In a Westernized culture obsessed with consumerism, we crave options and the ability to choose the best possible products—even when it relates to our personal faith.
We’ve been trained through decades of repetitive habits—often subconsciously —to want superior quality, and if only one aspect of our church is considered subpar, we’re tempted to “shop” somewhere else. Before long, our spiritual life is compartmentalized according to our desires and demands, and we choose based on our society’s perceptions of value.
Meanwhile, an abundance of polls, data, and pundits all warn of Christianity’s increasing decline and future demise. It’s because of this that Christians, especially families, are starting to become more spiritually tolerant, elaborate, and complicated.
The apocalyptic and unknown dangers of Post-Christianity, combined with the fear that our loved ones will abandon their belief in Jesus altogether, has changed our spiritual expectations. Many Christian parents are now pleased simply to have their children attend any Christian event—let alone regularly go to church! So when their kids go off to college and attend a church, parents are often ecstatic—regardless of the church’s denomination or theological beliefs.
And as Christian families inevitably expand and grow older, when children get married and have kids of their own, it’s an added bonus if they continue with church amid the chaos of life—especially within a highly secular Westernized civilization.
These changes aren’t restricted just to families—every modern Christian is encountering a culture that’s making it harder to avoid the complexity of various opinions, cultures, traditions, theologies, and practices related to a faith in Christ.
Our desire for more causes us to expand beyond our primary faith community, and we quickly discover other tribes based on our preferences and passions. Today’s believers can attend a specific church primarily because of its child-care, but attend a separate church for worship, and allow their teenagers to participate in a separate youth ministry, and listen to podcasts of their favorite theologians, and attend sermons of visiting preachers, and participate in neighborhood Bible studies, and socialize with Christians from their workplaces, and attend conferences sponsored by nearby megachurches, and join social media circles, and use technology to shape their faith. Sources of spiritual inspiration are no longer centralized—or monopolized—by a single Christian institution.
Although churches desperately try to, it’s almost impossible for a lone institution to holistically provide spiritual satisfaction for every facet of a person’s—or family’s—spiritual needs.
Denominations and churches no longer have the dominant influence they once held because of this diversification, and church leaders need to start realizing that parishioners are now being fed by—and craving—multiple resources outside of their “primary” church.
Many churches now realize this, and they’re compensating by becoming more specialized, creating a niche within an array of options.
Some churches market themselves as having the best worship teams, the “coolest” college groups, the most academic sermons, and within our communities, certain churches are known as being “traditional, ” “modern, ” “young, ” “old, ” and the list could go on. We assume that this is just the evolution of church communities, that these labels happen through chance and circumstance, but many churches are much more intentional.
They comprehend that if they carve out and market to a specific target demographic, they’ll be able to survive within the religious marketplace—an unforgiving and cutthroat place. Pastors and church leaders will look at their majority constituents and plan accordingly. They’ll attempt to maximize their attendance and financial potential—often alienating people in the process.
This trend of having a multifaceted faith among believers isn’t new, and Barna has published research on this growing movement for years, and although it often causes churches to ignore and sacrifice parishioners for the sake of survival, it’s not all bad. While some may misinterpret this environment as spiritual and theological relativism and cheap accommodation, in reality it’s helping many Christians spiritually survive—and thrive—within their faith.
In some ways, Christians are starting to become less legalistic and more theologically nuanced because they’re no longer constricted by one source of information. Christians are starting to become exposed to various viewpoints outside of their original upbringings—this is a good thing.
Authoritarian and fundamentalist communities still exist, but increasingly, Christians are starting to naturally expand beyond their comfort zones, becoming more accepting of other people’s differences while being unified through Christianity’s core theological tenants.
For American believers, there’s a distinct self-awareness that Christianity is often seen as an old-fashioned fading pastime. So when we encounter or interact with fellow Christians, we’re less inclined to be combative, and more likely to have a sense of solidarity.
Unfortunately, there’s still plenty of division and infighting, and always will be, but I’m hopeful that we’re starting to move in a more civil and respectful direction—but time will tell.