Christian pollster George Barna says, “Local churches have virtually no influence in our culture.” When I first read this statement it stopped me cold, right in my tracks, a total focus while I tried to get my mind around the implications of what Barna was saying. Could this possibly be true? And if it is, what does it mean? If churches are no longer influencing culture, what is?
In his new book entitled Revolution (Tyndale, 2005), George Barna describes seven dominant spheres of cultural influence: movies, music, television, books, Internet, the law, and family. Then he says culture is also subject to several second tier influencers: schools, peers, newspapers, radio, and businesses. You’ll notice that the church is not listed.
According to Barna, in year 2000, 70% of American adults interested in faith matters looked to the local church for information. By year 2005, this number dropped to 30-35%. In 2000, alternative faith-based communities provided faith information to about 5% of the population, while five years later this number jumped to 30-35%. Meanwhile, in 2000, 20% of American adults turned to media, the arts, and culture for information about faith, while in 2005, the number of adults seeking faith information in media, the arts, and culture increased to 30-35%.
In other words, in the new millennium, the church is rapidly losing its once powerful influence upon culture, while corresponding increases are taking place in alternative faith-based communities and media, arts, and culture. People are beginning to look outside rather than inside the church for cues on how to live out their faith in everyday life.
These statistics evidence a rather astounding shift in American worship patterns, credibility and authority imputed to institutional religion, and willingness to seek faith information in a variety of new media sources. If you acknowledge the reality and significance of these trends, it suggests at least these considerations for the local church:
-- the church needs to engage the culture not run from it,
--the church needs to learn more about current culture, including values, worldviews, and trends,
--the church needs to learn how to communicate within current culture—in other words, learn how to share “the old, old story” in perhaps “new, new ways,”
--the church should work to equip Christian people with the ability to lead and transform current culture, not just follow it,
--the church needs to learn new media, drama, the arts, video and audio, computer gaming, the Internet, and more for God’s glory,
--the church needs to learn to share its methods with and through excellence or excellent techniques (methods), because fervent piety without excellence is no longer effective.
I am not for a minute suggesting the Church should change, dilute, or hide, its biblical message. I’m not saying all churches need to be the same, be progressive and “non-traditional,” be “hip,” or in any other way simply forget generations who continue to learn in established forms. These generations still need access to established forms of worship, so that these people may continue to learn, grow, and serve the Lord.
I am saying that if the Church or local churches ignore cultural trends, Barna’s statement will be realized. If you do not believe this, look at European countries where churches have been silent, culturally irrelevant, or non-existent for years.
I think Barna’s statement is downright scary. I don’t think I want to live in a culture where the biblical church has no influence on culture. That’s one reason I work in a Christian university, in part because I think the rationale for Christian higher education is stronger than ever. Christian universities like Cornerstone University graduate men and women whose biblical worldview has been developed and sharpened, who have been given an excellent preparation in their field of interest, who understand the culture in which we live, and who wish to influence that culture for the cause of Christ.
We need not be afraid, because God is Sovereign over change as well as history and tradition. But we do need to be active, even proactive. We need to live out our faith. We need to help and to lead our churches toward greater cultural impact.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005
*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.