My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past, present, and future might say to those of us who follow Jesus. Last week I looked into the revelations from the ghost of church past (see the links at the end of this post). And this week we’ll hear from the ghost of church present.
A Missional Reality
There’s a new era dawning. The West in the twenty-first century is a mission field, no matter how you’d like to define that term. The power of Christendom once reigned supreme in the West, but now things are changing. Whereas at one time the wider culture shared basic values with those who follow Jesus, today living a gospel-centered life makes a follower of Jesus really stand out. There are more and more people who are unchurched, de-churched, and/or anti-church.
Where’s the evidence for these claims? I need stats!
Okay, okay. Here are a few:
- There are 50.5 million religiously unaffiliated people in the U.S. — According to the PewResearch, 16.1% of people in the U.S. identify themselves as atheists, agnostics, or not particularly religious. There are 313.9 million people in the U.S. right now, and 16.1% of that total equals 50.5 million. That’s a ton!
- There are 14.75 million people in the U.S. affiliated with religions other than Christianity — Again, according to PewResearch, 4.7% of Americans are affiliated with a religious group that isn’t self-identified as Christian, such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, New Age, etc.
- There are 7.5 millions Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses in the U.S. — PewResearch has found that 2.4% of Americans identify themselves as Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- That means that there are 72.75 million people who explicitly need the gospel! — If you add the three categories above up this is the total you get. And this total makes up 23.18% of our total population. The good news, of course, is that 76.82% are part various Christian groups (Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, etc.).
- There’s a huge number of “Casual Christians” — George Barna, in his book The Seven Faith Tribes, highlights a massive group of people he calls “Casual Christians.” This tribe, according to an interview posted on the Barna Group’s website, “are defined by the desire to please God, family, and other people while extracting as much enjoyment and comfort from the world as possible.” In other words, these are consumer Christians par excellence! How many of these “Casual Christians” are there out there? According to Barna, 66% of the American population is made up of “Casual Christians”! That’s 207.17 million people! I think almost any missionally-minded person would agree that these folks need to be evangelized or re-evangelized!
- So, that brings the total number of people who need a fresh encounter of the gospel up to 279.92 million people. — Friends, that’s massive! If that number holds true, then that means that only 10.83% of the American population is living a life, as Barna put it, “defined by their [Christian] faith.”
- But of those 10.83% of Americans, how are involved in making disciples? — We can’t say for sure. There are some studies that indicate that more than half of Evangelicals share their faith at least once a year, but this data is based on self-reporting. I find it hard to believe that we have such a large percentage of people out there sharing their faith! My guess is that very few people do this. What’s the point? There aren’t that many people actively engaged in reaching those who need to be reached in the U.S.
Jesus said it best in Luke 10.2: “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” So that’s the bare minimum of our call, to pray for more workers for the mission field in the U.S. But if we all could begin to adopt missional postures and incarnational lifestyles, then we could actually become those workers! That’s my prayer, namely that God would turn you and I into missionaries right here in the U.S.!
What do you think of this picture? Let me know in the comments below.