When we woke up this morning, we woke up to a very different world than our parents lived in. Truth be told, we actually woke up to a rapidly changing culture. As we step deeper into the 21st Century there are some things you need to know about how cultural changes impact small group ministry. Wise leaders will be paying attention as culture changes.
- Biblical literacy is a distant memory in almost every setting. This reality must be anticipated in leader training, in the design or selection of curriculum, and in the development of the group experience. Continuing to operate as if everyone knows even the people, places and events of the Bible (let alone its meaning) is already the trademark of hopelessly out of touch ministries.
- The expectation that the Church provides something essential is rapidly decreasing. This is an important understanding. All of the research points to the changing belief about the Church. Worse than disagreement with beliefs or practices is the sense that the Church is irrelevant.
- “I am a spiritual person” is growing; “I am a Christian” is declining. A correlation noted in The Rise of the Nones and the research that backs up the findings of Barna and many other organizations is that the increasing number of those who indicate no religious affiliation is primarily about the decrease in the number of nominal (or notional) Christians; Christians in name only. This actually may provide some direction for ministries nimble enough to adjust strategy to offer meaning to “spiritual people (Think about Paul’s approach in Acts 17).”
- A Christian worldview is not held by the majority. Beyond biblical illiteracy is the emergence of a competing worldview (or multiple worldviews). The worldview of secular humanism sees virtually everything through a completely different lens. The sanctity of human life, sexual orientation, and a biblical understanding of marriage are just three front burner issues where profoundly different beliefs are the products of a vastly different worldview held by an increasing number of people. The practice of assuming “what we all believe” will require a major overhaul in order to reach friends, neighbors, co-workers and even family members who no longer believe what we believe.
- Cause has the greatest potential to connect. As James Emery White points out in The Rise of the Nones, there was a time when unchurched people responded directly to a gospel message, joined in community and then joined in the cause (1950s to 1980s). This was followed by a period when unchurched people responded first to an opportunity to join a community, found Christ and then joined in the cause (1990s to 2000s). What about now? White points out that the Pew Forum study revealed that 78% of those surveyed said that “religious organizations bring people together and strengthen community bonds” and 77% said “religious organizations play an important role in helping the poor and needy.” Interpretation? “We may have lost the opportunity to walk with them (unchurched people) and talk with them, but we haven’t lost the opportunity to do good to them and for them and with them (p. 100, The Rise of the Nones).” Providing opportunities to join causes that resonate with unchurched people (i.e., clean water, orphan care, sex trafficking, etc.) offer new front doors to relationship.
I hope you are thinking about these powerful new trends as you build your small group ministry. My thinking has been impacted by a number of books including The Rise of the Nones and The Next Christians.
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Image by Pasu Au Yeung