Post-Christian America: What’s Going Wrong In Our Churches?

The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 201

Welcome to the post-Christian landscape in America. It’s no secret that our churches are facing a significant challenge – a decline in the adherence to a Biblical worldview, even among those who identify as Christians. In this article, we’ll dive deep into the heart of the problem, exploring the causes behind this degradation and the consequences it brings. 

But there is no reason to give up in despair. We’ll also uncover potential solutions that might just be the key to revitalizing our churches and igniting a transformational movement. So, buckle up, and let’s embark on this journey to discover what’s going wrong in our churches and how we can make it right.

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The Silent Erosion

A transformation is taking place in our churches. The once-strong foundation of a Biblical worldview is showing signs of erosion, even among those who identify as Christians. The statistics are telling: within the Evangelical community, 52% now reject the idea of absolute moral truth, while a staggering 75% believe that people are inherently good, disregarding the fundamental Christian belief in human sinfulness. 

Even more concerning is that 61% of Evangelicals no longer read the Bible on a daily basis, distancing themselves from the very source of their faith. But it’s not just Evangelicals facing this struggle; self-identified Born Again Christians are also experiencing a similar crisis. Shockingly, 77% of them prioritize having faith over which faith they pursue, and nearly two-thirds reject the concept of absolute moral truth. 

Moreover, a significant portion sees the Holy Spirit as merely a symbolic representation of God’s power rather than a living entity. In an alarming turn, 60% of these individuals believe that personal merits can earn them a ticket to Heaven.

Renowned researcher Dr. George Barna, who leads the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, aptly captures the magnitude of the issue when he said, “It’s one thing for Americans to be confused on the finer points or even hotly debated elements of theology, but for Americans to misunderstand or to flat out reject the Bible as a foundational source of truth and moral guidance, to reject salvation by grace alone, and to reject core doctrines of the Christian faith points to a major crisis in our society.”

Indeed, we find ourselves facing a critical moment in the evolution of our churches. The degradation of a Biblical worldview, as evidenced by these alarming statistics, indicates that something is going wrong in our midst. But what are the causes behind this unraveling of faith? And how can we chart a course to restore the foundation of our Christian communities? Before we can search for solutions, we need to understand how our churches have contributed to the problem in two key ways.

Churches Failing at Leadership

In the fast-changing landscape of post-Christian America, our churches are facing a critical challenge: a lack of strong, vigilant, and biblically-rooted leadership. This deficiency has become a significant contributing factor to the degradation of a Biblical worldview, even among self-identified Christians. Let’s delve into this pressing issue and explore the three key ways that leaders are failing in the church.

A Lack of Awareness of False Teaching

According to research, only 6% of Americans can be called an “integrated disciple.” That is, a person whose Biblical worldview is actually being lived out (faithfully, if not perfectly). Moreover, only 28% of Americans have a truly theologically sound Biblical worldview. If these statistics can more or less be applied to most congregations, that means that roughly 30% of your congregation truly understands the core tenants of the Christian faith and less than 10% are faithfully living it out in their everyday life. 

While these statistics are disturbing, it’s also true that pastors are most likely to spend the majority of their time with the people in these smaller percentages. Therefore, it’s easy to create a self-made bubble that assumes that the people you most interact with at church are indicative of the broader congregation. It’s entirely possible that a pastor could be mostly unaware how much up to 70% of the congregation is influenced by false teaching and non biblical worldviews.

The first failure of leadership is a simple lack of awareness to honestly assess how widespread the disease of worldliness has infected the congregation. Be sure you take time to honestly assess the spiritual vitality of your congregation so that you have a proper understanding of the scope of the problem.

An Unwillingness to Confront False Teaching

Confronting bad theology is never an easy task, especially when it involves challenging deeply held beliefs within a congregation. However, true leadership demands courage—the courage to address difficult issues head-on, to humbly correct misconceptions, and to steer the congregation back to Scripture and truth.

Unfortunately, an unwillingness to confront false teaching is all too prevalent in some churches. This avoidance of confrontation may stem from a desire to avoid conflict or maintain the status quo. As we’ve addressed many times, the majority of pastors are S-type leaders and are temperamentally averse to engaging in conflict. Nevertheless, it ultimately undermines the integrity of the church and dilutes the transformative power of God’s Word.

Leaders must approach confrontation with grace, love, and a deep commitment to biblical principles. A gentle but firm stand against false teaching not only protects the congregation from spiritual harm but also preserves the authenticity and relevance of the Christian faith in a constantly changing culture.

A Propagation of False Teaching from Pastors

Perhaps one of the most disheartening aspects of the lack of leadership in the church is when pastors themselves become conduits of false teaching. The pulpit, intended to be a sacred place for delivering God’s Word, can inadvertently become a platform for personal agendas or compromised beliefs. The research shows that only 37% of all pastors in the United States have a Biblical worldview! Among evangelical, Bible-based pastors, that number is still just 57%. 

This propagation of false teaching from pastors can stem from various sources. Some pastors might succumb to the pressure of societal trends or popular culture, diluting the Gospel to make it more palatable to a wider audience. Others may unknowingly drift away from sound doctrine due to a lack of theological grounding or accountability.

To combat this alarming trend, pastoral leadership must prioritize ongoing theological education and spiritual growth. Accountability structures within church leadership can play a pivotal role in ensuring that pastors remain firmly rooted in biblical truth and hold one another accountable to sound teaching. Additionally, fostering a culture of humility, where pastors are receptive to constructive feedback and open to learning from their congregations, can lead to a more robust, Christ-centered pulpit ministry.

A Lack of Discipleship

As we continue our exploration into what’s going wrong in our churches, the second major challenge that emerges is a lack of discipleship. Discipleship lies at the core of Christianity, as Jesus Himself instructed His followers to make disciples of all nations. Yet, in the current post-Christian landscape of America, churches are struggling to prioritize and implement effective discipleship practices. Let’s examine the two key issues that shed light on why discipleship has become a missing piece in the puzzle of our faith communities.

Churches View Discipleship Through the Lens of Programs Rather Than Process

Churches can be tempted to approach discipleship as just another item on their programmatic checklist. They might see it as a series of courses or classes that people attend, complete, and move on from. While structured programs can provide valuable resources, they can inadvertently overshadow the God-ordained process of spiritual growth that discipleship should entail.

Discipleship is not a one-time event; it is an ongoing process of transformation and growth. Discipleship should include a relational aspect, where seasoned believers come alongside newer ones, guiding, mentoring, and investing in their spiritual development. It’s not merely about transferring knowledge but about sharing life and modeling Christ-like character.
To address this issue, churches must reframe their approach to discipleship, emphasizing the importance of relationship-based mentoring and community. Leaders should not only encourage small group gatherings and classes, but determine a set of actionable, discipleship outcomes to measure the success of their discipleship processes.

Discipleship Processes Must Use Scripture to Teach, Rebuke, Correct, and Train for Righteousness

Genuine discipleship involves shaping individuals’ lives in alignment with God’s Word. The Scriptures provide the foundation for spiritual growth, offering guidance, correction, and encouragement for every aspect of life. Unfortunately, some churches have veered away from this central truth, diluting the discipleship process with a watered-down version that lacks the transformative power of Scripture.

To remedy this, churches must reclaim the authority and relevance of the Bible in the discipleship journey. Leaders should prioritize Bible study, ensuring that each step of the process is anchored in biblical principles. The Scriptures should not only be taught and explained but also used to challenge and convict individuals, correcting their course and training them in righteousness.

In addition to teaching the Scriptures, churches should encourage regular personal Bible reading and study among their members. Equipping individuals to encounter God’s Word daily fosters a deeper personal relationship with Christ and reinforces the biblical foundation of their faith.

Leveraging Third-Places as a First-Place for Discipleship: Embracing Transformational Outreach

In the midst of the challenges faced by our churches in post-Christian America, a glimmer of hope emerges through the potential of leveraging third-places as a first-place for discipleship. Understanding that a person’s initial interaction with a church is now more likely to happen through various external outreach programs rather than traditional Sunday worship services can be the key to revitalizing the spiritual growth within our communities.

A Shift in Initial Interactions

As the cultural landscape evolves, so do the ways people connect with and experience churches. Increasingly, individuals’ first points of contact with a church are through third-places—support groups, weekday preschools, and other outreach initiatives. These unconventional entry points present an opportunity for churches to reimagine their role in people’s lives and explore discipleship avenues beyond the traditional Sunday service.

Rather than solely focusing on attracting attendees to the Sunday worship gathering, pastors can see these external outreach programs as potential bridges to deeper discipleship. By intentionally infusing biblical teaching and discipleship principles into these environments, churches can meet people where they are and create transformational spaces for encountering the gospel.

Rethinking External Outreach Programs

To fully capitalize on this opportunity, external outreach programs must undergo a significant retooling. It is no longer sufficient for these initiatives to merely address people’s felt needs. While practical support and care are essential, they must be accompanied by intentional efforts to foster a culture of discipleship. I often tell churches I consult with that there should be a difference between your church and the United Way. It’s not enough to meet physical needs when our communities are spiritually starving.

Churches should infuse their external outreach programs with biblical teaching, discipleship resources, and opportunities for spiritual growth. By doing so, these initiatives can become the first-place where whole families are introduced to the transformative power of God’s Word. This shift not only strengthens the foundational values of these programs but also serves as a catalyst for nurturing spiritual growth and fostering a sense of community within these settings.

Intentional Integration Strategies

Embracing third-places as a first-place for discipleship requires intentional strategies for integrating individuals who may be on the fringes of church involvement. Outreach efforts can extend beyond merely meeting immediate needs to intentionally guiding individuals towards their next best step on the discipleship journey.

Churches can establish clear pathways for newcomers to explore deeper connections with the church. Nurturing a welcoming environment is crucial for integrating newcomers and helping them feel valued and supported. Leaders and existing members should extend a warm invitation to newcomers, offering genuine care and friendship, which serves as a powerful reflection of Christ’s love.

Get specific. Map out the specific on-ramps for how people on the fringes of your church can take their next best step. Be sure to train-up the leaders within these ministries to execute these plans, and hold them accountable. Their definition for success cannot just be the number of people who attend their support group or the number of families that sign-up for the weekday preschool. Success should be measured by the discipleship outcomes and the deeper integration into the life of the church.

Conclusion: Embracing Renewal and Transformation

The degradation of a Biblical worldview and the dwindling emphasis on transformational discipleship have left many of us pondering what’s going wrong in our churches. However, I hope you have a sense of hope and renewed purpose.

While the problems are apparent, so too are the solutions. By recognizing the importance of strong and discerning leadership, we can equip our churches to navigate the complex waters of post-Christian culture. Leaders who are aware of false teachings, willing to confront them with grace, and rooted in biblical principles can serve as beacons of truth in a world increasingly adrift.

Simultaneously, prioritizing intentional and transformative discipleship can revolutionize the spiritual lives of our congregations. By shifting our focus from mere programmatic checklists to relational and Scripture-based processes, we can foster an environment where authentic growth and lifelong spiritual maturation thrive.

Moreover, our churches have a unique opportunity to leverage third-places as first-places for discipleship. By embracing individuals’ initial interactions through external outreach programs, we can create transformative spaces that introduce whole families to the power of God’s Word. By retooling these initiatives and intentionally integrating newcomers, we can foster a sense of belonging, love, and spiritual growth that transcends the boundaries of traditional church walls.

The challenges we face are significant, but Jesus promises that even the gates of Hell cannot prevail against a Church that is playing offense. By God’s grace and wisdom, we can confront what’s going wrong in our churches and emerge with renewed vitality and purpose. Let us step forward as bold leaders, devoted disciples, and compassionate shepherds of God’s flock. As we do so, we will not only reclaim the heart of Christianity but also ignite a transformative movement that reflects the enduring power of the Gospel in the midst of a post-Christian world.

BONUS: Watch this episode on YouTube.

Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

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