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The Toronto cityscape, a city closely associated with our understanding of post-Christianity.

What Comes After Post-Christianity?

I was not prepared for the culture shock I experienced in 2016. That was the year I moved from my home country—Canada—to the United States. But I didn’t just move to the United States. I moved to Tennessee. To the South.1

Flannery O’Connor, a Southern Gothic storyteller, describes the South as hardly being Christ-centered but “most certainly Christ-haunted.”2 There is less of a certainty or conviction that Christianity is true and more of a fear that it may be. Here, a thin veneer of religiosity covers up the crud that is out in the open in a post- or pre-Christian culture. People might go to church, but they don’t necessarily believe the gospel.

It’s a context largely unprepared for the challenges of discipling adult converts.

But don’t misread that as a lack of desire. (That said, I have been asked if we should even try to make adult converts more than once.) It’s because, if you grew up in a culture where Christianity seems normal, where most people who are a part of your church have always been a part of a church, the idea of someone who has no idea about anything to do with Christianity is unfathomable. But these are the people I believe we will all be serving—and serving alongside—in the years to come.

Moving Past Post-Christianity: Our Next Mission Field

You’ve undoubtedly heard the term “post-Christian” used to refer to Canada, the UK, and other Western nations. It’s easiest to think of a post-Christian culture as the result of culture shifting from values informed by a historic connection to the Christian faith to something else. These cultures tend to have a faulty memory of Christian values. To many within those cultures, Christianity is limiting and oppressive. It keeps you from your true self, which is why it is typically met with hostility.

But what happens when the faulty memory fades entirely, maybe a generation or two after post-Christianity? Hostility gives way to ignorance. People in these cultures won’t see Christianity positively or negatively. They won’t necessarily think Christianity is oppressive because they won’t think about it at all.

This is where I believe we already are in many parts of the Western world. It’s certainly true of many major cities in Canada and, increasingly, in the United States as well. Despite the presence of several large churches, cities like Toronto and Montreal aren’t so much post-Christian as they are beyond it. They are almost like a pre-Christian culture. I say “almost” because it’s not quite the same. The West cannot become truly pre-Christian. Christianity’s influence is too deeply ingrained into virtually every facet of Western society for that.

But however you want to label it, this cultural moment offers a different set of challenges to us as disciple-makers. We are increasingly serving people without the history we might think they have and with practical issues that we inevitably will feel unequipped to deal with effectively. Some of them might seem silly; some will make us break out into a cold sweat. But as a man who came to faith as an adult, let me assure you that we respond matters.

I'm a Christian - Now What?, a book written to help adult converts navigate the messiness of their new faith
I’m a Christian–Now What? is available now from Lexham Press.

The Good News for Overwhelmed Disciple-makers

But that’s the fruit of the strange new world we’re living in, one getting stranger by the day. Where discipleship is becoming messier than what any of us might be used to because culture is changing faster than any one human can keep up. And because of that, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

But can I encourage you to remember this? Adult new believers feel overwhelmed and confused too. Becoming a Christian is entering into a whole new culture as well. As nervous as you are about what you might see coming in the world, an adult new believer is equally uncertain about what it means to live as a Christian. They want—no, they need—your help.

The good news is you can help. No matter how ill-equipped you feel, no matter how unexpected their questions might be, God has put you in their lives for a reason. He has given you “everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). You might not know all the answers, but with his help, and in his power, you have everything you need to pass this on to new believers as well.

So don’t be afraid of the mess. Step in, trusting that God will do what only he can in the lives of those around you.

  1. This article is adapted from the post-script of I’m a Christian—Now What?, which offers practical guidance to churches aiming to disciple adults who are new to Christianity. ↩︎
  2. Flannery O’Connor and Sally Fitzgerald, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969), 44–45. ↩︎

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