I don’t remember who connected me to Aaron Renn, but somehow I stumbled upon him. Renn works for a New York think tank and is a cultural critic.
He also happens to be a Christian.
As a side project, he writes a newsletter called The Masculinist that reflects on the “intersection of Christianity and masculinity. Though I don’t agree with everything he says, he always makes some great points.
Three Worlds …
One of Renn’s great points is his Three Worlds observation. In September 2017, he pointed out that there are three “worlds” the Christianity has lived in.
The Positive World
In this world, the culture see’s Christianity, Christians, and the Church in a positive light. In this world, it’s a “good thing” to be a Christian and most people readily and proudly claim to be a Christian. In his words, being a Christian is a “status enhancer.” Renn posits that this “world” came to an end in about 1994.
The Neutral World
In the neutral world, Christianity, Christians, and the Church (3C’s) are seen as neutral, as in, they just “are.” Being a Christian doesn’t hurt your status, but it doesn’t help your status either. The culture, by and large, just sees the 3C’s as interesting phenomena that are largely irrelevant. Adherents are essentially seen as hobbyists, no different than stamp collectors, and in most cases probably viewed as just as odd. Renn suggests this world existed from 1994 – 2014.
The Negative World
As you might expect, the negative world view of the C3’s is one of derision. Being affiliated with Christianity, Christians, and/or the Church is enough to get you branded negatively. In fact, in Renn’s words, “Christianity in many ways is seen as undermining the social good.”
Three worlds. The problem is, in our culture, there’s only one reality. Renn regularly points out that the church largely operates as if we are living in the Neutral World.
The US culture no longer views Christianity as a “good thing” and it sees Christians as detrimental to society. Renn has plenty of examples, but I’m guessing you have some examples of your own. Almost every Christian I know today has at least a couple examples and personal stories that illustrate the point.
If living in the negative world is a reality, we’ve got to get real about what it takes to reach people for Jesus Christ today. I’ve been known to remind churches that only 14 percent of USAmericans went to “church” last weekend. That means over 85 percent chose not to go to church. And THAT means our primary “target audience” is people who don’t want to go to church. Never mind that they don’t see a “need” for our “product,” they flat out don’t want it because admitting you’re a Christian is a status deflator!
What’s That Mean?
The holiday season is upon us. Advent is here and Christmas is coming. Once upon a time, visitors flooded our churches during the next few weeks, but we’ve been doing research for several years now and most of the churches we surveyed admitted they’re not pulling in the crowds they used to get … and the number of visitors, even to the high-holy Christmas Eve service, has waned. Significantly.
What that means is that doing what we’ve always done isn’t going to work anymore. Marketing isn’t working nearly as effectively as it used to because the receptive audience has been dwindling. Even personal invitations aren’t terribly effective anymore.
What’s the Solution?
Over the next few weeks, I’ll take some time to offer some reflections on what we’re seeing work … and what’s not working. Renn has some interesting, perhaps even some good, ideas. So you may want to read through his archives. But there are some other thoughts as well, so stick around. We’ll take a peek at some options over the next few weeks.
Share your observations in the Comment section below!