The Great Evangelical Recession

I recently finished a thought provoking read from John S. Dickerson called The Great Evangelical Recession. In it Dickerson addresses six areas where the modern day Church in America will change in the coming decades. Then, he lays out his recommended solutions for how we should prepare for them. While I differed slightly with some of his conclusions I really enjoyed the discussion. I completely agree that the American Church is due for dramatic change and I hope to serve as a helpful voice in the process. He mentions the story of one of my mentors, Greg Boyd, and speaks of ideas that have been stirring in my head for awhile now. Dickerson captures our two options well by saying that ‘What follows is not depressing. It simply tests our loyalty. While confronting these facts, we will be forced to answer, again and again, “Am I more committed to evangelicalism as we know it, or to Jesus Christ, His kingdom, and His message?” That question serves as a great test for each of us in the way we view the future of the church. Are we energized by this or deflated? He gives some concrete stats for us to consider as we draw our conclusions. These might seem either counterintuitive or hard to believe for many Christians.
By multiple accounts, evangelical believers are between 7 and 9 percent of the United States population. … of America’s 316 million residents, we evangelicals only account for about 22 to 28 million. As mentioned before, we lose about 2.6 million of those each decade. To put it in international terms, there are slightly more evangelicals in the entire United States than there are Muslims in the greater metro area of Cairo, Egypt. … in separate studies Josh McDowell, LifeWay Research, the Barna Group, and secular researchers, including at UCLA, have all landed at figures between 69 and 80 percent of evangelicals in their twenties who leave the faith.
That’s sobering to say the least. But while the stats might not appear encouraging the overall message still is. Here are some of my favorite concepts from the book:
Gregory Elder tells a story that illustrates my optimistic hope for the church in the face of real and underestimated adversity. Growing up on the Atlantic Coast, I spent long hours working on intricate sand castles; whole cities would appear beneath my hands. One year, for several days in a row, I was accosted by bullies who smashed my creations. Finally I tried an experiment: I placed cinder blocks, rocks, and chunks of concrete in the base of my castles. Then I built the sand kingdoms on top of the rocks. When the local toughs appeared (and I disappeared), their bare feet suddenly met their match. Many people see the church in grave peril from a variety of dangers: secularism, politics, heresies, or plain old sin. They forget that the church is built upon a Rock, over which the gates of hell itself shall not prevail. Whether intentional or not, dollar dependence in our host culture has led to an assumed dependence on the dollar to fulfill a commission that originally had nothing to do with material wealth. So long as we rely on a dollar-centric ministry model, the health of our church is reduced to a by-product of the economy, the creativity of fundraisers, and the stewardship of incoming generations that have proven to be stingy, indebted, and unreliable. In business, relying solely on the head these days demonstrates ignorance about how culture has changed—how people are more individual, more selective, less of a herd, and exponentially more informed. In ministry, so long as we look exclusively to big names or even local big-hit events to get evangelism done, we will be irrelevant and outdated.

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Jeremy Jernigan

Speaker | Author | Founder of Communion Wine Co.