The so-called Christian culture is going… going… gone. We need to get ready for what’s next. One of the first things we need to change are our assumptions, especially as pastors and church leaders. Specifically, we need to stop assuming these eight things of people – whether they’re unchurched, new to the church, or even long-time attenders.
- That They Are Biblically Literate. Pastors can no longer start a Bible lesson with a phrase like “we all know the story of…” They don’t all know about David and Goliath, Moses and the Red Sea, or Jesus in the manger. And they can’t “turn with me in your Bible” any more. Many of them don’t own a Bible – at least not a print version. We need to recognize the problem of biblical illiteracy, then seize the opportunities created by this change.
- That They Know the Importance of Church Attendance. Consistent, committed attenders used to go to church three times a week. Now, according to experts, it’s approximately three times a month. In some places, twice a month is considered the new normal. This has profound implications for the way we do everything in church, from the strength of our relationships, to the amount of time and money people give, to what they expect of the pastoral staff.
- That They Know The Importance of Consistent Giving. Today’s churchgoers don’t necessarily give less, but they do give differently. While previous generations gave out of a sense of duty, today’s and tomorrow’s givers do so based on a perceived sense of value. So we need to regularly show them the real-life results of that giving, through the lives of people they care about and causes that matter to them.
- That They Are Politically Conservative or Republican. In America, Bible Belt evangelicals are overwhelmingly conservative Republicans. Northern Mainline Protestants are predominantly liberal Democrats. The next generation isn’t likely to follow either of those trends. Instead, they’re more likely to embrace ideas, friends and churches that can have civil conversations from a variety of political standpoints. They’ll even frustrate us by embracing contradictory viewpoints. We have to stop assuming that everyone who believes in Jesus also shares our political views.
- That They Are Aware Of And Agree with Biblical Sexual Ethics. As ministers, we can spend a lot of time teaching, debating and arguing the finer points of sexual ethics, from gay marriage to premarital sex to gender identity and more. But when someone comes to faith in Christ today, not only can we not assume they will want to follow a biblical moral code, many will have no idea there is one to follow. They are more likely to see sexual ethics as a politically-based opinion than a morally correct truth. That doesn’t change the truth, but it does change the way we teach the truth and the assumptions we make about the people who are listening.
- That They Have an Understanding Of What Sin Is. Like sexual ethics, the idea of sin is increasingly passé for most people. “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” often won’t convince people any more. Instead, they need to know the “why” behind biblically-prescribed behaviors and prohibitions. We need to walk with people through the real-world effects of their decisions, including being transparent about our own failings and their consequences.
- That They Understand the Need For Salvation. If there’s no understanding of sin, there’s no desire for salvation. Instead of knowing they’re lost, people feel lonely and disconnected. An awareness of sin has given way to a sense of hopelessness. And self-discovery has replaced a desire to be saved. People still need Jesus. But the terms they use to describe that need have changed.
It isn’t necessary for the church to adopt every new term that comes along. But we need to be aware of them so we can understand what people are trying to tell us. Only then will we be able to communicate compassionate truth in a way they’ll be able to hear.
- That They Believe in Salvation Through Christ Alone. Even after being drawn to Jesus, people are more likely to try to add Jesus to their current lifestyle than to abandon sinful behaviors as a necessary element in embracing biblical discipleship. The idea that there are multiple paths to truth is more palatable to post-Christian people than accepting Jesus’ claim of exclusivity. Presenting the truth of the exclusivity of Christ as a means to salvation will be the toughest battle the church will face in the next generation or two. But it’s a battle worth fighting.
Jesus is not a way, he is the way. A lot of other things may change, but that cannot.