Much has been made over the last several years about the “rise of the nones.” Research measuring the religious landscape in the U.S. has shown an increasing number of people who mark “none” to the question of religious affiliation. Not only is this group growing relative to the overall population, but among younger segments of the population their size is alarming. According to Pew Research, 35% of all adults age 18-29 claim no religion, which is almost twice as many as those who identify as Evangelical Protestant (17%). This data is complex requiring great care to interpret, but even a cursory glance shows that our spiritual context is much different than it was even 20 years ago. A Gallup poll reported the percentage of the population claiming to be Protestant decreased from 58% in 1998 to 35% in 2018.
So what can we do? Well, some of the brightest minds in the Church today have been reviewing the data, interpreting its significance, and offering wisdom for the past few years. I have some thoughts for sure, but I won’t delve into it here. Instead, I raise the issue to introduce two related topics of great importance for Parkway Baptist Church: the need for evangelism and the necessity of friendship.
First, we are responsible, by direct command from God, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and invite people to receive salvation in Him by faith. “Go therefore and make disciples…” Our obligation as followers of Christ to share the good news comes as no surprise to us. We know this command. Despite our knowledge and the dozens of evangelical churches in our area, there are tens of thousands of unbelievers in Nelson County alone. Even more, the data indicates the need for gospel witness is growing as the Church shrinks relative to the population. In fact, perhaps more than any time in recent history, we need to share the gospel regularly.
Second, because the spiritual environment is much different than it was a few decades ago, I believe friendship is an even more important instrument for gospel conversations. The rise of the “nones” highlights the fact that fewer people hold to a Christian worldview that can serve as a reference point to begin sharing the gospel. Rather than appealing to basic Judeo-Christian morality or a generic belief in God as a foundation for gospel witness, we must engage unbelievers differently. Even those in our context who have a past connection with some brand of Christianity are often not eager to talk about spiritual matters. To those who are resistant to overt spiritual conversation, we must begin by building natural bridges to introduce the truth about Christ.
While God provides spontaneous opportunities to share Christ with strangers from time to time, the bulk of our evangelism should happen as we build long-term relationships with unbelievers in our spheres of life. As we must develop deep friendships with unbelieving co-workers, neighbors, and classmates, we follow the Spirit’s direction to seize moments to share about the grace of God in Christ that is transforming us and can do the same in them. God will use these ordinary connections to give us opportunities to share the gospel and bring salvation to people very near to us. Even to those who don’t claim a religious affiliation, meaningful friendship provides an avenue for sharing Christ’s love in deed and word.
Realizing the great need, our obligation to share, and the cultural setting, I want to invite you to ask God to identify ONE unbelieving person in your life for whom you will pray regularly, build a deeper friendship, and look for opportunities to share Christ. I’m challenging every member to identify your ONE person by Sunday, September 1st. Begin praying today and prepare to hear more in the days ahead.