In January of 2021, God burdened my heart to begin to seek spiritual renewal in my life and in the church I lead. This led me to read about renewal, the state of the church in North America, and study past renewal movements. The 5 part series that follows is my personal assessment and application from my reading and reflection on evangelism, the gospel, and renewal over the last eight months.
Introduction: Our Problem and Opportunity
Western society is increasingly growing post-Christian, and churches in America are feeling it. Mainline churches are declining and younger generations are leaving the church at an alarming clip. Currently, one million young people, who grew up in the church, leave Christianity per year. It is estimated that thirty-five million youth who grew up in the church will disaffiliate from Christianity by 2050. That would mean a massive shift in the United States, dropping the percentage of Christians in America from roughly 70% in 2017 to 54% by 2050. Not only is there upheaval happening in the church, but we see it in American society at large. Our society has experienced a pandemic, racial tensions, political turmoil, and isolation over the last year. The result has been an intensifying polarization producing mistrust of governing authorities, media outlets, and even science/medicine. It does not appear these things are going away. But in this problem, there is opportunity. As culture shifts and our country continues to face political, economic, and societal challenges, there are great opportunities for revival. As Tim Keller points out, “instead of wringing our hands over the loss of influence…this decline should prompt us to examine ourselves, pray, and work toward a new missionary engagement with Western culture.” If we are going to see a spiritual awakening in our day, I believe it will require that we 1) rethink evangelism, 2) reclaim the biblical gospel, and 3) learn from previous renewal moments in our history.
Rethinking Evangelism: Biblically and Contextually
The chief task of the church is to tell the good news of Jesus. Evangelism in its biblical sense (euangelizo) is to bring or announce good news, to proclaim the message of salvation. In many ways, American Evangelicalism was born out of a commitment to this central task of evangelism. Unfortunately, our collective evangelism over the last two decades hasn’t borne the fruit we’ve hoped to see. I believe the primary reason for this is, as Darrell Bock says, “[we’re] in a fog on the gospel.” So, while the world is ripe for the good news, much of evangelicalism hasn’t been proclaiming it. Instead, some in evangelicalism have offered a therapeutic gospel, making God simply a life coach in the sky who is full of good advice but offers no actual demands on one’s life. Others have packaged a consumeristic gospel and worked to sell a product. About consumerism in the church, Eugene Peterson writes, “people can have all the promises and blessings the gospel is famous for without the [real] struggles of faith.” Still, others have truncated the gospel down to a get-out-of-hell-for-free card, leaving those who have prayed a prayer or checked a box unsure of what the gospel has to do with the rest of their lives. And finally, and perhaps most disheartening of all, there is a segment of American evangelicalism who have embraced a political gospel, in which Jesus is made nothing more than a special advocate in the great story of America.
None of these are the biblical gospel, nor is this biblical evangelism. And what is the result? Weak conversions lead to shallow discipleship, which produces unhealthy churches, which explains why we are seeing the trends of disaffiliation and declining churches. Due to this, we need to recover the gospel and rethink our evangelism. Suppose we can do both, reclaim the biblical gospel and begin proclaiming it in a winsome and holistic way. In that case, I believe we can experience renewal in the church and revival in our spiritually hungry days.
- Great Opportunity: The American Church by 2050. The Pinetops Foundation, 2017.
- Keller, Timothy. How to Reach the West Again, (p. 4). Redeemer City to City, 2020.
- Bock, Darrell L. Recovering the Real Lost Gospel. B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
- Peterson, Eric. Letters to a Young Pastor: Timothy Conversations Between Father and Son, (p. 24). NavPress, 2020.