Many say it’s been a tough decade for us evangelical Christians. The media say that Christianity is in great decline. We hear that most young adults dropped out of evangelical churches and that everyone hates us.
The actual numbers tell a different story. The American Religious Identification Survey pointed to an overall decline of self-identified Christians. But although those numbers show a steep decline among mainline Christians, they also show a growth pattern for evangelicals.
Even so, these are challenging times that call for reassessment.
Here are five things we need to face the next 10 years:
1. A clear understanding of the Gospel.
The Gospel is not you do, it’s Jesus did. People don’t need to be taught to turn over a new leaf — they need to receive and live out a new life. That new life is from Jesus’ death on the cross, for our sin and in our place. Don’t build a message that would still be true if Jesus had not died on the cross.
2. A stronger focus on discipleship.
God grows us as we are in a position to receive that growth. This can only happen through intentional awareness and leadership on the part of both leaders and church members. In LifeWay Research’s Transformational Discipleship project, the largest statistical study of its kind, we found that discipleship was both lacking and simple — we just needed to remind people to live out who God has made us in Christ.
3. A greater passion for mission.
We need to stand up against the clergification in the modern-day church — the tendency to look at those who are professional ministers and say that they are the ones who are called to the mission, while the people in the pews are merely consumers of religious goods and services. We need to see all of God’s people engaged in God’s mission, from their respective neighborhoods all the way to the nations.
4. Evangelism in the age of the “nones.”
Churches that once focused their energies and efforts toward targeting seekers are finding it more difficult to appeal to a constituency with little to no religious memory. Churches will have to find new ways to lead their people to reach out to their neighbors — not just attractional evangelism, but incarnational evangelism — being, doing and telling good news where we live and work.
5. New thinking in developing best practices.
God often uses tools for his ends. Think of bus ministry in the ‘70s or radio ministry in the ‘50s. That’s still true today. As believers, we can and must be good stewards of our ministry and utilize tools wisely — like multisite churches, viral church planting and finding new ways to serve those who are hurting and in need.
As the church continues to navigate an increasingly post-Christian culture, we have to ask ourselves if we are willing to face some truths and change some behaviors to reach the world with the message of the Gospel.
I’ve read the end of the Book, and I know what you know: Jesus wins. I just want to be a part of what His team is doing before He returns.