Post-Christianity and the Church
After resigning his Associate Pastor position in a mega-church, Jon and his wife, Robin moved their young family to Germany in 2001. There they focused on empowering European church leaders through mentoring and coaching, as well as teaching in seminars, conferences and Bible Schools. They also helped plant a number of churches and youth groups throughout central Europe. They planted and pastored a highly successful “church for those who don’t do church” in Freiburg, Germany.
After handing over their church, they returned to Texas in 2014 to help US churches prepare for the coming Post-Christian cultural shift. Although he resides in scenic Boerne, TX, Jon continues to equip Christian leaders throughout Europe and North America through consulting and coaching / mentoring, and through his online presence: perrinministries.org. Jon’s mission is to empower leaders and mobilize churches to reach the unchurched.
Jon and Robin have been married since 1993 and have three children: Ryan, Ashton and Emma.
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy realizes that the tornado has transported her to a strange place. She looks around in shock and replies to her dog, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Most of us know exactly how Dorothy feels! A casual glance through the news will confirm that a major cultural metamorphosis is underway. Postmodernism has given way to post-Christianity. Whereas the postmodern mindset led to cynicism, post-Christianity is producing both apathy and hostility toward churches.
The looming cultural changes will be utterly devastating for churches that choose to ignore the problem. But as with any challenge, there are also marvelous opportunities for those prepared to engage and adapt.
In order to adapt to the coming changes, we need to first define the reality on the ground. One effect of the post-Christian cultural shift is that the religious guilt and shame that once kept people in church has faded. Add to that the limitless options families now have on Sundays, as well as the plague of single-parent and blended families, and you end up with “regular” church attenders that show up a maximum of twice per month.
An increasingly large percentage of the US population now self-identifies as “nones” (no religious affiliation). Many of these are “de-churched” individuals that have rejected the Church. Almost two thirds of them have left the church because, although they still consider themselves spiritual, they no longer believe their church’s religious teaching.
The influence of the Millennial generation (18 – 30 yr olds) on culture has only exacerbated the challenges churches face. Although they are very eclectic, there are some common themes that tend to define them. This large generation has grown up in a multicultural, interconnected world. Things such as money, prestige and position aren’t as important to this generation as having a number of wide-ranging experiences.
While the previous generation valued tolerance, Millennials emphasize acceptance and support for alternative viewpoints and lifestyles. This leads many of them to deem the Church as archaic and useless – even toxic. As a matter of fact, a recent study revealed that public opinion has shifted concerning Christianity. Spiritual practices that were once considered normal Christian behavior – sharing one’s faith, abstaining from sex outside of marriage, praying out loud for a stranger in public, etc. – are increasingly viewed as extremist.
The pluralistic lifestyle of Millennials has led to a cafeteria-style spirituality, picking and choosing what they like from different belief systems. Over half have never read the Bible. The outcome is a hybrid Christianity that is vastly different than that of former generations.
Such things can be disturbing. Many Christians respond by withdrawing into the safety of their church circles. But this isn’t the way God chose to deal with the problem of our separation from Him. He chose to engage us personally. Even though believers often choose to serve God in isolation, neither Jesus nor the Apostle Paul adopted this mindset. They chose to take the risky path of engagement.
We served as missionary church planters in secular Europe for thirteen years. After moving to southwestern Germany our family searched for a church we could call home. While visiting churches we began to notice many things churches do that marginalize, embarrass and ostracize the very people they had prayed so passionately for and worked so hard to reach.
We began to dream of a new type of church, one that could actually reach the unchurched in a secular society. By God’s grace we ended up planting just such a church. Through this experience we identified six interdependent core components that can enable a church to not only survive, but actually thrive in a Post-Christian culture. These are explained in detail in my book, The Coming Post-Christian Tsunami. While I can’t cover all of them in this article, I want to briefly discuss the two most important components.
I can’t possibly overstate the importance of authenticity in our churches. Your church may be solid in every other area, but if you fail the authenticity test your impact will be severely limited. We must learn to be real.
Millennials have a high “fake filter,” especially when it comes to religion. Christians have a reputation for being incredibly inauthentic and self-righteous. Regular media soundbites portray Christians as hypocrites who criticize and condemn “outsiders” for their imperfect lifestyles. It doesn’t help that oftentimes in our churches the smiles are fake, the passion is artificial and the emotions are forced. We never allow others to see our weaknesses, as if somehow being a Christian makes you immune to problems.
As a result, Millennials are automatically wary of anything that reeks of religion. They are begging us to show them the real Jesus! But we can’t do this if we’re pretending to be something we’re not. No one has this holiness thing figured out. No one’s life is perfect; so why do we pretend ours is, as if we are somehow holier than others? Jesus warned us against this type of judgmental attitude. (Matthew 7:1-3)
Let’s instead choose to be real, opening up and making ourselves vulnerable. This is the Christianity I read about in the Bible. And this is the brand of Christianity that will draw a cynical world to Christ.
Churches are uncomfortably odd places for an unchurched person. The language, traditions, customs and people seem just plain weird to them. What happens in most churches on a Sunday has little to do with life in the real world on a Monday. We must change this! We have to work hard at making our churches welcoming environments where people can truly “come as you are.”
If we’re not intentional in viewing our church through the eyes of an unchurched visitor, we will never truly comprehend what they see. This takes a lot of effort, but it’s vitally important. We may need to ask a “mystery church shopper” to visit and give their honest opinion.
Since unchurched people don’t know the Bible, we will have to adjust our teaching style and give a lot of explanation. We have to use language, expressions and metaphors that are familiar to our audience if we want to connect with them. If we want to truly reach the unreached we need to teach messages with them in mind, not just geared to our “Amen Corner.” We must learn to make our sermons highly practical, which is MUCH harder than teaching a theologically sound, but confusing message (or even just a rambling one).
Jesus explained spiritual concepts with real-life stories that captured the attention and imagination of his hearers. And although He was a carpenter by trade, He didn’t use a single carpentry illustration. Since His audience was made up of fishermen and farmers he spoke of fishing nets, sheep, trees, vineyards and seeds. We have to learn to engage our audience the same way. The whole point is to slow the bus down enough for people to get on board.
The good news is that cultural shifts don’t take God by surprise. Christianity was birthed in turbulent times, during a hostile cultural climate. Nero tortured and martyred Christians for sport. But the Gospel spread rapidly. Don’t count the Church out yet. The best is yet to come!
For more thoughts on Post-Christianity, leadership and the Church, or to order a copy of The Coming Post-Christian Tsunami go to http://www.postchristiantsunami.com.