Once upon a time, long, long ago (like in the 1970s) the churches in America began realizing that they were out of touch with the waves of change that were sweeping over the land. The problem first hit the “mainline” churches, who tended to be more liberal and more invested in the western culture. Being tied too closely to modernity, they were being left behind as modernity itself was being supplanted by post-modernity.
Evangelical churches, long having proclaimed the importance of a personal and direct relationship with Jesus Christ, found themselves growing in popularity. The emphasis upon relationship struck a cord with the younger generation. And the sense of having a core of solid, biblical answers to many of life’s questions appealed even to slightly older folk who were bewildered by the speed of change in America.
Most Evangelical churches today are still growing or at least holding steady (but getting older). But I believe cultural changes are continuing and the younger folk are losing track of the priority of relationships. I don’t mean they have no struggles with loneliness or that they no longer need each other as much as did earlier generations.
What I mean is that our technologies — and their marketers — have hijacked a whole generation with incredible deceit. Even our language is being changed. “Icon” is no longer a religious term but is instead a trivial little image that saves people the trouble of reading a word or two. “Community,” which once meant a group of people in communion, now means strangers who click each others’ Facebook pages.
The very concept of relationship now is trivialized. The social bonds between people are so broken that even when people are together, they prefer talking or texting with someone who is not present. The time that is necessary to build real friendships makes seems unrealistic for people whose attention span has been reduced to a matter of minutes.
Evangelicals have worked very, very hard to stay relevant to the ever-changing culture. American journalists have pretty much neglected this reality as if it were itself irrelevant, but in fact the rapid growth of hundreds of churches across America is a powerful statement about the vitality of the church of Jesus Christ.
But I believe we are on the cusp of a whole new phase in American culture. When our commercial powers have finished their self-assigned task of making people more lonely and therefore more susceptible to manipulation, the emotional and spiritual bankruptcy will be devastating.
What will be needed is not a church that works hard at being relevant to the fickle winds of change but a church that returns to its true calling: To follow Jesus Christ and invite others to know him ever more deeply. We’ve followed our culture too long and have become shallow. We’ve been slower at it than the more liberal churches but nevertheless, we’ve followed the same path of trying to tie into a dying culture.
It is time that we hear what Richard Foster wrote ‘way back in those 70s: “What the world needs today is not people of greater intelligence but people of greater depth.”
Do you dare ask the Lord to deepen your heart, soul, and mind???