This is the second part of a series I’ve entitled, “Love Where You Live.” (You can find the first part here.) My desire is to shed light on some missiological truths about evangelism and provide you with practical ways you can reach people for Christ.
As I previously noted, it would be a mistake to view the decline of cultural Christianity in North America as signaling the decline of Christianity as a whole around the globe. Nevertheless, the North American church does have unique challenges to confront.
The Sky Is Falling—Or Is It?
Few would disagree with the claim that Christianity in the West has increasingly found itself on the cultural margins, driven by the winds of what Lesslie Newbigin called “religious pluralism.” That is, “[r]eligious belief is a private matter. Each of us is entitled to have—as we say a faith of our own.”1
This insistence on the privatization of faith will continue to exert significant pressure on the ministry of the church in various contexts. The church in North America is facing a moment of reckoning, as we confront the reality of declining attendance and cultural opposition.
Daniel Im confirms this trend:
Over the past few decades another shift has occurred—the Church has moved from the center of the culture and increasingly to the side. In some places, like the U.S. North East, provinces like Quebec, and cities like Portland, this shift occurred years ago. In other states and regions (like in the U.S. South), the shift has just begun. Although there’s been a greater emphasis on church planting and church growth, and church attendance has been relatively steady, the culture has not changed for the most part. In fact, it has become increasingly secular and pluralistic, with more people declaring “none” as their religious status. The writing on the wall is clear: Christians have lost their home field advantage.2
While many are (prematurely) predicting the end of Christianity in the West, it is a far cry from reality. The reality is that the church in the West merely can no longer assume the place of cultural priority.
I see this as advantageous, a door of opportunity. David Bosch, a prolific South African missiologist, reminded us, “We can no longer speak of mission as if it were simply an option for the church. We must instead speak of mission as the very essence of the church.”3 To be effective in reaching an ever-changing culture, the church must be willing to adapt and innovate while staying true to the core message of the gospel. Yes, culture has shifted, but historically the Church has generally been most missionally-focused in uncertain, even culturally hostile, times.
Small Shifts Make a Big Difference
Most of us who answered God’s call to work in church leadership did so precisely because we wanted to see people who are far from God find a flourishing relationship with Jesus. But if we’re honest with ourselves, evangelism can often find itself in the backseat (or even the trunk!) of the church ministry vehicle. We tend toward either inaction (because we’re overwhelmed, anxious, or too busy) or complexity (over-thinking elaborate plans or even over-contextualizing outreach strategies).
1Lesslie Newbigin, “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society” (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1989), 14.
2Daniel Im 2016. “Seismic Shifts and a Missional Response.” https://www.danielim.com/2016/10/04/seismic-shifts-missional-response/.
3David Bosch, “Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission,” Orbis Books, 1991.