Most of us will not be surprised to learn that New England’s five states, led by Vermont, are the least religious states. Add Washington, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska and New York to the mix.
Nor are we surprised that the “Bible Belt” states, led by Mississippi, are the most religious. Add Utah (2nd place).
Where does California fit? It was “average” but not much higher than New York.
Those of us who grew up (in my case, Ohio) where Christian thinking and values were rather “assumed” by the religious and non-religious alike have to adjust our approaches and ministries accordingly.
Where Bible influence is still strong, we can speak about God, Jesus, the Bible (maybe the King James Version!), right and wrong, Jesus’ return and the judgment and have a rather wide consent to what we say. We may also find that certain “religious/cultural” rules we don’t especially like to keep still apply here.
If we are in a secular environment where non-belief is strong and minds are vacant as to Bible knowledge, we have to adjust accordingly. We may find very few “religious/cultural” rules but perhaps a certain secular “correctness” is expected instead.
This biblical pattern will guide us (1 Corinthians 9:20-22 NIV):
- To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
- To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.
- To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.
- I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.
My first pastoral opportunity took me from a conservative area of Indiana, where a biblical consensus still existed, to highly-secular California. I struggled as we all should, as I worked to internalize and apply the above pattern. Our confidence in the reliability of the Bible and the power of the Holy Spirit to open minds does not change. Our approach, our explanations and examples and arguments, our choices on non-moral lifestyle matters do change. At least if we want to be effective.
Let’s all work hard at this if we wish to be relevant where God has placed us to be an influence for him!