Just yesterday I was driving to a lunch of Missional leaders and thinkers that happens every 3rd Thursday in Elizabethtown. As I was driving I was listening to a CD by Justin McRoberts. As I was listening to the song "When it Don't come easy", which is a cover originally done by Patty Griffin, I realized this song perfectly echoes where I feel the church in America currently is. Let me share the song lyrics with you, and then unpack a few of the lyrics and relate it to a study that recently came out from the Barna group.
Red lights are flashing down the highway I wonder if we're gonna ever get home I wonder if we're gonna ever get home tonight Everywhere the water's getting rough Your best intentions may not be enough I wonder if we're gonna ever get home tonight
But if you break down, I'll drive out and find you If you forget my love, I'll try to remind you And stay by you when it don't come easy
I don't know nothing except change will come Year after year what we do is undone Time keeps moving from a crawl to a run I wonder if we're gonna ever get home You're out there walking down a highway And all of the signs got blown away Sometimes you wonder if you're walking in the wrong direction
So many things that I had before That don't matter to me now Tonight I cry for the love that I've lost And the love I've never found When the last bird falls And the last siren sounds Someone will say what's been said before Some love we were looking for
So why do I believe this song perfectly echoes the situation that I believe the church finds itself in? Just look at the 2nd verse with lines like, "i don't know nothing but change will come" and especially the last 2 lines, "and all of the signs got blown away. Sometimes you wonder if you're walking in the wrong direction." The ground underneath our feet is shifting, and shifting fast. Like he said, "time keeps moving from a crawl to a run" our culture is changing faster and faster. Some have called our time a time of discontinuous change. All the signs that use to point us in the right direction have been blown away and we aren't sure we are heading in the right direction.
As leaders in the church, we are looking for signs to guide us in the right way. We are looking for the magic bullet that will bring us back to the "glory days". We are looking for ways that will "return America to God". But those days are long gone and we need to realize that we are in the midst of a systemic change in culture that a little tweak here and there of church won't even come close to addressing. As Einstein once said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
This systemic change that is happening all around us has been labeled many things. The two main changes that are happening together at the same time that I believe pose the biggest challenge (and as well the biggest opportunity) to the American Church is postmodernity and post-Christendom.
So what got me thinking about all of this? It was a study done by the Barna group addressing the 100 most post-Christian cities in America.
(The study can be found here: http://cities.barna.org/the-most-post-christian-cities-in-america There is a couple of things that stood out to me. Out of the top 10 cities 8 of them are in the Northeastern part of the country. (not a surprise). That Seattle and Portland weren't in the top ten (surprised). That Lancaster (teamed up with Harrisburg, York and Lebanon) made the list at number 38 (not surprised that it was on the list). And that Lancaster was above Austin, TX, Salt Lake City, UT, and Detroit, MI (surprised).
Now you might be asking what makes a city more Post Christian than another. According to their study, this is how Barna defines whether a city is Post-Christian, Highly Post-Christian or not at all.
Post-Christian = meet at least 60% of the following 15 factors (9 or more factors)
Highly Post-Christian = meet at least 80% of the following 15 factors (12 or more factors)
And what are those 15 factors?
1. do not believe in God 2. identify as atheist or agnostic 3. disagree that faith is important in their lives 4. have not prayed to God (in the last year) 5. have never made a commitment to Jesus 6. disagree the Bible is accurate 7. have not donated money to a church (in the last year) 8. have not attended a Christian church (in the last year) 9. agree that Jesus committed sins 10. do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith” 11. have not read the Bible (in the last week) 12. have not volunteered at church (in the last week) 13. have not attended Sunday school (in the last week) 14. have not attended religious small group (in the last week) 15. do not participate in a house church (in the last year)
Now you might have some issues with how Barna defines post-Christian. I have some minor issues with the list. But suffice it to say, if it is even at least a little accurate, then we are definitely feeling the affects of postmodernity, and post-Christendom.
You see this article confirmed two things for me. First, it confirmed what we are finding in our mission in Lancaster, especially with younger generations. That even in Lancaster, PA which seems like a hot bed of Christian activity (some call us the Bible Belt of PA) that we are indeed feeling the effects of the postmodern, and post-Christian shifts that are taking place in our wider culture.
The second thing that this article confirmed in me was in the way in which we have chosen to go about planting Veritas, from the perspective of being missionaries in and to our own culture. This also means that planting in a Post-Christian setting as a missionary/missional community will by nature take longer than in other places that are less Post-Christian.
My next blog will focus on how we are seeking to address the postmodern and post-Christendom shifts that are taking place (even in Lancaster, PA)