In his book, The Seven Faith Tribes, George Barna identified the largest group of self-identified Christians in the United States as “casual Christians.” After the recent Pew Forum study on religion found the number of people saying they have no religious affiliation rising, Ed Stetzer said the number of “cultural Christians” in the United States is declining. I think the decrease in casual or cultural Christians is a good thing, those monikers don’t even really make sense.
I love golfing. I enjoy the stillness, the relaxed pace, and taking out any lingering frustration on a golf ball. But no one would mistake me for a serious golfer. I only go a couple times a year. Recently a friend gave me a pair of golf shoes, but before that I wore tennis shoes. I swing fifteen-year-old clubs I got used. My dad bought the putter I wield at a garage sale for two dollars, when I was seven. I don’t mind if people talk while I’m hitting a shot, and I don’t spend much time lining up my putts. In every way my approach to the game of golf is casual.
When we’re casual about something we don’t expend much energy on it. Casual walks don’t wear anyone out. Casual afternoons don’t include doing your taxes. It’s good to have casual times in life. Without them you’d be so high-strung you’d end up talking like Hulk Hogan. But there are consequences to being casual about something.
You don’t master things you take casually. No casual cook has ever been hired as a chef at a five-star restaurant. I’ve yet to hear anyone referred to as an elite casual athlete. Being casual leads to mediocrity at best.
We’re not passionate about the casual things in our lives. One of the things I care about most in life is my family. I am deeply committed to being the best husband and father I can be. I spend casual time with my family, but I’m not casual about them. I am fully invested in making sure my family feels loved, cared for, and supported.
When Christianity is casual for someone there’s a problem.
“Are you going to church this Sunday?”
“I don’t know. I’ll see if I feel like it. I might be up late Saturday night.”
“What about prayer meeting?”
“Oh, I don’t think so. It’s so early in the morning, and besides, there are only three or four there so it feels a bit awkward.”
“Well how is your personal time with God?”
“It’s fine, we have an understanding. I don’t expect too much of him and he doesn’t expect too much of me.”
I know that being a follower of Jesus is not about going to a church service, or a prayer meeting, or reading the Bible, or any other singular activity. At the same time, the lives of so many who call themselves Christians are marked by an absolute lack of anything that looks like serious commitment. In what other area of life can you claim to be committed to something with no evidence to back it up? When someone joins the military they have to show up at boot camp, get a new haircut, and structure their life around a new schedule. A person who says they are committed to living healthy and never exercises is a liar. Life as a disciple of Jesus is not about attendance at any program or gathering, but life as a disciple of Jesus is one of high commitment and that should show up somewhere. It isn’t casual.
Men and women in other parts of the world risk their lives to meet together in the name of Jesus, pray, and study the Scriptures. Doing those activities is not the point any more than it is in the United States, but they know they can’t grow in their faith without being intentional. Their lives reflect their commitment to be disciples of Jesus. They are willing to give up their lives if it comes to that. Many American Christians aren’t willing to give up their favorite television shows to meet together, pray, and study the Scriptures. People don’t think it’s odd to approach new life in Jesus Christ like golf on the weekend.
Can you imagine Jesus being okay with casual Christianity? “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and chill out together, or on your own if you don’t feel like being around people. When you get a couple free minutes remember what I taught you. But don’t go out of your way.”
We serve a God who has triumphed over sin and death. He is with us by his Spirit every minute of every day, ready to empower us to live out the new life he has given us. So if casual Christianity is declining, I’m all for it.
On Saturday the fam and I decided to get out of the house. We made a stop at the library (where Michelle actually met a new woman and set a playdate with her (for the kids of course) this week!) and then went on to a toy store near here that has a train set and lots of toys for the kids to try and break so we have to buy them.
After following Ayla around the store aimlessly for about 45 minutes I figured it was about time to go. We put our coats on and headed out the door. As we exited into the cold Chicago (well, technically Chicago area) afternoon a few people walked briskly by us and shoved something into Michelle’s hand. The guy who forced the leaflet into her hand didn’t say anymore than a gruff “here.” With two kids to juggle and a diaper bag we didn’t have a chance to look at it until we were on the way home.
You can probably guess what it was for–a new church opening in a theater in the area. It looked nice, very professionally done, but I couldn’t help thinking this trio was going to do more harm than good on their pamphlet-distributing mission. If we were people seeking a faith community (which is who they seemed to be targeting) I can’t imagine we’d check this one out. Professional advertising still doesn’t outdo friendliness and service. Imagine if one of them had offered to carry our diaper bag to the car and actually interacted with us like regular humans! That might have compelled someone to check out their church, but their manner on Saturday probably wouldn’t do much more than further ingrain some negative stereotypes of Christians. Perhaps the most ironic part was that the slogan on the brochure was “No Perfect People Allowed,” maybe they were just trying to live out their slogan.
The point is, following Christ through kindness and compassion will speak far more to people than the flash and presentation of our gathering places. And I think Jesus would be far more concerned with the former as well.