(Photo: Mecklenburg Community Church)
A growing number of Christians, especially among the younger generations, are in jeopardy of being swallowed up by today's cultural norms and secular thinking, only to become unaffiliated to any church or denomination, says the author of The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated.
"We are living in a decisively post-Christian culture and I think it's taking its toll on existing evangelicals and the church in a way that is creating more and more nominal Christians on the way to 'nones' who self-described themselves as evangelicals earlier," author and pastor James Emery White, of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, said in a recent interview with Ed Stetzer, host of The Exchange.
The "nones" are described as the fastest-growing "religious group" of our day – one in five Americans identify themselves as having no religious affiliation. During the interview, Stetzer quoted one survey that showed 3 in 10 college age students are "nones."
White expressed concern about the negative impact today's culture is having on the church.
"Even among card-carrying Christians and even among evangelicals … they are increasingly thinking in a secular way," White explained. "They are thinking the way the world thinks and that's what makes it so scary for future generations and also the way culture will be able to continue to shape them and move them further and further away because we are so affected by the media which tells us how to think and more importantly what to think about, and it's affecting us greatly because we throw in secularization and you don't have the cultural props to keep faith vibrant and robust."
If one adds the influence of culture and media together, the combination is "a recipe for a fast rise of the 'nones,' [and] a fast rise away from Christian values," he said. "We will be seeing this on various social issues, things that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago are now mainstream. The reason I think that's happening more frequently is because the cultural context is suited to it."
Christians have a responsibility to reach out to the "nones" by sincerely caring for their salvation instead of focusing more on themselves, White said during the webcast.
"We (church community at large) only care about our own needs being met because a spiritual narcissism has invaded the church," he said. "There is a consumer mindset that has crept into the church and it's not megachurches selling out the culture. The consumer mindset, the narcissism is within the believer, so you hear things like, 'I need to go where I am being fed' as opposed to feeding ourselves or maybe feeding someone else. We talk about 'I need to go where I am ministered to' as if that's the goal of the church instead of you being the minister. We talk about, 'Well, I just walked out of a worship service and I didn't get anything out of it,' which is heresy because the worship service has nothing to do with what you get out of it, the question is did God get anything out of it?"
He added, "If it's about you then you are the focus of worship and that is completely heretical. If you are not willing to die to yourself in any of these consumer ways you are not going to do what it takes to either change the church or reach out to someone for the Gospel. Until we get closer to the heart of the issue, which is the heart of the believer, I think we are just going to be just putting band aids on a terminal disease."
According to LifeWay, in a promotion for his book, "White lends his prophetic voice to one of the most important conversations the church needs to be having today. He calls churches to examine their current methods of evangelism, which often result only in transfer growth – Christians moving from one church to another – rather than in reaching the 'nones.' The pastor of a megachurch that is currently experiencing 70 percent of its growth from the unchurched, White knows how to reach this growing demographic, and here he shares his ministry strategies with concerned pastors and church leaders."
On the Web: http://www.churchandculture.org.