Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vacation [continued] and America's Seven Faith Tribes

Some pics...
Top to bottom: Dara...being Dara,
Drew and I about to throw down on some Calabash seafood!
Me and D
Typical family beach setup in the sandstorm (before the umbrellas became unmanageable)

Reading on the beach is one of my favorite things in life. There’s not much better than the shade of an umbrella, a soft constant breeze, and the sound of the waves crashing interrupted only with occasional calls of seagulls! My reading this week began with a commentary on the book of John (I’m getting ready to teach John at Providence late this fall). I know, I know, only pastors read that kind of stuff. The last two days I’ve been reading the latest book by well-known researcher George Barna entitled, The Seven Faith Tribes. Great stuff! It’s really making me think.

In short, Barna’s research indicates there are seven primary faith-based “tribes” in America with different worldviews: Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Pantheists, Skeptics, and two separate Christian groups—Casual Christians and Captive Christians. I’m not finished, so I’ll save opinions on the book for later. So far, I’ve read about the two different Christian “tribes” and the Jews. It’s really got me thinking. The Casual Christians make the largest “tribe” in America with about 66% of the America’s adult population in their ranks. They are poor givers to church or charity, somewhat faithful to attend church and say they believe in God, but their worldviews are anything but biblical. They generally don’t believe all the stories in the Bible are literally true. They are average among Americans regarding divorce, porn viewing, drinking too much, media influence, gambling, and they are statistically the LEAST happy of all groups except one. They are all over the map regarding politics.

The Captives are a different group. Only 16% of the adult population, they’re the happiest of all tribes, they’re not likely to trust the media or view porn or get divorced. They consider themselves as far from perfect but have high moral standards. They are solidly biblical in their worldview. They give significantly more of their money to church and charities; they are very faithful to attend church.

As I’m reading about these two Christian tribes, I’m reminded of Jesus’ parables of the wheat and the tares, the sheep and the goats, and his explanation of the two gates and ways. I’ve been thinking of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Barna makes the comparison to Jesus’ letters to the churches of Asia Minor transcribed by John in Revelation 2-3. Of seven churches addressed by Jesus, only 2 were commended and not warned. Barna says the difference between the two groups of self-described Christians in the United States are broken down about the same. Interesting.

I must say, while reading these two chapters I thought about our church (and churches in general) in two different lights. First, I think of all the people that call Providence home whose lives do not reflect a “fully devoted follower” kind of desire. I wonder how many people in our church are Casual Christians who are relatively unchanged and unaffected by Christ’s influence on their lives? They really live for this world rather than the next, and their lives show it. Here in the south we are experts at spiritual compartmentalization and keeping God in his place. Second, I wonder if we have been primarily going after the wrong crowd of people? We generally go after the minority tribes: the Skeptic, Jew, Muslim, or Pantheist. At least, I’ve got these “unbelievers” in my mind as I preach. That’s what we usually mean by the term, “unchurched.” But if what Barna says is true, we should perhaps be more intentional about going after these Casual Christians—the “churched” or “semi-churched”—some who come to our church one out of three (or four, or five) weeks and unhesitatingly claim to be Christian. That’s what the Mormons and Skeptics do. They fill their ranks with these. My thought is that we already have a head start on them, since they are at least familiar with the Gospel. My question is how do we best reach them? Is it worthwhile to put most of our eggs in that basket to try? Thinking out loud, reaching the people of this tribe probably requires a different kind of strategy. They are, as evidenced by their own actions, uncommitted to things they have heard. So how can we help them be committed? How do we help them see that Jesus is Savior AND Lord (Master)?

Speaking from experience, adult Casuals rarely cross-over to Captive status unless something really tragic happens to them or someone they love. Death (or a close call), diagnosis of a disease or serious condition, divorce, or some other life-altering situation is what God seems to use to wake them. Perhaps sweeping revival or awakening (both are perfect terms for this) comes with a national disaster or crisis. Since our strategy depends on relationships, should we not let them feel a sense of belonging before committing and then be ready to articulate the importance of surrender when they are really listening (i.e. when faced with trial)? Once again I’m reminded of the importance of Life Groups and getting people to try this level of community.

[Three days later…]
Well, I’ve read almost all the book. I’m glad to be home! The last day at the beach was like riding 80 mph in the back of a pickup full of sand! We were pummeled by wind and sand! It made reading a real challenge. Barna’s book is great. Not sure I agree with all the conclusions, but wow, what a thought provoking read. Really helps me understand the worldviews of people and why they do what they do. I’m still processing…and finding sand in my stuff. More later.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

That Casual Christian group is the one that we have always felt the most burden for. Glad to see that there is an awakening awareness towards these people, who are often the most neglected group in our churches.