In case you missed it, Chattanooga, Tennessee has again been named the “Most Bible-Minded City in America” by Barna and the American Bible Society. Chattanooga owned the title three straight years from 2012-2014 before slipping to No. 2 behind Birmingham/Anniston/Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 2015.
You may be thinking this makes life easy for ministers in across the city. Maybe you believe it’s easy to evangelize in this modern-day Constantinople.
Well, you’d be wrong. Ministry is never easy. In fact, I believe evangelizing the lost in our fine city is more difficult in some ways than many pre- or post-Christian cities–or as Barna puts it the “Least Bible-Minded Cities in America.” Here are five reasons I’ve come to that conclusion.
1. Everybody has religion
Okay, so we don’t have a large Atheist community as some cities in post-Christian regions do, but we do have a largely religiously inoculated base we are trying to reach. Many have just enough religion to deem themselves good enough. They may not cuss, chew, or hang with those who do, but in many cases they don’t actively follow Jesus either. There’s no relationship, just religion. They don’t go to church at all. Many blame it on a distaste for organized religion, but they don’t realize all they have is disorganized religion. It’s a dangerous place to be spiritually.
2. Churchianity is still big
Statistics show cultural Christianity is dying quickly across our nation. Those who would identify as “Christian” in the past because of family background and cultural environment, are declaring themselves “nones.” While that may be true nationally, it’s not as true in Chattanooga. Belonging to a church body still offers societal advantages in the scenic city. Whether or not they’ve actually trusted Jesus for salvation is secondary to appearances. Churchianity never saved anyone.
3. False doctrine is pervasive
This is true anywhere. But in Chattanooga, it’s at epidemic proportions. As a part of a ministerial team in the inner-city of Chattanooga, I can personally attest to the fact that some of the biggest alcoholics & drug dealers/addicts in the city are, in fact, “saved.” It’s not my intention to make light of the situation, but evangelizing some of these folks is like beating your head against a wall. They were “once-saved, always saved” as children but haven’t repented or actively followed Jesus in many, many years. And no matter how messy their lives may be, it’s extremely difficult to help them realize that the problem is their ongoing sinful lifestyles.
4. Legalist attitudes have turned many sinners off to the Gospel
Look, all it takes to be saved is turning from sin to Jesus. That’s it. Following Him is the supernatural progression that should take place afterward. But many churches have decided that behavior modification equals or is greater than the Gospel. Placing behavioral change before the Gospel is legalism. Many sinners believe they’ll never be good enough because of this approach. While it’s true that none of us are or ever will be good enough to deserve God’s grace, we must continually reach out as imperfect people pointing other imperfect people to a perfect Saviour.
5. Church-hurt is a major issue
Church-hurt is one of the worst kinds of hurt. It really stings when a minister or fellow-Christian purposely hurts you. Many have sworn off the entire church because of one bad experience. While it’s true that not all church-hurt is intentional, the worst kind usually is. I’ve heard stories of manipulation, lies, and just downright meanness on the part of some ministers and lay-people. From folks being called out from behind a pulpit to secret meetings and cliques, it’s unfortunate that some have chosen to conduct themselves in such a way that brings hurt to people’s lives. And many times it’s much harder to reach someone with deep church-hurt.
I love Chattanooga, Tennessee. I love to minister in our fine city. But we need just as much prayer as the least Bible-minded city in America. Our city is anything but totally redeemed. There are hurting people, sinful lifestyles, and religious walls throughout Chattanooga. Don’t let the “Most Bible-minded city in America” title fool you. We still need Jesus.