“There’s something going on in culture that will have a substantive impact on the future of that Cubbie today,” said Dr. Ed Stetzer during his talk at the Child Discipleship Forum this past year.
According to the author, researcher, and professor and dean at Wheaton College, the divide between Nominal Christians (those who identify as Christian, but don’t shape their lives around the Christian faith) and Convictional Christians (those who attend church regularly and shape their lives by their faith convictions) is growing. Add to that the events of the past two years, and there is a “cultural convulsion” taking place.
Culture, social media and the pandemic have impacted America; people are finding themselves in debates about masks, vaccines, police activity and riots. And it’s dividing congregations. “In my experience there has never been a more difficult time to lead,” he said.
“Fifty years ago, Americans who said they were Christians stuck together. Convictional Christians used to have a buffer of Nominal Christians supporting them, but that has switched.
How the Changing Culture Impacts Our Churches
According to Ed there are five main implications because of this change.
1. Less nominally connected parents are attending church or bringing their kids to church.
2. With church seen as less important to nominally connected parents, children will grow up with a lack of commitment to the Church.
3. As parents continue to be discipled by their cable news program and political affiliations, “which distorts biblical Christianity,” they increasingly seek out churches that align with their ideology, rather than be concerned about a church’s theology.
For example, said Ed, if a church says you need to wear masks “25% of the people say you’re a compromised coward.” If you don’t mandate masks, “25% say you don’t care about people.” Then there are strong opinions over whether your church mentioned “George Floyd, summer riots, capitol riots, etc. … People are keeping track and are changing churches over it.”
4. Traditional Christian values will continue to be marginalized at the center of culture.
“It is now increasingly unacceptable in polite society to believe that Jesus is the only way, to believe that men and women are created in the image of God, to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman for a lifetime, to believe things that 20 years ago were what mainstream culture believed.”
5. Children will grow up in a syncretistic culture of paganism, pluralism, American Evangelicalism and biblical Christianity, and their beliefs will reflect that.
Ed said he doesn’t discount what Jesus can do, but that “there are some things we’ve got to disciple into God’s people and some things we’ve got to disciple out of God’s people.”
What Churches Can Do in the Changing Culture
Ed suggests churches use available tools (“Awana is a tool.”) and engage in the following:
1. Develop and teach a robust ecclesiology. “We need to tell people again why it matters that we are [a Church] and who we are as a Church.”
2. The Church must tackle the real problems of biblical literacy, engaging the Scriptures at a higher, more effective level.
3. “Churches must untangle themselves from the culture and from American Evangelicalism by developing a deeper understanding of both the kingdom and the mission of God.”
We Can Be the Light in Our Changing Culture
Although the landscape is challenging, Ed believes we can be “a substantial ray of light” if we will take up the charge to disciple the next generation to be resilient …”prepared to live as a cultural minority … showing and sharing the love of Jesus. “[Disciples] who are not being caught up in the ways of the world, not being driven by the ideology of the moment, but [are] being shaped by the power of the Gospel, being informed, trained and walking in the truths of the Scripture and in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Said Ed: “That is my prayer. And that is my prayer for you.”
For more on this topic:
To read other blogs in the CDF Highlights series:
Valerie Bell – Making Resilient Disciples Amid Cultural Shifts
Darren Whitehead – It’s Discipling Kids More Than the Church; What Can the Church Do About It?