When Jonathan Merritt moved from Tennessee to New York City in 2014, he wasn’t prepared for the different culture he would find. Merritt, son of a mega-church pastor, had been working as a reporter for Religious News Service and had made the move to NYC for his career.
While Merritt found spiritual conversations to be easy in Bible belt USA, NYC was difficult. People were not just increasingly secular but were less inclined to talk about spiritual things. This week, he shared his findings in an op-ed in the New York Times (“It’s Getting Harder to Talk about God”).
Merritt enlisted the help of the Barna Group. Surveying a thousand American adults, their findings revealed that most Americans (about 75%) do not have frequent spiritual or religious conversations, a surprising stat considering that 70% of Americans stay they are very spiritual.
Consider these results:
- Approximately 20% of respondents admit they haven’t had a spiritual conversation in the past year.
- 6/10 say that religious matters come up on rare occasions (either once or twice – 29%) or several times (29%) in the past year.
- Only 7% of Americans say they talk about spiritual matters regularly.
But the real shocking stat was this: of practicing Christians who attend church regularly, only 13% had a spiritual conversation once a week.
Religious talk puts people on their back foot. “Some said these types of conversations create tension or arguments (28%); others feel put off by how religion has been politicized (17%); others report not wanting to appear religious (7%), sound weird (6%) or seem extremist (5%).”
While people are less willing to talk “religion,” the use of virtuous language – that there is moral goodness and evil – is a point of entry. While virtuous language (think the fruit of the Spirit) may be in decline, people who do talk about joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, thankfulness, are likely to stand out as hopeful people. One man from our congregation held the door open for another person to have them reply, “It’s nice to know there are still gentlemen in the world!” Virtue is noticed!
When Jesus crossed paths with people, he was always intentional. Just consider his words in John’s Gospel:
- For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. (Jn 6:38)
- I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (Jn 8:28b-29)
The first step in being on mission for Jesus is to unashamedly use the language of virtue. Let these words raise questions in people’s minds: “Why do they care about goodness, patience, thankfulness so much?”
But don’t stop with virtuous words. Explain to people how Jesus has changed your heart to long for what is good, true, lovely, noble, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), and that you want to grow in these ways. Let them know you’re far from where you want to be, but because Jesus has died and risen again, he is changing you. These thoughts might not be in one conversation, but plan on sharing these words of life!
And in that moment, God will meet you with great power and joy!
Seeking to grow more intentional with you,
Missional Action Plan: What words can you use in every day conversations that will cause people to notice that you live with a different value system? How can you talk about your life to the people around you to point to Jesus and how he is working in you?
Missional Action Prayer: “Lord, help me to speak in ways that point to how you are changing me so that I can tell others about the good news of Jesus.”
As we gather for Sunday worship, we want you to meet with God and be transformed by the Word. Prepare your heart by reading the passage and listening to the songs for Sunday.