FEBA Forever!

Insights from the Forward Edge of the Battle Area

My old blog site is back up here. My first ever blog was May 28, 2008. I called my site “FEBA Forever” because I was using a military metaphor to help launch our college ministry at University State. FEBA stands for “Forward Edge of the Battle Area.” The writers of the New Testament sometimes used such military language, and it’s a helpful way to illustrate the idea of moving forward. In the military, it is not unusual for special reconnaissance assets to operate significantly forward of FEBA. They often operate deep behind enemy lines, but not always in uniform.

Over 4 or 5 years the old blogosphere atrophied from neglect, and I hadn’t posted in years. Now that it’s resurrected, I am reminiscing about how we started with about 8 college students and had a total attendance of 17 at our first open-air meeting on campus. Now we have 3 home churches and well over 100 people involved in the college ministry. The old FEBA site was part of my church’s web, so a disclaimer is in order. Some of the content in the early days was directed to my church (e.g., I name names, use “insider” terms), so it may not always make sense. Nonetheless, I think I’ll repost some of the blogs here for old times’ sake.

Our Battlefield

Paul reminds us, albeit indirectly, that God has assigned to each Christian worker or leader a field of ministry. The mission field for FEBA Team is the University. In order to be successful, we must understand the opportunities and challenges that our field of ministry presents. So let us consider the state of Christianity at the beginning of the 21st century in America and among young people.

I believe that we are all living in the end times, and that in America we are seeing the slow decline of western civilization. Our quality of life is going to slowly degrade, as the world measures quality of life. Energy and health care will get more expensive, money is too tight to mention, and time will get more and more pressed. I also believe that the disintegration of the family has left in its wake generations of damaged people who are not able to form and maintain healthy relationships. Education is not what it used to be. People are getting more and more stupid and ignorant.

America is post-Christian

Against this backdrop, we are seeing America become a post-Christian nation, much like Europe. The new face of Christianity in the 21st century is not white, which may surprise self-focused Americans. The Church is growing in Africa, Asia, and India, but it is shrinking in the USA. For example, in 1900 China was not in the top 10 countries with respect to the number of Christians. In 1990 it moved up to #3, and by 2050 it will be #2.

I think the missionologists statistics are a bit misleading, since they rely on self-report of Christianity. People in America claim to be Christian at very high numbers (50-70%?), but that is an overestimate. If you count the people who actually attend church on any given Sunday, the number is more like 20%, and will be less than 10% by 2050 if current trends continue. This includes all the main-line denominations with nominal members, and the number of evangelicals is even less.

In conrast, there are powerful disincentives for the Chinese to claim to be a Christian (China is still one of the 10 worst places to live as a Christian in terms of persecution). Therefore, I believe that China will pass the USA in terms of the size of the Church, if it hasn’t already.

Young people don’t like Christians

David Kinnaman, the president of the Barna group recently wrote a book entitled “unChristian.” In this book he describes the slipping image of Christianity among American youth. Among people 16-29 years old, there is a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than was expressed by any previous generation. As the table below shows, only 3% of non-Christians aged 16-29 have a “good impression” of evangelical Christians.

I think that FEBA Team and [name of church] belong to the category of “Evangelicals” rather than to “Christianity,” since that would include many program-based institutions like the old-line denominations (e.g., Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran). Therefore, most young people do not have a positive view of what we stand for and what we are trying to do!

It is certain that we will face opposition, persecution, and other problems as we launch FEBA Team. The impression people will have of us will be negative, and will include many stereotypes about Christians. In the table below Kinnaman describes the impression of Christianity that young people do have:

Percent of non-Christians ages 16 to 29 who said each image describes Christianity “a lot or some”

  • Anti-homosexual: 91%
  • Judgmental: 87%
  • Hypocritical: 85%
  • Old-fashioned: 78%
  • Too Political: 75%
  • Out of Touch: 72%
  • Insensitive: 70%
  • Boring: 68%

So we will constantly be asked why we are “anti-homosexual.” We will be considered judgemental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, political, out of touch, etc.

Unfortunately, negative views of Christianity are not confined to non-Christians! Even people who describe themselves as “Christians” essentially don’t like Christians! Amazingly, half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. One-third said Christianity is old-fashioned and out of touch with reality. So we should be very careful about asuming that any one who claims to be a Christian is actually an ally or supportive of our efforts. Many of those coming from “Christian” backgrounds are in the process of rebelling against their faith.

Young people abandon their “faith”

Christianity is in sharp decline among young people in this country. A couple years ago the Barna Group came out with a study in which they reported that a majority of twentysomethings – 61% of today’s young adults had been churched at one point during their teen years, but are now spiritually disengaged. According to the survey, only 20% of twentysomethings have maintained a level of spiritual activity consistent with their high school experiences. According to Barna, another 19% of teens were never significantly reached by a Christian community of faith during their teens and have remained disconnected from the Christian faith.

So, apparently about 60% of people in their 20’s “lose” whatever meager faith they had during their teens. I tend to believe that many of the 80% of twentysomethings who claim to have attended church during their teens is a greatly inflated number. I really doubt it. This includes every conceivable form of “church” and does not require any consistency in church attendance or even the most limited commitment to a life of faith. Nevertheless, whatever limited interaction children and high school students have with the church is lost after college.

College is a “last chance” for most

An important counterpoint to this observation is the fact that college, during which many students are abandoning their “faith” (or constructing a new personal post-modern syncretistic faith?), is the last good opportunity to win a person for Christ. Most people who receive Christ do so by their 18th birthday. About 64% of people who report that they are a Christian received Christ during their childhood or highschool years. However, another 13% of current Christians accepted Christ between 18-21 years of age, and another 23% accepted Christ after age 21.

It may seem as if a good number of people accept Christ as post-college adults (23%). However, consider that “after 21″ can include 50 or more years. Yes, some people do receive Christ in their 70’s and 80’s. But for every year that a Christian worker toils to win the lost, the odds of winning someone over age 21 is pretty low. In comparison, only three years are represented in the 13% of 18-21 year olds.

If you assume 50 years transpires after 21, and you round up a bunch of 71 year old Christians to ask, the odds them having accepted Christ in any given year during college are 9 times as great as their odds of having accepted Christ in any given year after age 21. The older people get, the more difficult it is to reach them. This does not mean that we should not try, but rather that we should take the most of the opportunities that the college years afford.

Christianity in the University

So this is what we face. In God’s providence he allowed us to live into the 21st century, and our field is not the rapidly growing Church of Asia or Africa (unless we become overseas missionaries!). We are here in Northeast Ohio, watching Christianity decay in America and among young people. FEBA Team will try to establish a beach head of the Kingdom of God in a hostile place.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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