weekend Broadcast

Understanding the Secular Culture, Part 1

From the series Not Beyond Reach

Are you concerned that today’s culture will crush your kids and grandkids’ faith? In this program, we begin our series, Not Beyond Reach – taught by our guest teacher Aaron Pierce. He leads a ministry called Steiger International, who’s on a mission to reach young people all over the globe with the Gospel. To kick off this series, Aaron and Chip sit down to discuss why this next generation is desperate for and ready to receive - the hope only Jesus can offer.

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Message Transcript

How do we engage secular young people in particular who would not walk into a church? Alright? So, I want to start by sharing a story about a girl called Sarah. Sarah was wearing this rainbow-colored “resist” t-shirt with an equal sign on it. And she was at a pro-choice rally, and she was there with her friends Charlie and Anne. That’s not their real names. Each of them identified as gender non-binary, or non-conforming, fluid. And they are active in a local drag queen scene, which sounds crazy and out there, but here’s the thing to understand. Those that identify as LGBTQ is exploding in growth, especially amongst younger generations.

Gallup recently came out and said that 20.8 percent of Gen Z identified as LGBTQ in 2021. 20.8 percent. One in five. That’s up from ten percent for Millennial.

So, it’s growing and there are a bunch of reasons for that and that’s something we’ll talk about when we get to that topic at the end.

But the interesting thing about this story, the atmosphere is super intense, right? As you might imagine. Right? Because you’ve got this protest atmosphere and of course there’s the pro-life group that’s there. And angry shouts are being exchanged between these two groups. And our team, led by Filipe, was there.

Of course, each of them had a pro-life view, but they were there to build redemptive relationships. And so, they had a sign that would spark a conversation with people. So, they walked around and just prayed and asked the Lord, “Hey, would You show me who to connect with?” And they found a group of people sitting down and they brought their sign and they began to ask them questions.

And as they were doing that, they realized that behind the anger and the hostility, there was a lot of hurt and pain. Each of them, each of these three people – Sarah, Anne, and Charlie – each of them shared vulnerable, raw, and deeply personal stories of pain that they had experienced growing up. It was amazing how open they were. And a lot of their pain related back to experiences that they had with the Church.

And what’s interesting is that beneath their seemingly intense moral convictions, it was clear that they were actually very confused and broken. And they were longing for deep, relational connection and belonging.

And so, as the conversation progressed, Filipe and his team began to share. And they shared that their pain actually mattered. As a follower of Jesus, Filipe believed that the answer to our problems was not actually political but spiritual.

And he explained that God was not indifferent to our suffering. A lot of people have this view that if God does exist, He is indifferent and he explained that God is not indifferent to our suffering and that Jesus’ death on the cross was proof of that.

At the end of the conversation, they were able to pray with these three people, they were visibly moved and eagerly exchanged contact information and have stayed in contact since then.

Now, here’s the thing. There are millions of people like Sarah, Charlie, and Anne in the U.S. today. There are millions of them.

Over the last few decades, we have experienced a profound cultural shift. Despite all its flaws and hypocrisy, for generations, the U.S. was a Christian nation, right? As recently as 1990, eighty-six percent of Americans identified as a Christian.

And, of course, they weren’t all committed followers of Jesus, many of them showed up to church only on Easter and Christmas and they lived lives that were inconsistent with their Christian beliefs.

But still they viewed Christianity positively. You know, the Church was the center of social life; the Bible was a good, moral guide; the president was prayed over by a pastor in every inauguration. By the way, from someone that doesn’t live in the U.S., that’s weird. Right? Like, to understand, that’s a weird thing. And Christian ethics of sexuality were broadly accepted.

And these were the people that would attend evangelistic rallies, made famous by Billy Graham and Luis Palau and others, right? And they would draw on favorable views of the Church. These preachers could fill stadiums and make arguments using the Bible as an authority. But times have changed, right? We now live in a post-Christian culture and many people have walked away from the Church.

So, according to Pew Research, the fastest growing religious group in America is the religiously unaffiliated. In 2021, this group known as the “nones” constituted about twenty-nine percent of American adults, and that’s up from about twenty-three percent in 2016 and nineteen percent in 2011.

That’s a radical change happening in our culture. And this is most pronounced among Millennial and Gen Z generations, making up approximately forty-five percent of those two generations.

And so, not only has affiliation with Christianity declined, but attitude has changed as well. So, if you were to take a look at the Church and how people view the Church today, you’re going to see it play out in a few ways, right? So, on one side you have committed followers of Jesus who strive to live their lives in alignment with the Bible on the far left side of the spectrum. Next you have people who have a positive view of the Church, they see the Bible as a moral guide, but it’s often detached from a personal relationship with God.

And then as we move along the spectrum, you have those who are apathetic. Here people are not consciously rejecting God, they just don’t think about Him one way or the other, right?

And then finally, we have those who have a negative or even hostile view of the Church and they see, they see the Church as a symbol of repression and bigotry.

And so, unfortunately, more and more Americans are moving to the right side of the spectrum, having an apathetic view of the Church. And so, that’s what we have seen in the last thirty years, especially amongst Millennial and Gen Z generation. We have seen a shift.

And the right side of the spectrum is that post-Christian shift, right? Those on the far right side. The challenge for us in the Church is that the majority of our efforts to reach people have been geared towards the nominal, right? And so, what that means is that we use kind of a “come-and-see and bring your friend” style of evangelism to a church event. And those aren’t necessarily bad things to do, because they connect well with people on that side of the spectrum.

The challenge is that it’s a diminishing group. And so, the challenge is that we need to go after those on the right side and it takes an entirely different paradigm shift to do it.

Right? and this is not just a trend or a statistic, right? This isn’t just an idea out there. This is deeply personal for many of us, because these are our sons and daughters, these are our grandkids, these are our friends and people that we work with.

So, how can we respond to this post-Christian shift? Part of that is we need to understand the culture that we’re in and continue to look at it from different ways.

Another way to look at it is from a Christian spectrum and how it progresses. Okay? So, this is what is happening a lot in our culture. You start with people that have convictional Christianity. They, like I said, they are following Jesus, fully aligning their lives to it.

Then you have cultural Christians, people that, you know, just have a nominal kind of view of it. You know, they have a positive view, but it doesn’t affect their life. Then you have progressive Christians. People that still identify as a Christian, but no longer hold to the authority of the Bible and begin to basically shape their faith according to how they want to, you know, want to see reality.

And then you’ve got post-Christian, which is the natural shift that happens once someone engages in progressive Christianity. They take away the power and eventually they move to post-Christian.

And then finally, you have non-Christian, which is actually someone that hasn’t rejected the Church, they don’t even really know about it. What’s interesting is more and more young people in our country today actually fit in the non-Christian category, because it was their parents that rejected the Church. And so, they essentially grew up in a non-Christian home.

So, when you’re engaging people out in the world, you actually find that they fit in one of these categories and that the way you engage them is different.

And so, we have to take a new approach because the truth is people are actually quite hungry and open, but we can’t take the same approach that we did in the past. Essentially, if we are going to engage this generation, if we are going to engage this culture, we have got to become like cross-cultural missionaries in our own city to our own people.

So, that’s what we want to talk about is how do we adopt a missionary mindset when we are engaging post-Christian cultures?

So, first of all, in order to effectively communicate the gospel to a post-Christian culture, we need to understand three key realities.

The first is that secular people have become suspicious of religious institutions and are far less likely to walk into a church.

So, trust and confidence in organized religion has plummeted in the last few decades. In 2021, only thirty, thirty-seven percent of Americans reported confidence in religious institutions. That was sixty percent in 2001. And it’s not just religious institutions that have lost trust. It’s basically all institutions, right? We have lost trust in the government, in corporations, there’s just a general distrust of institutions. And certainly that has affected the Church. And that affects the way that we engage culture.

In fact, one of the key ways it affects is that when we are out in the world engaging culture, whether it’s in an intentional outreach or just organically through our relationships, we don’t actually want to be a representative of our church, we want to be a follower of Jesus. Because the fact is if I’m a representative of my church – and we are! Like, this is not saying we shouldn’t be engaged and committed to the local church. That’s not what that’s about.

What it means is that that’s putting up an extra barrier when I’m communicating. Because now I am talking about institutional religion versus just following Jesus. So, that’s the first thing we need to understand.

The second thing we need to understand is the second key reality is secular people today do not have the same assumptions as previous generations. And they don’t have the same assumptions about morality, truth, authority of the Bible, existence and nature of God.

And so, for example, if I would go to the University of Minnesota and ask a random, average, secular university student. If I were to go up to them and say, “Hey, if you were to die today and stand before God in heaven and He were to judge your life, would He let you in?” Well, I have just presupposed a whole bunch of things, right, that the average secular young person doesn’t hold to be true.

And so, we have to recognize that secular people don’t have the same assumptions from which we build. And we are going to talk about how do we communicate effectively? And the key principle in communication is understanding people’s assumptions. And so, the assumptions are not the same today as they were in previous generations.

Now, the third key reality that we need to understand is that despite all of this, secular people are open to spirituality. They are. And while many people no longer hold to a biblical worldview, most are not cold atheists either. Right? They believe in some form of spirituality, even if it’s vague and undefined.

I’ll give you an example of this. We did a series of focus groups with secular young people and this is one of the quotes from one of the young women that participated in a focus group in her early twenties. And when we discussed spirituality, this was one of her quotes. It said, “I am agnostic. So, I don’t know. But when I personally think about my own experiences of spirituality, it’s a feeling for me. Maybe it’s not a being or a person. Probably not. But I think that there are human experiences when you feel it, like, when you hold a newborn baby, it’s common experiences and they are ordinary and really simple. But I think there’s energy. Yeah, like, there’s a force that lives.”

This is a really interesting quote to me, because it perfectly illustrates that idea of being drawn to something spiritual, even as we reject kind of the religious and the institutional version of that. And people are, in this culture, are very into meditation and kind of Eastern religious ideas. And a lot of that is because it’s spirituality without accountability. Right? You get the spirituality without the authority over me.

And so, that’s a key thing to understand. And so, all of these things, these key realities are important because if we are going to be good missionaries to our culture, we need to understand the context that we are in. And we need to understand what is shaping and influencing the culture as well.

We live in a time of unprecedented connectedness, right? Where through mass media, the Internet, and all sorts of other ways we are connected like never before. And so, you have this global youth culture where young people all over the planet are influenced by similar voices.

They are listening to the same music, they are following the same social media influencers. And so, they are connected and similar like never before.

And they are similar on, you know, superficial things like fashion and music trends and things of that nature, but they are also similar on deeper things like worldview and morality and lifestyle. And so, you have this global culture that is incredibly connected and it is shaping the way that young people all over the planet see the world.

So, what are the influences of the global youth culture? Well, there’s basically four key influences.

First is entertainment industry. So, music, film, theatre, even sports to some degree. And the idea here is that we are not just entertaining, we are shaping a worldview. We are presenting a way of looking at the world, a moral framework. And so, you see that being pushed through the entertainment, entertainment industry.

And then you’ve got Internet stars. You know? People that are on platforms like TikTok and Instagram and YouTube that are producing content and connecting with audiences all over the world in a massive way, right? It’s incredible the kind of influence that these people have and I say “unfiltered” because it is filtered but there is no corporation, there’s no intermediary between the creators and their audience. Right? So, it’s an incredible influence that we have through these Internet stars.

And then you’ve got video games, which is massive. Bigger than Hollywood where the average twenty-one-year-old male has spent ten thousand hours playing video games, which is, by the way, the same amount of time that you need to master a fine art, right?

So, it’s an incredible amount of time being spent in video games. It’s where we find our community, our identity, our sense of accomplishment, and so you have this incredible influence of video games.

And then finally, you’ve got pornography, which is so common, so pervasive, it’s not even something to be ashamed of, right? Talk openly about pornography, where the belief that there’s no consequence to viewing pornography. And it comes to a view that, you know, sexuality is just a personal pursuit of happiness, right? And pornography is harmless. And so, this is literally, you know, rewiring our brains and distorting our view of love and sexuality and relationships.

And all of these things come together to influence and shape a worldview. And they all kind of mix together and what is interesting is they are not constrained by geographic or political boundaries. These things transcend that. In fact, these things are shaping a worldview far more than politics, far more than laws.

There’s a guy called Andrew Fletcher, an eighteenth-century Scottish writer and politician, that said, “Let me make the songs of a nation and I care not who makes its laws.”

It’s the cultural influencers, the artists, the poets, the philosophers that are shaping the worldview.