A recent study by the Barna Group revealed that eight of the top 10 post-Christian cities in the United States are in the Atlantic Union territory: Albany, New York (1), Burlington, Vermont (2), Portland, Maine (3), Providence, Rhode Island (4), Hartford, Connecticut (5), Boston, Massachusetts (7), Buffalo, New York (8), and New York, New York (9). According to this study, the area where we have been called to minister and proclaim the good news of Jesus is highly post-Christian.
Who are the post-Christians? Though hard to define, after looking at many definitions, I’ve come up with one which can sum them all up. Post-Christians are individuals who may not believe in a God, do not wish to be called Christians, and definitely do not want to belong to a particular church or denomination, yet they accept and don’t mind following the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus. This puts us in a very difficult situation, because although we have a great message, articulate preachers, and beautiful churches, the post-Christians, if this definition is true, have no interest in coming to our beautiful buildings, or hearing our wonderful message preached by our powerful preachers. Moreover, the post-Christian mentality is not very argumentative about beliefs. They don’t mind if you believe something different from them.
They will respect you for it. Many of the post-Christians have not read the Bible and do not believe it is accurate, which makes reaching post-Christian cities very difficult, if not impossible. The big question asked in Christian circles in general, and the Adventist Church in particular, is “Where can we find common ground which provides attraction, and perhaps an entry point to reach the post-Christians?” Good news! There is common ground! Post-Christians accept and don’t mind following the moral and ethical teaching of Jesus. They enjoy feeding the hungry, helping the poor, advocating against sexual slavery and abuse, and volunteering to improve communities and cities. Post-Christians are generally compassionate. Though they may not know it or acknowledge it, they accept the Christian values of being the heart, hands, and feet of Jesus on this earth.
As a Christian who lives in the most post-Christian region of the United States, I would like to humbly suggest compassion is the bridge that, under the influence of the Holy Spirit and with the blessing of God, will allow post-Christians to view Christianity and Adventism positively. Perhaps a good place to start would be to show the post-Christian world the practical love of Christ in our communities and cities before we tell them of future events. We may never get them interested in last-day events unless they see our works of compassion in the present. I would like to challenge all youth leaders, adults, and Adventist church members across the Atlantic Union to incorporate a compassionate approach into everything we do. After all, that’s what Jesus did throughout His ministry. His preaching was usually preceded and followed by genuine acts of compassion. Begin by studying the needs of your community and intentionally seek to meet those needs. It would be most effective to make it a lifestyle for the church, not just a strategy employed before an evangelistic series calculated to hook the people and then abandon them after the meetings.
Acts of compassion will attract post-Christian young adults, college and university students, and adults who may not be interested in the state of the dead, the investigative judgement, or the second coming of Jesus, but they love feeding the hungry, loving the poor, and protecting the weak and marginalized. They will join us in compassionate activities, and perhaps one day they will worship the Creator, rest on the Sabbath, and hope for Christ’s return. Let compassion be the bridge that never ends!
José Cortés, Jr., is the director of Adventist Youth Ministries in the Atlantic Union Conference.