For many years there was a belief floating around that the more enlightened, educated, urban, and sophisticated people became the less interested in Christianity they became. Today, that myth is all but shattered with the renewal of spirituality throughout the world. In just the last hundred years Africa has seen Christianity grow from one percent of the Continent’s population to over forty percent. All this is taking place while Africa is modernizing and becoming more educated and enlightened concerning the continent’s place in the world.
Korea is another country that has seen an expediential growth in Christianity, as the nation becomes one of the world’s leading industrialized and modern countries. While the Chinese Cultural Revolution was a bust, the industrial revolution that catapulted the nation onto the world stage has a major impact on the World as a whole. But surprisingly for those critics who believed Christianity would die out in light of an upward mobility of a civilization, the reverse is true in China. There are now more Christians in China than in the United States. As the economy grew so did the church.
In 2014 the Pew Research Center’s report on spirituality in the United States was completed and the data released in 2015. Though the overall spiritual condition of America had declined slightly the vast majority of American’s still believed in God, prayed and attended church services. All spirituality, however, should not necessarily be based upon church attendance, for example, because many people are experiencing God in less traditional ways.
The study suggested that if less traditional factors were included Americans are becoming more spiritual. About six-in-ten adults now say they regularly feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well being, up seven percentage points since the 2007 Pew survey. Forty-six percent of Americans also say they experience a deep sense of wonder about the universe at least once a week. This also is up seven points over the previous survey by Pew.
In the book The Cube and the Cathedral, George Weigel argues even with all of Europe’s problems, Christianity can take root there once again. Thanks to missionaries from other parts of the world, enduring Christian witness, and ongoing activities by homegrown Christian movements there remains the possibility that Europe is reconverted. In fact there are already signs that the rapid decline in Christianity is slowing and in some spots actually beginning to take root once again.
A second myth that was universally held to be true concerning Christianity was that it was anti-intellectual. In short, anyone with half-a-brain would reject Christianity and gladly embrace secularism. This also has proven to be wrong and in reality many top scientists, philosophers, and other academics have embraced the idea that there is a reason to believe.
One of those scientists is Dr. Robert Asher who wrote Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist, where he argues that Christianity and science can find some common ground. This is not as strange as it seems as some scientists as Astrophysicist Hugh Ross argues that the scientific method developed through methods of Biblical study. The same applications that Christians were using to test Biblical claims were eventually applied to the developing field of scientific research. Today scientists from Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, to 2007 Noble Prize winner in Chemistry Gerhard Ertl, represent that the very best of scientific research does not have to be anti-Christian.
With all the good news that Christianity is alive and surviving in our secular age, all is not well. Much of what passes for Christianity in the west is little more than self-centered secularism dressed up in the cloak of Christianity and belief. For a great many Christians their faith revolves around the idea that Jesus is a Santa Clause who pours out blessings, especially financial, in response to our “seeding the cloud” through our own giving. Christianity has evolved into little more than a quick fix or shortcut to prosperity. Worship, commitment, discipleship, and sanctification are cast into the background in a rush and tumble desire to get “blessings” right now.
A second problem facing the Christian church is it’s being caught up in the political correctness of our secular age. Many Christians now look upon evangelism, which once was a central backbone of Christianity, with disfavor as intrusive and meddling in the lives of others. We are in the process of making Christianity a very private affair that revolves around our personal relationship with God and no one else. Whether or not our neighbors know God or not are their problem and have nothing to do with us. It is little wonder that, for every hundred Christians in the western church, only one convert is made each year.
A third problem that could be considered a crisis within the church is its failure to be relevant to the youth of our day. For most young people there is a sense of wanting to belong and they have a deep sense of community and a desire for spiritual encounters but the church does not seem to be an option.
I believe there are two major reasons for this, outside of an educational system that is more and more secular in its approach to teaching. The first is we are not prepared or equipped to encounter the world of young people. We don’t know the music they listen to, the games they play, we are not as up technologically or versed in its use as they are, and for the most part, we have no interest in discovering these things. As one pastor once told me, “if they want to come to church they can find their way,” is basically saying it is up to them to make the first move.
I am embarrassed to write this but I am afraid much of our reluctance to engage young people in conversation over Jesus is our fear of them. We have bought into the myth that they are smarter, cooler, more in tuned, and less open to dialogue than we are. If the truth is told, we feel intimidated by them because we are not sure how to find common ground or respond to their questions.
The simple truth is none of that is true in every case. Our perception of youth is based upon television, movies, music and a culture that bends over backwards to portray youth as sophisticated and self-assured for advertising purposes. Most youth are simply looking for a place to belong and something to really believe in that will impact their lives and give them meaning.
The church is going to have to pull up its socks if we hope to reach this new generation of youth. We need to come out of fortress “church” and encounter them where they are. This past weekend there was a music festival in our town that attracted young people from all over our province. Walking home Saturday night from a walk downtown to check out the “goings on” it struck me that we Christians had totally surrendered the ground to secularism. There are scores of Christians in our town but our witness was totally absent for the three days. These are the things that are going to have to change if we are going to impact the youth culture of our day.
The second reason we are not becoming a home for youth is we are not always willing to make our churches an inviting place. This post is becoming a bit long so I won’t go into this but we must shuttle off the view that people have to fit into how we do things instead of being open to new ways of making church relevant for youth. This goes way beyond having a contemporary service or having a band lead the service. The attitude of the church family has to become more welcoming and inclusive in its response to people entering through its doors.
There is reason for hope for the continuing spread of Christianity around the world but there is pessimism in our inability here in the west to become relevant to large portions of our society. I believe these negatives could be overcome by developing a deeper personal relationship with Christ that allows the Holy Spirit to flow through us with power and desire to reach out to those around us.
Be courageous, be strong, no regrets, no retreat.