BY DR. STEVE DUNN
Part 1 of a Series: “Outside the Box”
“To reach people no one else is reaching you’ll have to do things no one else is doing.” -Craig Groeschel
I have been thinking a lot lately about reaching an increasingly unchurched culture with the Good News of the Gospel. Still too much of the church is content with rearranging those who have already embraced the Good News–bringing in people with Christian roots who have grown dissatisfied with the church of their origins. Yet there is a huge part of the population that are classified as “none’s”, not identifying with any church. In fact. Pew Research reports these disturbing facts:
Religious “nones” – a shorthand we use to refer to people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” – now make up roughly 23% of the U.S. adult population. This is a stark increase from 2007, the last time a similar Pew Research study was conducted, when 16% of Americans were “nones.” (During this same time period, Christians have fallen from 78% to 71%.) (Pew)
In America, Catholicism has for a long-time had the most adherents, with Protestants holding down second place. The nones now occupy second place. And these statistics are largely based on the survey respondents “self-identification.” None of this means that these persons are functioning fruitfully and faithfully as genuine disciples of Jesus Christ. Outreach Magazine
Based on in-depth research by David T. Olson and another set by sociologists C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler, we are seeing that this statement from the Evangelical Covenant Church to be most descriptive:
In our increasingly post-Christian era, 83% of Americans do not attend church. Nearly 1/3 of young people under 30 are religiously unaffiliated. Every year, more than 3,000 churches shut their doors, never to open again. Myriad challenges – from rapid demographic change to tepid evangelism – render churches ineffective in communities across the country.
Yet church attendance, already abysmal, is still no guarantee that all of those who claim to be Christians and attend church regularly (or irregularly) are persons who have been genuinely transformed by a faith relationship with Jesus Christ.
Marler and Hadaway report that while the majority of Christians they interviewed don’t belong to a local church, they still identify with their church roots. “Never mind the fact that they attend church less than 12 times a year,” Marler observes. “We estimate that 78 million Protestants are in that place. Ask most pastors what percentage of inactive members they have—they’ll say anything from 40–60 percent.” (quoting from Outreach-April 10, 2018)
Churches continue to be concerned with the “already persuaded” instead of the “yet to be convinced.” Is it any wonder why we are not reaching people who no one else is reaching?
It is time to think outside the box–past time for too long. The eternal destiny of millions depends upon our getting effectively serious about living out the Great Commission.
What do you think we need to do?
In my next post, I will share some thoughts on what we need to do to not only think outside the box but climb out of it, as well, where the unreached people live.
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