Is the Church in America transforming lives and communities? The answer is sadly, “No.” “Rather than occupying a central and influential place, North American Christian churches are increasingly marginalized, so much so that in our urban areas they represent a minority movement.” (1)
The United States is truly a mission field.
To understand the disappearing influence of Christians in America, one must realize that the Church has been marginalized. The Church has lost its social location at the center of culture. “In contrast with the long history of the Christian church in the Western world, congregations must now learn how to live the gospel as a distinct people who are no longer at the cultural center.” (2)
Alan Roxburgh points out how the local church no longer has a centralized role in American society. Essentially, “the surrounding culture changed its view of the value of the church.” (3)
Christians who have grown up going to church have to understand this change. We live in a rapidly changing culture and the role that the church has in this culture has rapidly changed, too. “The world is profoundly different than it was at the middle of the last century, and everyone knows it. But knowing it and acting on it are two different things. So far the North American church largely has responded with heavy infusions of denial, believing the culture will come to its senses and come back around to the church.” (4)
Instead of trying to recapture the past or return the church to a place of status, the marginalized Church must learn to function on the margins. A focus on regaining the position of influence that has been lost “will only produce an inauthentic church with little gospel, much religion, and no mission.” (5)
The Church in the U.S. needs to find a new place in culture. “While the Church may never regain its place in the center of culture, it can rediscover great influence by engaging the culture from the margin, as the New Testament Church did.” (6)
America is now post-Christian and multi-religious. “No longer does culturati favoritism go to Christianity. Religion in America does not mean any more simply the Christian religion, Indeed, religion in America increasingly means ‘other than’ the Christian religion. Or in the language of the sociologists and their ubiquitous questionnaires, the ‘nones’ or ‘none of the aboves’ (Protestant, Catholic, Jew) constitute the fastest growing segment of American religious life.” (7)
In order to reach people for Christ in America, Christians need to stop assuming that most people have already heard the gospel, or that most Americans believe in God. Instead, they need to approach those in the culture from a missionary perspective on the margins and not the mainstream of society. “Instead of viewing our towns and cities as Judeo-Christian and feeling that everyone needs to automatically adhere to what we believe, we need to act like missionaries do when they enter a different culture.” (8)
Leonard Sweet has observed, “The establishment church is intellectually marginal, a theological shambles. It has lost the capability to address the intellectual culture of the world of the ‘p’ (postmodern) word. And what is most frightening of all options, it sees no need to.” (9)
Christians need to realize that the way they have been functioning for so long is outdated. They are no longer even near the center of society and there is little hope of returning to such a place.
Church is not as popular as Jesus Christ. In fact many non-Christians like Jesus, but they want nothing to do with Christianity or church. Dave Ferguson, pastor of Community Christian Church in Chicago, has stopped calling himself a Christian and stopped trying to convert people to Christianity. He notes, “It’s not that the title is wrong but that as a label it has come to mean something far different than what it means to follow Jesus. Being a Christian has been reduced to the expectation of niceness. How pathetic. How boring. How easy. How insignificant Who would want to be associated with that?” (10)
Who would want to be associated with the scandals of the church? Who would want to be a Christian if it means you are a hypocrite? Christians need to recognize their marginal state and decide to do something about it: to engage the culture from the margins. Most people in today’s culture are not listening to what the Church has to say. “Christians are now the foreigners in a post-Christian culture, and we have got to wake up this reality if we haven’t.” (11)
Erwin McManus, pastor of Mosaic in Los Angeles, notes,
The diminishing influence of the American church on American society is not simply because fewer people are going to church, but fewer people are going to church because of the diminishing influence of Christ on the church. The church, at best, fell asleep. It might be fair to say that we lost the power to transform culture. We accommodated to a culture that was, for us, user friendly We didn’t lose America: we gave her away! (12)
1. Guder, ed., Missional Church, 2.
2. Roxburgh, The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, & Liminality, 1.
3. Robinson and Smith, Invading Secular Space, 72.
4. McNeal, The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church, 2.
5. Roxburgh, The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, & Liminality, 47.
6. Ogne and Roehl, Coaching: A New Paradigm, 49.
7. Sweet, Faithquakes, 27.
8. Kimball, They Like Jesus But Not the Church, 30.
9. Sweet, Faithquakes, 17–18.
10. Ferguson, The Big Idea, 29.
11. Kimball, They Like Jesus But Not the Church, 30.
12. McManus, An Unstoppable Force, 28.