Christianity Today put out a recent statistic on just how much a decline the religion is facing today … in an astounding trending data set, within the past half century, all of the religions including differing denominations have been either a.) incrementally sloping down in numbers or b.) flatlining and experiencing no new growth.
Only one religion bucked the trend and not only has it been growing in the past fifty years, but its growth pattern is exponential. I’m a person of science, so whenever there’s numerical growth of exponential proportions, I pay attention to it. It’s significant.
That singular religion is that of “no religion.” No belief in one particular set of beliefs. It’s culminated by agnostics to atheists to spiritualists to humanists; name them what you will, but they’re prevalent.
Not only is this the growing belief system, but they’re trending to one day be the heads of states, majority voices in financial decisions, leaders in education and think-tanks, and fathers and mothers. This is the fastest growing belief culture in the postmodern society – or, better put in our Western setting, post-Christian culture.
If this is true, then it’s just as important to figure out how and why they think and make decisions the way they do as it is to learn a new language to share Jesus to a remote village in the Himalayas.
If we as church planters, particularly those of us who are called to planting in the specific context of the Western post-modern world, were to sit down with the quintessential post-modern, post-Christian person, what might the common threads of impressions and assumptions be for them?
In my time walking with many of this emerging generation, here is what typically narrates the story of a postmodern person:
- suspicious of the older generation
- suspicious of authority figures
- passion for “righting” things, especially social reform
- veering away from external sets of morality or rules and instead leaning towards internal “rightness” and what “feels good”
- passion for being good people and doing good things for the benefit of the greater good
- moving away from institutionalized anything let alone religion
- often feel like life is good but feel this overwhelming sense, particularly after achieving their material or status goals, that there’s something more – a definite search for “more” is going on
- there are just too many things that are speaking into their lives that most of the time, you just want to shut it off and just listen to your own instinct
- a high value for the “empowered self” and a high value for equality
- humanism is the truest thing
The significant thought process that shapes a post-modern person’s formation of truth is this (the first trumping the voice of the next and the next and so on):
1st: personal experiences and experiences of my friends and family
2nd: research or reasoning verifying these experiences
3rd: tradition or history backing up the reasoning
4th: and at a distant last place, is the Word of God.
These are the ideas and processes that we need to pay attention to.
How Can We Engage?
So, what do we do with this? I think it’s twofold in engaging with the post-modern person:
- Help them experience something positive, remarkable and personal about and with God
- Help them connect God’s revealed Word with their personal experiences
If one’s personal experience will trump and speak into shaping a truth, more than anything else, then provide spaces and people for them to experience deep positive truths about God and with God.
In our community, we bypass the second and third thought processes and attempt to connect the first and fourth: we create settings where people will connect their personal experiences with God’s Word – their personal truths meeting God’s truth face to face.
We practice the first mode by providing environments where people can experience God in a personal way by focusing on personal storytelling and participating in an assortment of ways for people to connect with God one on one (including listening prayer, reflecting personally on a song, quiet meditation, writing poetry, painting impressions, asking God simple questions, etc).
We engage with the second mode by experiencing God’s Word together in reading, studying, or teaching, and carving out space every time to have a personal response, whether affirming or struggling.
We also practice connecting God’s revealed Word through words of prophecy and prayer to share with one another. These are normal practices in our community, so that, it will be a normal practice when engaging with other post-modern persons in our context.
Allegiance is shown shown in the culture people build around them. Oftentimes, particularly for this postmodern generation, it will be doing “good” things by “good” people for the greater “good”. But good without God is ill-defined and never good.
We in leadership need to shape communities to be people who have a different internal truth voice over their own – help them to put allegiance in God more than anything else.
We need to help them engage in God’s truth in a way that they experience something personal that they can’t reason away. As He says in Isaiah 55:11: “[S]o is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
God wants to engage with His people. God wants to be the truth that shapes what we think, how we feel, and what we do.
And that is significant for a post-modern person who has connected his or her personal experience with the God who is the ultimate good and most intimately personal.
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