Last week, the Arkansas Traveler ran this article about the rise of atheism amongst college students. In case you don’t check out the article, here’s what it boils down to: atheism in our age group has increased 13 percent in the last ten years. That means one in five people between the ages of 18 and 26 don’t believe in any god, much less Christ.
You guys. That is a huge deal. And not in a good way.
This isn’t going to be a post about how lost the World is or becoming a more progressive church body. It’s about understanding the way that the mission field has changed.
First, perhaps we should touch on what it means to be called to missions. In Matthew 28, Jesus gives us the Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (NIV). This charge is directed to the apostles, but it applies to everyone. If you are a Christian, you are called to spread the Word of God. It is literally that simple.
Where we get hung up is that “all the nations” bit. As a Church, we’ve come to think of America as securely Christian. We think we’re taken care of—it’s everyone else that needs the Gospel. Mission trips are things that require a suitcase and a passport, after all. Unfortunately, Christianity isn’t on the rise in the U.S, and the trend doesn’t seem to be changing. We’ve been lulled into a false sense of security, is what I’m saying. That means that the mission field isn’t just outside the country, it’s outside your front door, too.
Let me tell you a quick story to show you how dangerous this sort of complacency can be. In 18th century England, Christianity was cultural. Everyone practiced some form of Christianity, and this progressed up until the late 1800s. It was then that Charles Darwin and Charles Lyell published their works on evolution; coupled with the Industrial Revolution and a boom in scientific advancement, Christianity came under fire. By the end of the 20th century, Christianity had fallen by the wayside in England, and it has since declined incredibly quickly. In fact, the number of practicing Christians in the UK fell by 10 percent in the last five years alone. That means that roughly 12.5 million people in the UK are atheists. If history tells, the U.S is heading toward a very similar situation.
This is all to say that the mission field is no longer strictly international. Times have changed, and our generation is critical to the survival of Christianity. As we lose young adults to other religions and atheism, we are losing both this generation and the next. This creates a snowball effect; non-believers will raise their children outside of the church, who will raise their children outside of the church, and so on. Before you know it, Christianity isn’t just in trouble—it’s in crisis.
This post is both an encouragement and a charge. If you’re a college student, I hope you start thinking about your classroom, your dorm, and your campus as a place to spread the message of God’s love. It’s important, and each of you is on the front line. If you’re a steady member of a congregation, I challenge you to take a hard look around you. Is your church welcoming young adults and youth? Are you striving to reach a younger generation? And finally, if you’re a member of an association church, think of ABS as more than just a haven for young Christian college students. It’s a mission, and it’s a critical one.
I’m not trying to set you against international missions. How you choose to fulfill the Great Commission is between you and God. But as Jesus says in Matthew 7:3, “’Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (NIV) Though Christ isn’t specifically talking about missions here, this statement remains incredibly pertinent. As American Christians, we’ve remained willfully ignorant of the changing culture around us, refusing to acknowledge our own brokenness. Like in all things, it’s easier to try to fix others than it is to deal with our own faults. However, in doing so we’ve let the World tighten its grasp on the future of America. We now teeter on the precipice of a decision: will we actively choose to minister to what is quickly becoming a lost generation, or will we turn a blind eye until it’s too late?