Man…am I excited. The reinvention of Christianity – called renewal or restoration – is beginning to surface in North America. We have predicted – and worked for this – for years. How affirming!
On 1/10/12, it was the YouTube clip by Jeff Bethke, “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus.” Viewed by 20 million and counting, the poem landed him appearances on CBS This Morning and ABC’s Nightline. Understandably, he got both on-fire reviews and major criticisms. What’s it all about?
Did You See It Coming?
I’ve seen this ferment for a decade in Europe – a good foreshadow for what God’s doing next on this side of the Atlantic…and elsewhere. I wrote about it last year in The Future is Now e-book. Our evidence base is our work as Church Doctors (consultants), to churches over the past three decades…and a major trend emerging over the last five years.
In a March 12, 2012, article in Time Magazine, Amy Sullivan contributes, “The Rise of the Nones.” “Nones” are those who, responding to the recent U.S. Census, say they have “no religious affiliation.” This group has doubled since 1990, to 16% of the population. Sullivan notes that “nearly every religious tradition has suffered…but the hunger for spiritual connection and community hasn’t gone away.” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports from a 2009 survey that 40% of the unaffiliated people are fairly religious. Pew director Luis Lugo reflects: “many said they were still hoping to eventually find the right religious home.”
Many Christians hear this stuff and get defensive: “They are trying to do away with the church.” However, our work at Church Doctor Ministries, especially in the Healthy Churches Thrive! initiative, has demonstrated something beyond the surface. We are convinced that the day of the church is not over. The problem is about what almost every church has become. And this did not happen yesterday. Churches carry centuries of baggage. Many are anemic. With each emerging generation, the way Christians “do church” is seen increasingly as irrelevant, and this is raising the numbers of spiritually searching “Nones.” This is especially true of young adults, who David Kinnaman identifies as “nomads and prodigals” in his book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith.
For many, the church has become increasingly institutionalized. At its heart, Christianity, launched by Jesus, is a movement. When it is institutionalized, people get turned off. Some call it “religion.” But the local church can become a movement again. This is an issue of culture – the single most important ingredient to healthy, attractive churches. The Christian church has drifted far from the New Testament culture that exploded the movement across the Mediterranean world of the 1st century.
Culture consists of five overlapping, intertwined elements – like a DNA helix. The complex that makes up culture includes, (1) values – what is important; (2) beliefs – what we really believe; (3) attitudes – our “life-posture” before God; (4) priorities – what we will most often and consistently do first; and (5) worldviews – the way we see the world (of the church) and understand how that world works.
The Jesus Epidemic
The shift in the way you approach “doing church” requires a major transformation. The following issues may feel counter-intuitive to those who suffer from cultural drift.
- Christianity is primarily a movement, not an institution.
- A movement spreads from the bottom up, not the top down.
- A movement is a process, not a quick-fix program.
- The culture of a movement is more caught than taught.
- The movement is not primarily about what you do, but who you are, and what you become.
- A movement is transmitted through relational modeling, which Jesus called making disciples, and supplemented by mass teaching.
- A movement is effectively transmitted, not so much in large gatherings, but like the flu, one person at a time – through relational networking.
- Christianity spreads, not so much engineered as an organization, club, or institution, but like an epidemic.
- The formula for the Jesus epidemic is more experiential than academic.
- A movement is organic and spontaneous and occurs, not as addition, but exponential multiplication.
It is time for the church to reinvent biblical culture to the movement Jesus launched. Evidence shows that it is difficult (but very possible), produces spiritual results, and has already begun in North America.