The state of the Church in the United States in 2010 is quite complex and even enigmatic. On one hand, the Church is facing some formidable challenges. On the other hand, there are many encouraging opportunities that God is affording us for effective evangelizing during this decade leading up to 2020.
Challenges for the Church Today
Let us first explore several challenges facing the Church in the United States today.
The Church and culture. The most concerning challenge is that the Church in the U.S. is becoming more and more like the culture—it is losing its saltiness. Surveys convey that it is becoming more and more difficult to distinguish a Christian from a non-Christian. Christians in the U.S. have the same percentage rates of divorce, alcoholism, and pornography addiction as do non-Christians.
Both George Gallup and George Barna tell us that less than ten percent of professing Christians in America (who appear to be meeting the biblical criteria of being committed Christians) are seeking to follow Jesus as Lord and desiring to live holy, Christ-exalting lives.
As a former pastor, I am deeply grieved to hear these kinds of reports. I can only pray they are greatly exaggerated. When the Church becomes indistinguishable from the culture, it is no longer effective.
Personality worship. A second major challenge is the personality worship of various Christian leaders, including many mega-church pastors. This is not exclusively a contemporary problem. The Apostle Paul encountered the same challenge in the early Corinthian Church when he acknowledged that there was a serious situation dividing the Christian family. Some said they were following Paul, others Apollos, while for others it was Cephas (1 Corinthians 1:12).
Paul confronted this sin clearly and strongly. Unfortunately, few seem to be confronting it today. We are captured once again by a culture that is immersed in personality worship of athletes, movie and television stars, and others in the entertainment business. The fastest growing magazines and television programs are focused on reporting the personal and intimate lives of leading personalities.
As a result, many Christian leaders seem to have a higher priority on building their own personal kingdoms than the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, there are many more humble servant leaders who are being empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit in following in the steps of Jesus and the servant leadership style that he so clearly modeled for us.
Other challenges. Space does not allow for an investigation of other challenges we are facing, including:
- growing divisions between various theological camps (including an attitude of spiritual superiority by some),
- a strong independent spirit of an increasing number of pastors and congregations,
- the lack of accountability to Christ and his larger Church, and
- the politicalization of the gospel by many zealous Christians.
Opportunities for the Church Today
As we acknowledge the challenges and repent of our sins, we can also be greatly encouraged by opportunities the Lord is giving to the U.S. Church.
The economic downturn. I believe the present economic downturn is a gift from God to the Church in the U.S. For decades, we as a nation have worshiped at the altar of materialism. And some of the Church has followed that path. Like the Laodicean Church, increasing numbers of Christians believe that we are rich, have acquired great wealth, and have need of nothing (Revelation 3:17).
God is giving us the opportunity to repent of this sin. It will require that we get along with less, sacrifice more, and be increasingly dependent upon the Lord for his miraculous supply. I am sorry for those who are suffering as a result of our recession, but I am convinced that the redemptive possibilities far outweigh the negative consequences.
Persecution. I have personally heard of more instances of persecution of Christians in the U.S. during the last couple of years than in the past fifty years combined. Although our experiences of persecution pale in comparison to many of our brothers and sisters around the world, persecution is beginning to take place in growing proportions in this nation.
Biblical and church history teach us that the Church has grown most vigorously and deeply during days of persecution. That trend began shortly after Pentecost and continues to this day. We pray that our Lord will use any persecution that we may experience to strengthen and deepen Christians and the Church in the U.S.
Secularization. Most of us recognize that many negative expressions of the secularization of the Western World have been wrought upon the Christian Church. However, I would contend that the secularization movement also offers opportunities for effective evangelization. A number of years ago I had the privilege of participating in my first Lausanne international consultation. I was assigned to the working group that was focusing on evangelizing nominal Christians.
We identified that sharing the gospel in deed and word with nominal Christians was perhaps the most difficult type of evangelism we experienced within the North American culture. Those who were merely cultural Christians (not authentic Christ followers) frequently did not sense the need for genuine spiritual conversion. They believed they were Christians and did not need to deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow Jesus. There are still many nominal Christians in the United States.
There are also increasingly large numbers of Americans who are totally ignorant of Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. This gives us the opportunity that Paul and others had in the first century. We need to share the gospel in deed and word with freshness, simplicity, and power.
Collaboration. If there is any one lesson our Lord has been teaching those of us involved in the U.S. Lausanne Committee (Mission America Coalition) during the past seventeen years, it has been the power of spiritual collaboration in evangelizing. We have experienced an incredible move of the Holy Spirit in drawing Christian leaders together to collaborate in sharing the gospel with men, women, young people, and children. We have 483 Christian leaders from various denominations, ministries, city/community movements, ministry networks, local churches, and marketplace ministries.
We invite you to join us by connecting with us at www.MissionAmerica.org, www.Cityreaching.com, Mission America Coalition on Facebook, or www.mac-global.net. We also invite you to save the dates of 4-7 April 2011 for the Mission America Coalition annual gathering in Orlando, Florida. This will be a strategic meeting flowing out of the Lausanne Cape Town 2010 Congress as we prayerfully strategize concerning the next ten years of mission.
In many ways, we are living in perilous times. But they are also times of great opportunity to pray for lost people, care for them with the love of Jesus Christ, and share the good news of the gospel.