Similar to the experience of grieving the loss of a loved one, I’ve been grieving the decline of Christianity in America.
A person who’s grieving something typically goes through various stages: denial, anger, depression and bargaining. This is where I’ve been “bouncing around” the past decade or so as I think about the church.
Virtually every time I talk to another pastor, I ask the same two questions: What’s going on? And what should we as pastors be doing about it? Everyone I’ve talked to is perplexed. One threw up his hands and said he’s just trying to hang on until retirement.
This is the context for a book I recently completed. It’s entitled “Disappearing Church” by Mark Sayers. It’s only 167 pages, but I found it full of insight and even some encouragement & hope for the future. In my next few articles, I’d like to summarize some of the things I’ve learned.
The book begins with Sayers acknowledging a number of disappearances:
1. The ongoing disappearance of the Judeo-Christian worldview from Western culture.
2. The disappearance of a large number of people who are leaving churches and walking away from active faith.
3. The disappearance of thousands of churches across America, as churches close or begin the process of winding down.
4. The disappearance of a mode of church engagement characterized by commitment, resilience, and sacrifice. In its place, a new mode of disengaged Christian faith and church interaction is emerging. This new mode is characterized by sporadic engagement, passivity, commitment phobia, and a consumerist framework.
This is a great summary of the symptoms that I’ve been noting for some time. It’s not just Harlan, IA, but nation-wide.
Consistent with most sociologists, Sayers defines the American culture as “post-Christian.” However, he has an interesting spin on what that means. In his own words:
“Many have understood post-Christianity as a kind of religious year zero, a mass amnesia in which the West has forgotten its Christian past, and in which we have returned to a kind of pre-Christian reality. This assumption can have dramatic effects on how we perceive the task of mission in the West. [In my view], post-Christianity is not pre-Christianity; rather, post-Christianity attempts to move beyond Christianity, while simultaneously feasting upon its fruits.
Post-Christian culture attempts to retain the solace of faith, while gutting it of the costs, commitments, and restraints that the gospel places upon the individual will. Post-Christianity intuitively yearns for the justice and shalom of the kingdom, while defending the reign of the individual will. Post-Christianity is Christianity emptied of its content.”
This is powerful . . . especially his point that how we understand the culture will determine how we attempt to engage it through mission. One of the main arguments of the book is that we’ve been engaging it WRONG. This will be the topic of next weeks’ article.