendance of the year. Next Sunday, many of these congregations will see half the numbers they witnessed on Easter.
Our culture has already moved past the holiday considered by Christian tradition to be the highest and holiest day of the year. Except for references to Sunday’s tragedy in Sri Lanka and post-Easter sales in stores, the day seems to be over.
Of course, the risen Christ is just as alive and just as relevant today as when he first rose from the dead. But his church seems to be less so.
According to Gallup, church membership in America is down from 70 percent in 1999 to 50 percent today. One factor is the rise of the “nones”: the number of Americans who say they have no religious affiliation has grown from 10 percent in 1998 to 23 percent today.
However, the number of self-identified religious Americans with no church membership is surprising. In the year 2000, 73 percent of those with a religious preference belonged to a church, compared with 64 percent today.
And church attendance is a significant issue as well. While pollsters report that 40 percent of Americans attend church on an average weekend, recent research puts the number at less than 20 percent. Only 23–25 percent of Americans attend church at least three out of eight weeks.
“We have lost our gods”
What explains the perceived irrelevance of the church to the culture?
One factor is a general decline in institutional trust. Sociologist Laura Hansen: “We have lost our gods. We lost [faith] in the media: Remember Walter Cronkite? We lost it in our culture: You can’t point to a movie star who might inspire us, because we know too much about them. We lost it in politics, because we know too much about politicians’ lives. We’ve lost it—that basic sense of trust and confidence—in everything.”
A related issue is the clergy abuse crisis and other church scandals. Confidence in the church has plummeted from 68 percent in 1975 to 38 percent today.
But a third factor, while often overlooked, is foundational.
Freeing the soul from prison
Socrates taught us that to “know thyself” was the key to knowledge. The ancient Greeks were convinced that our souls existed in a preincarnate state before they were imprisoned in our bodies. The point of life was to free our souls at death from the “prison house” of the physical world.
As a result, Western culture focuses on the individual. Our impulse is to be as free and independent as we can. Americans especially favor the frontier goal of personal self-sufficiency and limited government. We depend on institutions and other people only to the degree that we must.
Recent decades have made us more self-reliant than ever. Many can work from home using only a computer with an internet connection. We can order nearly anything we want digitally and have it shipped to our front door. We can find a medical diagnosis and treatment online.
Three ways the church can change the world
However, God’s word is clear: “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25 NLT). Why? What can Christians do together that we cannot do separately?
One: Minister to the world. We are the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27), his hands and feet, eyes and ears. None of us possesses all the spiritual gifts we need to reach our culture.
How are you working with fellow believers to change lives?
Two: Serve each other. Early Christians gave what they had to each other “as any had need” (Acts 2:45). Paul pled with Christians in Rome “to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf” (Romans 15:30).
How are you serving your Father’s children?
Three: Offer community to the culture. God knew that “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). The proliferation of social media shows our hunger for relationships with others. The community of faith can offer grace as can no other on earth.
Whom will you invite to join you in worship next week?
Scripture warns that Satan is a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The lost people we know cannot afford for churches to complain about the lion’s progress when we should be assaulting the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18).
Where on the front lines are you?