This week we asked our authors to look at The Year in Review: Barna’s Top 10 findings in 2015 and give us their thoughts, advice or action plan in light of the findings. The Barna Group researches the role of faith in America. We invite you to review the study, read our author’s take, and comment with your own thoughts about how to share the Good News in our Diocese. Read Fr. Planty’s response here.
By: Deacon Marques Silva
In a recent study, the Barna Group posed the question “Is America, home to the largest Christian population in the world, actually becoming a ‘post-Christian’ nation?” They looked at a variety of key faith indicators for both belief and practice.
15 questions related to faith were used to determine an individual’s religion or irreligion.
To qualify as “post-Christian,” individuals had to meet 60% or more of the following factors (nine or more). “Highly post-Christian” individuals meet 80% or more of the factors (12 or more of these 15 criteria).
The study, comparing 2013 and 2015 numbers showed an increase in individuals who either no longer identify themselves as Christian or are not Christian period. The Washington Metropolitan area ranked number 29 as being one of the most post-Christian cities in the United States.
Don’t assume that an individual who is identified as post-Christian does not believe in anything. If we look around the world, we see the resurgence of the old pagan religions. Consider for a moment Iceland, announcing in February 2015 that for the first time in more than 1,000 years it will be building a “hof” or pagan temple to worship the ancient Norse religion near its capital Reykjavik.
The temple will provide followers of Iceland’s old Norse religion with a place to hold their communal “blot” – or feasts – as well as marriages, name-giving ceremonies, funerals and rite of passage ceremonies for teenagers. Until now, ceremonies have mostly been conducted outdoors during the summer.
In fact, closer to home, I was assisting with a local youth group in our Diocese and discovered one evening that when we spoke of God in talks, the youth did not necessarily understand or hear that it was the Christian Blessed Trinity or even the Judeo-Christian God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Speaking to a few of the youth that evening, they were adamant in telling me that Jesus was a nice guy who said nice things. Ugh.
Since when is Jesus the Christ, impotent and without efficacy? Did He not, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, call forth all of creation ex nihilo (See a short summary of his creative deeds in Job 38-41)? Is He not the one who fed the tens-of-thousands with a few of loaves of bread a couple of fish (cf. Mat 14: 13-21, Mk 8:1-9 and Jn 6:1-15)? Was He not, through various acts of signs and wonders (Heb 2:4), the one to cause the blind to see, the lame to walk, those who had leprosy to be made clean, the deaf to hear, the dead to rise, and the Good News proclaimed to the poor (Lk 4 18 and 7:22)? There was also that incident in which he was resurrected – just to cap it off.
Something has gone terribly wrong in our evangelical message and witness. We clearly need to recover our approach to sharing the Gospel – not just to the world but, even in our families. St. Paul told us, as he did St. Timothy that:
…men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it (2 Tim 3:1-9).
The Gospel is the Word of God that has the power to transform our world and us. We should not curse the darkness because of what we see around us, but remember what St. Augustine taught us: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” We all share this longing, an ache in our heart that begs to be filled by a person who is not just loving, but Love itself. How do we communicate this? We share our story. Our story is part of the greater Gospel message that he came to call us all out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pt 2:9).
Never done that before? It seems daunting. No problem. Here are four easy steps to effectively communicate your story:
Describe your life before you knew Christ. Give a little background on your family and interests and point out one or two examples of how you realized you needed something, someone more. Be selective and do not overemphasize wrongdoing.
Describe your conversion. You want to answer the question of how you came to know the Lord’s love. Share the why or what motivated you for the conversion. Make sure you avoid jargon or technical words that the individual might not know. Also, don’t worry that your conversion is not like St. Paul’s. Sometimes it is the gentle conversion story that wins hearts. Most of us did not have the Lord appear to us in triumphant glory.
Describe what happened after your conversion. Share the benefits of your personal relationship with Jesus. Don’t be general, but be specific with the examples of the changes in your life and what He now means to you. Also, remember to share that you are a work-in-progress.
Pray. Cantalemessa said: “The one who prays without speaking does more evangelization than the one who speaks without praying.” Pray for the individual but most of all, pray like our forefathers – remembering we, too, needed to be evangelized, “As you have used us to show them your holiness, so now use them to show us your glory. Thus they will know, as we know, that there is no God but you. Give new signs and work new wonders; show forth the splendor of your right hand and arm” (Sir 26:4-6).
There is no such thing as an undercover Christian – faith comes by hearing (Rm 10:17). Our lives do not need to be all together before we share our story. Our lives simply need to be ones faithfulness and perseverance. You have a story to tell. If not you, who? If not now, when?
The thought of sharing our witness may be a fearful thing at the moment. That’s okay. As G.K. Chesterton put it: “Jesus promised his disciples three things: that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble.”
Go forth and change the Barna Group’s figures. Make disciples for Christ.
 Kinnaman, D… (2015). 2015 vs 2013 Top 15 Post-Christian Cities in America. Retrieved from http://cities.barna.org/america-more-post-christian-than-two-years-ago/.