The 2018 General Social Survey released and it includes significant news for those who are interested in the spiritual landscape of the United States of America. According to Ryan Burge:
The trend lines are telling. The number of Evangelicals have been on the decline since the 1990s spike/high point. Meanwhile, the “Nones” have been steadily increasing in the same time frame. Burge has a good piece at Christianity Today in which he states,
The difference between these groups is not statistically significant at this point; but I see no reason to think that the nones will level off anytime soon. If the nones maintain their growth while evangelicals stagnate, it is statistically inevitable that those of no religious faith will be the largest group in America in the next five years.
Wow. Read that again.
As Evangelicals, the statistical reality is a clear call to us on the levels of urgency, prayer, action, and relationships.
Urgency. The numbers can lull you to sleep or excite the “news hound” within you. But we must not give into the temptation that these are just numbers in a sterile study. That 23.1% of our population claims no religious affiliation signals that they have zero sense of their eternal destiny. We should a passion to see that change. Not a “Jonah” passion that wanted to see Nineveh overturned with fire and brimstone. We need God’s passion who wanted to see Nineveh overturned with grace and redemption.
Prayer. The pattern of the church’s history is clear: great spiritual movements in the culture are preceded by great prayer movements in the church. Prayer is where the mission of God enraptures the heart of His people. Prayer should drive us from our slumbering church programs and into the powerful work the Spirit is doing in the lives of the lost. Your prayer offered at the time of crisis in a neighbor’s life or in celebration of their joys will be a witness of what you believe about God and His role in our lives. Your private prayers for the salvation of the lost here, there, and everywhere matter. They will plow up your heart as you pray for God to plow up the soil in the lost’s heart.
Action. Almost a quarter of 327 million citizens in the United States are adrift in thinking about God. In fact, they are not even thinking about God. As they take no action, it must move us to missional action on their behalf. Charles Spurgeon is attributed with the statement, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” We must stop living as if we have home-field advantage in this Western culture. We do not. We live in Babylon. We need to act on behalf of our neighbor in both compassion and conversation about the Gospel. Waiting does nothing for God’s glory, your maturity, or the salvation of your lost neighbor.
Relationships. Not too many years ago, you could easily go door-to-door and witness to your neighbors about Jesus. The lost could keep up with the truth claims about the Bible and Christ. Not any more. We are facing a culture that is generationally-removed from Christianity. In order to introduce the claims of the Gospel, we need to befriend the one held captive to sin. Drive-by evangelistic practices are ineffective and insulting to the non-religious. The church — you and I — must invest in friendships with the lost. We must include them in our circle of believing friends so the grace of God can be visible to them. We must invite them into a relationship with Jesus where He is King and they are His happy people. Debate has its place and is needed. Hierarchical apologetics is necessary in an era that has jettisoned the possibility of absolute truth. But from my observations, relationships are a non-negotiable for us to interact, win a hearing, and present the Gospel to a lost neighbor.
The church has operated under more dire circumstances. In our very age, millions of believers are violently persecuted for their faith in places like China and Iran. Yet, the church has grown in number and power. Just as it did in the 1st Century. Let the studies inform you and let the Spirit of God empower you. Go out and make some trouble for God’s grace in our sometimes non-religious landscape.