It’s commonly debated in evangelicalism whether the church addresses sin enough, or too much, or in the right way. A recent survey from Lifeway Research explains where these differing views stem from and it has to do with people’s view of sin.
According to Lifeway’s polling data, Americans are split into three relatively even categories when it comes to sin: those who don’t believe they are sinners, those who believe they are and are “working on it,” and those who are dependent on Jesus to overcome their sin.
When asked to self-identify which category they belong to, 28 percent of people said they are a sinner dependent on Jesus, 34 percent said they work on being less of a sinner, and 23 percent said they either don’t care they are a sinner, aren’t a sinner or that sin doesn’t exist.
For church leaders looking to address the topic of sin in a way that culturally connects, it’s helpful to think of all three audiences and the very different messages they may need to hear.
For those in the evangelical community inclined to focus heavily on the topic of sin, it might be helpful to remember that approximately two-thirds of the congregation already know they are a sinner, but aren’t in agreement about what to do about it. For the 34 percent who say they are “working on being less of one,” perhaps the most important message isn’t just “you are a sinner” but “all our attempts at spiritual self-improvement will just lead to failure, guilt and feeling distant from God.”
It’s also important for church leaders to realize that 38 percent of those who identify as evangelical Christian chose “I am a sinner and I work on being less of one” over “and I depend on Jesus Christ to overcome that.” It’s easy, especially in our sermons, to share practical biblical lessons for living a better life, but the statistics suggest it’s important to always ground these messages in a fundamental truth: Our hope for ongoing life-change is always grounded in the power of Christ working in us to do what we can’t.
But what to do about the 23 percent of respondents who don’t identify sin in their life at all? While there are different approaches to this topic, there are some Christian evangelism experts that suggest taking a different approach in helping people understand what sin even is. In his book The Big Story, author and speaker James Choung shows sin as schism that creates conflict within us, between each other, and between us and our own world.
Unchurched America is still at least vaguely aware of Christian terms like sin, but may have a very different way of understanding what that term is and what it means. What Choung attempts to do is talk about sin in a way that’s undeniable, and show how we are part of the problem.
The challenge then is for those who are communicating biblical truth to our communities to be constantly aware of our different audiences and consider how to bring the important message of sin to where they are at.