A favorite monthly hunting magazine recently sounded the alarm that the one species that isn’t thriving-even with the help of President Trump’s signing into law the Pittman-Robertson Modernization Act-is the American Hunter. Like many fields of endeavor, whether it’s hunting, teaching, craftsman, librarians, or the American church, those populating such fields are getting older and dwindling in numbers. For we in mountain states like Montana and Wyoming find it hard to imagine that the long-standing America tradition of hunting is in jeopardy. Some states like Kentucky and Pennsylvania are among the most active agencies in the nation using innovative marketing methods to reach hunters. With sprawling urban growth of major cities and shifting landscape changes, all wildlife faces new challenges. Most of us support the slogan, “Wildlife belongs to all of us.” It will require more than rhetoric.
In that vein, Evangelicals too are concerned who will “spread the Gospel” to a new generation that your’s truly won’t live to see, with the Good News of Christ transforming power. If the dynamics of a feckless church doesn’t change soon, what will be the outcome? Hunters wisely leveraged strong private/public sector marketing partnerships to reinvigorate their base. Churches and para-church organizations have in recent times, tapped into modernity, trendy programs, mega churches, “seeker groups,” upbeat music, the internet, and social media to attempt to reinvigorate their base, while simultaneously trying to accurately assessing which way the wind blows. Who will catch the vision and replace an aging church? What about pastors, preachers, evangelist, seminaries, campus ministries, Christian colleges and universities? Will this next generation be wiling to give unselfishly to keep these institutions afloat? History will attest that God’s people in the past have given unselfishly to fund these outreaches. Are there indicators of a shift?
Large mainline protestant denominations, especially in urban areas, have faced dwindling numbers for years. To adapt, many of churches have opened their membership to nearly anyone and everyone, where the greatest sins are white privilege, equal pay, and global warming. Sadly “watering down” the Scriptures to mean anything, now means nothing. This hasn’t stemmed the tide. Perhaps the sky isn’t falling, but the floor is has eroded beneath them. At one mainline seminary in New York, the student body is comprised of Hindus, Buddhist, baptist, methodist, anglicans, and agnostics. At one chapel service students danced around a plant and prayed to it to honor the green movement. Latitudinarianism gone awry? One Washington Post, 2015 column, moribundly predicted, “At this rate of decline, mainline protestants had only 23 Easters left.” One of the fastest growing affiliations are the Southern Baptist Convention and the Assemblies of God. They aren’t unchallenged. Even conservatives battle at their annual national conventions over such divisive issues as “inerrancy of the Scriptures” “ordination of women,” “liberalism in seminaries,” “speaking in tongues,” and “sexual assault” just to name a few.
Since the days of tent revivals and large crowds packing outdoor stadiums to hear evangelist Billy Graham’s firebrand sermons, American Evangelicals now are trying to find a message that resonates with the hermetically sealed world of Generation X,Y, Z, and “Zoomers” who are unlikely to be drawn to the former outreach and evangelism efforts of yesteryear. Skeptics have been around since the Apostles first received their marching orders from Jesus Himself. Fast forward to the current religious landscape that is barely recognizable to we in the three-score-plus-fifteen generation. While the nation politically appears to be divided between conservatives and liberals, in 2016, along came President Trump, an unlikely standard bearer for the religious right in general, and Evangelics specifically. They threw their weight, prayers, financial support and voting block behind candidate Trump in unprecedented numbers that shocked the liberals and erstwhile candidate Hillary Clinton. It’s a bitter root they can’t swallow to this day. The vitriol is palpable toward President Trump. So what’s at stake for us?
Most troubling to those who identify as Evangelicals is that one in four Americans identify as atheist, agnostic or the “Nones.” They comprise nearly 45% of Americans ages 19-29, professing they want “nothing” to do with organized religion or a particular view on faith. If it suddenly became “woke” to align with some religious experience, they may take a chance. That doesn’t bode well for the future of religious expression in the public square in general, or the New Testament church in particular. In January, 2020, Franklin Graham, who was an early supporter of candidate Trump, made this statement in Decision Magazine, “The year 2020 will mark a defining, watershed year in the long and storied history of our great nation. Will we continue to protect the freedoms of Christians to live and abide by their Biblical Conviction?” Graham understands that the occupant of the White House has staunchly supported people of faith, and steadfastly reversed the Obama-initiated transgender directive for public schools, and appointed over 175 constitutional judges to federal courts, and two conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices. Evangelicals understand that President Trump is the most active pro-life president ever. When his foibles are routinely laundered in public, by the media, many have opined, “We voted for a Commander-in-Chief not our Sunday school superintendent.” Many Pro-life Catholics rallied round him. He’s far from perfect-we are too.
In 2007, a Pew Research Poll, reported 78% of Americans identified as Christians. Ten years later that number dropped below 65%. As a spiritual barometer, the decline is troubling. We must marshal a new generation committed to orthodox Christianity and the Apostle’s Creed, holding fast to the Biblical truths, stressing that those outside of Christ’s redemption are in grave peril? Recently 74 year old Ravi Zacharias lost his battle with a rare form of bone cancer? He’s a renown Christian apologist, who has spoken in numerous bastions of intellectualism and skepticism, from Oxford to Harvard, brought hope to those who embraced his cogent case for the cause of Christ. Who will God raise up to replace this rare breed of extraordinary intellect and humility? God raises up servants in each generation and never leaves Himself without a voice or testimony-even in the wake of virus, vitriol and violence.
It’s counter intuitive to our stated polemic to attract more church members to “fill the pews.” There’s an overabundance. Our vision must be for a new generation of bare knuckle Christians, convinced that God’s Word is sufficient to change our culture, one soul at a time, and occupy the public square. Not perfect followers-there are none. Not fans of Jesus, but followers of Jesus. Demonstrably committed to the unvarnished truth of the Gospel, willing to proclaim it in one’s sphere of influence. To speak where the Scriptures speak; be silent when the Scripture’s silent-and love people unconditionally. Wanted: vibrant church bodies to stand in the gap for Christ. At age 39, in 1945, what did it cost Dietrich Bonhoeffer to follow Christ in Germany? In America, what’s the cost be a follower of Christ? Not very much. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a resident of Ravalli County. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org