Here’s the problem: Christianity in North America is disintegrating.
The exodus hasn’t begun, it’s almost done.
I’m not suggesting that tomorrow we’ll wake up and all the churches will be gone. In fact, despite an era of decline, many churches believe they are immune. But the data doesn’t lie. Few churches specifically grow through evangelism. Some churches, ones that are well resourced, might be growing through new Christian immigrants, or births in the congregation, or Christians switching churches, but few are baptizing those who never went to church, let alone those who don’t know the stories.
Why is this happening?
I believe one of the critical reasons why the church is declining is because we’ve lost our ability to tell the gospel story in ways outsiders can understand.
It’s happening because the church is, dare I say, incompetent at connecting with people who don’t fit a bygone worldview.
Here’s what I mean.
I have a friend who was over, and while I was telling a story about a piece of art on my wall I remarked that it was an Ethiopian coptic cross. It’s clearly a cross–to me. He remarked nonchalantly, “Oh, I thought it was a key.”
There was a young woman in a history of reformation class in University who shot up her hand to get quick clarification on a particular word. “What do you mean by the word, ‘sin’?”
It’s the next generation who look upon a crucifix and wonder aloud, “what’s that dude doing hanging from a plus (+) sign?”
Churches that are traditional, contemporary, liturgical, etc., assume that people will come to them for answers. Think about your grandma’s church. That church could assume most people knew the stories in the Bible, had some connection to the symbols, and at least understood the language that was used in the church. When people needed answers to life’s questions, they went to the church, and the church could sit and wait for them to come.
That church inherited privilege and power in society.
Times have changed, but the church hasn’t shifted operations.
I live in an urban context where the church has no inherited voice. The beliefs shared, and the manner that the gospel story is told no longer resonates. The reason why has to do with religion, or the lack thereof.
The fastest growing religious segment is actually a NO religion. The term is the religious “nones.” At this rate, in just over two decades, half of all Americans will claim no religious affiliation. Canada will beat them to the punch, where today 1/4 of Canadians are the nones. The nones are people who don’t know Christian stories, have no theological understanding, no religious memory, and definitely don’t know the language and symbols we cherish in church culture.
What would it look like to bridge this gap?
Not a return for the church back to inherited privilege.
Not to attract these nones into the catchy evening service.
Rather, I believe the gospel story–the story of Jesus–connects with innate human longings, regardless of whether or not you’ve heard a sermon before.
Could you tell a gospel story in a way that resonates with the nones?
What would it sound like?
What does re-imagining the Gospel sound like?
(I’m not suggesting re-inventing, I’m curious about re-telling.)
First, let’s revisit some basics. Questions that even lifelong Christians have a hard time answering like, “why does Jesus have to die, what does a death accomplish, how does a death fix anything, what is the Gospel?”
I went ahead and asked a number of Christians, young and old, to give me their answers to these questions. The results?
Not one answer was the same.
Personally, I wasn’t bothered by that one bit. I see it as a testament of how big God is. That gospel encounters us in our context; that is after all the power of incarnation. However, I do believe there is a powerful story, a central narrative around the gospel, that is crucial to our witness.There is a powerful story, a central narrative around the gospel, that is crucial to our witness. Click To Tweet
What story am I talking about? What story would I share to the nones that would resonate with the depths of their humanity?
Quite simply it’s God’s story.
God’s story that’s remained unchanged since the beginning of time. From the book of Genesis to Revelation, God’s story proclaims a hope of reclamation and restoration. It’s a promise to finally undo the power of evil and usher in a kingdom reign where all wrongs are turned right. At its climax, this story has the cross and the work of Jesus.
But before we reach the climax, we have to start at the very beginning.
In the beginning, the Triune God, in an outpouring act of love, created.
God created, the birds of the air, the fish of sea, and the bugs in your hand. The pinnacle of that creation, distinct from all the others, emerged. Humanity. Humanity uniquely chosen to incredibly bear the image and likeness of the Creator. Our own story, our human identity begins here–in original goodness.
The story doesn’t end with humanity, rather the purpose of those seven days is what we glimpse on that seventh day. Not mere rest, but the depth and completeness–shalom. Before God’s story barely gets off the ground we get a glimpse for what the final hope, the total dream that God has, looks like.
But it’s only a glimpse, because as soon as it appears it’s lost. And, as the story goes, throughout history people do what is right in their own eyes, and turn from God’s hope and dream for us. Yet, throughout the twists and turns God’s story never wavers–reclaim what was lost on that seventh day.
We are back at the climax of the story–the cross. The cross as the invitation for you to live out your image-bearing likeness. To be drawn into the context of a new family, and find your adopted identity in the fulness of who God has created you to be. The cross is an exercise that proclaims that the creator of the universe would care to know my name and pour out his life for me. A place where I don’t have to try to defeat all of the trash in my life on my own, because I can’t. But I can share the victory over all that disconnects me from living out the fullness of my humanity.
How would I re-imagine the gospel story for the Christian, done, none, or other? I’d tell God’s story about the chase for beauty and the restoration of all brokenness; of justice and the righting of wrongs completely; of hope and a story of purpose and belonging; and most of all, one of love. A love that goes to the very end, where no one else will go–and then one step more.
This is the story I would tell.
It’s God’s good news for us.