Today, Cross the Culture wraps up a four-part series examining the changing face of the American population and the implications for ministry these changes necessitate. Based upon a presentation by Dr. Jim Slack entitled, Realities, Trends and Implications Concerning the Future of the USA, Evangelicals and Southern Baptists, Part One of the series addressed the hypothesis that within the next ten years Anglo-Americans will be an ethnic minority in the USA. You can read Part One here.  Part Two, examined the rise in illiteracy in the USA and its implications for the Great Commission ministries of local congregations. (Part Two here).  Part Three examined the “open back door within the American evangelical church”.  (Part Three here). In this final installment, we examine the growing gulf between the total population of the United States and the “churched” population of America.

A Recent Pew Research Center Study 

Recently, USA Today carried an article by Cathy Lynn Grossman entitled, Survey Finds 19% without Religious Affiliation (USA Today, July 20, 2012). The article chronicled the results of a 2011 Pew Research Center study of the religious beliefs of Americans. The study noted “People who check ‘None’ for their religious affiliation are now nearly one in five Americans (19%), the highest ever documented….” Compared to a similar study in 1990 that noted the “Nones” were 6% of the adult population, the growth rate of this category is most alarming for the church. The number one contributing factor in the rapid growth of the category is the growth rate of people identified as “switchers”. Grossman writes, “But the chief way the category grows is by ‘switchers’.  A 2009 Pew Forum look at ‘switching’ found more than 10% of American adults became ‘Nones’ after growing up within a religious group.”

Check Your Zip Code, Metro Area, County or State

Coupled with an increase in the number of ethnic peoples immigrating to the US retaining their language, culture, religious beliefs and overall worldview (discussed in Part One) and the challenge of the “open back door” (discussed in Part Three) the rejection of religious affiliation continues to produce an ever-widening gulf between the total US population and the churched population in America.

One tool to help local church practitioners understand the volume of “unchurched” residents living in their ministry field is the Association of Religious Data Archives (www.thearda.com).  Noted as “unclaimed” the ARDA provides a tool on their website to help ministers gauge the total population in their zip code, county, state, etc. who do not affiliate with the major Christian denominations in the US.  For example my state of residence is North Carolina. The ARDA notes over 5,000,000 residents in my state are “unclaimed” but any Christian denomination. Obviously, here in North Carolina the Christian community has work to do to reach this growing segment of our society with the Gospel. Take a moment and go to www.thearda.com and discover their findings concerning the “unclaimed” residents of your ministry area.

Implications for Ministry

Several implications for ministry flow from “the growing gulf between the total population of the United States and the ‘churched’ population of America.”

  • Christians should become proficient in the use of apologetics to effectively communicate the Gospel to a post-modern culture.
  • The Christian church should re-examine the methodologies used to communicate the Gospel in an illiterate society.
  • Organic methods of church planting must move to the forefront of our church planting efforts.
  • Evangelism and church planting strategies to reach 1sd generation ethnics must be developed and employed on national, state and local levels.
  • Church planting in the great urban/metro pockets of the US must receive an ever-increasing priority from the evangelical church.
  • Methodologies for assimilation and discipleship must be re-evaluated and redesigned to enhance effectiveness.

In the weeks to come, Cross the Culture will examine each of these implications offering helpful tools for individual Christians and local churches to use to engage the various cultures in our society with the Gospel.

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