I was reading about the new Barna research that indicated Americans are exploring new ways of experiencing God, and the results are interesting. Since I am passionate about men’s ministry, I wondered how this information might be applied to our situation at King’s Grant, and the Men of Steel in particular.
88% of American adults say that “my religious faith is very important in my life.”
Faith is not going away despite the prolific media attention devoted to the demise of traditional faith practices and beliefs. Nine out of ten adults admit that their faith plays a meaningful role in their life. There is nothing on the horizon to suggest that this is likely to change in the foreseeable future.
If this is so, and that KGBC might be considered average, we would also have a high percentage of people understanding that faith is an important aspect of life (at least ideologically). For those who have responded to the call of Christ, I would hope that belief would manifest itself in an active pursuit of godliness, turning from vices that enslave, and understanding the need for authentic community in the development of one’s faith.
75% say they sense that “God is motivating people to stay connected with Him, but in different ways and through different types of experiences than in the past.”
There is a growing sense of release from traditional religious practices in this country. People are suggesting that they want more of God and less of the stuff that gets between them and their relationship with God.
There is talk and evidence that the church might not be the place to find God, so people are seeking out alternative experiences and expressions of spirituality, (I’ve also read that while people may love Jesus many hate the church). The church might be one of those issues that get between God and them. My concern is that without the community of faith (the church), just what do people get involved with, and what do they believe? The Bible warns about false doctrine (2 Peter 2:1). It is not just an archaic notion of controlling the masses, but if we really believe that God has “given us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (through the true knowledge of God – 2 Peter 1:3), then we have a solid standard for belief, faith and practice. The Bible was written for a purpose (1 John 5:13), that we might know that we have life. If God was going to reveal new information at a later time, the New Testament writers would have made a mistake… primarily that they were not given everything pertaining to life.
45% say they are “willing to try a new church.”
A staggering number of Americans – almost half of the nation’s 230 million adults – are open to changing their church home, demonstrating their lack of connection with their present community of faith and their desire to have a more significant connection. It may also be a reflection of people’s increasing lack of loyalty to both organizations and personal relationships, and the growing sense that there is always something better available if you can simply find it.
I read this statistic as people seeking faith yet lacking connection to the community of faith. They don’t trust the organized church. Christian leaders have moral failures. Role models have let us down. People are skeptical about this whole church thing so they stay at a distance.
I understand the lack of loyalty in this generation: if it gets hard, quit; if you no longer love her or she doesn’t meet your needs, divorce; if I deserve a pay raise but don’t get it, steal; if my church does not go in this direction, leave and look for another one. Some people change churches for completely legitimate reasons, but often the main reason is less than noble. If the church is “all about me and what I want” rather than “all about God and what He deserves,” we’ve lost focus.
Lack of loyalty to a church also manifests itself by lacking personal relationships within the organization. The churchy word for this is fellowship. We are so busy in the business world that we think we don’t have time for developing spiritual connections that will help us grow in Christ, be a better husband, a better father, neighbor, boss, employee, you name it. Spending time with the Men of Steel may not get you connected to the people who can give you that promotion, but it will help develop your character by connecting to other men who also desire spiritual and relational connection and growth. We don’t have to go through our spiritual lives alone. Life transformation takes place in community, not in a cocoon.
50% say “a growing number of people I know are tired of the usual type of church experience.”
It is not just the survey respondents who indicated their willingness to change churches or to consider different forms of church experience. Half of all adults said they are aware of such a willingness to experiment on the part of people they know because those individuals are tired of the common church experience.
If the church is not what we are looking for (socially, relationally, professionally, spiritually) we tend to bail out or simply not participate. Why participate in something you don’t feel is a benefit to your life goals and personal vision? But as a believer, what better life goal and vision than to prepare yourself and your family for eternity? How are you the spiritual leader of your home? What behaviors are you modeling for your children? How does your wife know that you love her as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25)? How does all that you do at home, at work or in the community reflect your love for God (Colossians 3:17)?
How many men do you know who are totally “satisfied” with the status quo? I put satisfied in quotes because I believe that men are never satisfied with being mediocre. Men are conquerors and hunters and are never satisfied with a measly existence. Men want their lives to count for something. Men want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. How can a man do that and be satisfied with the status quo? How many men come to church only because the wife brings him? Maybe if more women got on board with men’s ministry, they would see the benefit of the Men of Steel and push their husbands out of the house on Saturday mornings! (See Barna’s quote below). Get a man tired of the common church experience and he’s the one who is going to make a difference in life, the family and the workplace.
71% say they are “more likely to develop my religious beliefs on my own, rather than to accept an entire set of beliefs that a particular church teaches.”
Levels of distrust toward churches, church leaders and organized Christianity have been growing over the past two decades. That concern – along with the heightened independence of Americans and the profound access to information that has characterized the past decade – may have led to the emergence of a large majority of adults feeling responsible for their own theological and spiritual development. Other studies have shown an inclination for people to view a local church as a supplier of useful guidance and support, but not necessarily a reliable source of a comprehensive slate of beliefs that they must adopt.
Across the board, the research showed that women are driving these changes. This is particularly significant given prior research from Barna showing that women are more spiritually inclined, are the primary shapers of family faith experiences, and are the backbone of activity in the typical conventional church. Specifically, Barna discovered that women were more likely than men to pursue their faith in a different type of structure or environment (68% of women, 59% of men); to sense that God is motivating people to experience faith in different ways (79% vs. 60%, respectively); and to be willing try a new church (50% vs. 40%).
It’s great that people want to take control of their own spiritual development, but how often does this lead to spiritual syncretism, a blending of beliefs, (sometimes contradictory beliefs) to form one’s own theology. This is a product of our post-modern society that emphasizes truth is relative. What is true for one person may not be true for another. So we develop an Oprah-styled theology mixing in what we like and eliminating that which we don’t. The positive side is that people are taking responsibility for their spiritual growth, which is a sign of spiritual maturity. It’s not necessarily the responsibility of the church, the pastor or the Sunday school teacher, but it’s up to the believer to work out their salvation (Philippians 2:13). But remember that we don’t do this alone, God is the one who will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6), and He uses the church to help people grow in godliness (Hebrews 10:24-25).
This post is certainly long enough (and I’m concluding) but I see men’s ministry in the context of the local church. I am not seeking a group to replace the Sunday school hour. It’s not about adding another Bible study during the week. It’s not about numbers or starting new groups. I ask myself, “How many men have simply told God that all He gets is one or two hours a week on Sunday mornings, and it’s unreasonable to think about being involved any more?” It’s about growth, development, and sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17). I value the Men of Steel… manly fellowship, commons struggles, open dialogue, becoming what God intended from the beginning and passing it on to the next generation.