The Gallup organization, which has been polling Americans about their views on a wide variety of issues every year for more than forty years, reveals that the trend in religious belief and practice over the last generation is unmistakable. The decline is real and has nothing to do with socio-economic factors or other such variables. In fact, this pattern is present across all demographic profiles. According to the study:

The current drop in U.S. religiousness began shortly after 1999, before the start of the recession and just as the Internet was beginning to revolutionize people's lives. It has continued through two presidential administrations, to include both the end of the Iraq war in December 2011 and the killings of bin Laden in May 2011 and Saddam Hussein in December 2006. Its cause cannot be attributed to any one event, factor, or trend…18

What we are witnessing is a massive cultural shift with deep ramifications for our churches. This has always been the case—the church has never exisetd in static, unchanging conditions. Even so, if you need a reason to find these shifts alarming consider the words of Peter the Apostle (an individual who has no doubt already been dead some 500 times):

[I]n the last days scoffers will come scoffing, following their own sinful desires, saying, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our ancestor's time we have been expecting it first in the days of Elijah, then in the days of anyone else."23

Peter goes on to say that they "willfully ignore" God's promises and prophets. Peter did not tell us much in the way of details but clearly, whoever is causing this erosion in basic morality that we see around us today must be highly motivated by his desire to destroy.

This is why we find ourselves working so hard against so many outside forces when we gather together in worship. While trying to fulfill the Great Commission, we are constantly having to contend with what I like to call "the four horsemen of the apocalypse": our own lusts, the world system, persecution from without, and temptation within. If our desires were aligned with God's, then it could get easier when those oppositional forces emerged but due to fallen nature, the world pulls away from us in virtually everything we do. We are both entrapped in an evil culture while also being the product of that evil culture.

Of course, if your aim is the holistic sanctification of your soul, the work can sometimes be strenuous but infinitely rewarding. In this short book, I've attempted to provide you with some concrete steps for surviving and thriving in this incredibly unchurched landscape.

This chapter comes directly from the introduction to my new eBook The Church In a Post-Christian World (available at Amazon) and is posted here with permission. Get the book at Amazon!

23 2 Peter 3:4, NIV.

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