Whilst I was in the US recently I had a number of conversations with Europeans and Australians about the differences between doing mission in the US and in other Western countries. As most of you will know, the US has a high church attendance when compared to other similar Western developed countries. To sum it up in the bluntest of terms, everyone who I spoke to all agreed that it is a lot harder to plant churches and to do mission in Western Europe and Australasia than it is to in the United States.
I have been thinking about this a lot. One of the conclusions that I have come to is that Americans tend to be a lot more excited and passionate as a people when compared to other Westerners. Just look at how Americans do politics, look at the rallies, the crowds, the passion, the excitement. Even those in the United States who resist the Church and/or Christianity do so with a fervour and zeal that seems religious. This is not to say there are large segments of the US population who display a cultural sense of boredom, but in comparison Western Europeans and Australasians seem far more cynical and or apathetic about politics and public discourse.
Perhaps part of this phenomenon comes from the fact that the United States was created as a kind of Utopia. The pilgrims fleeing religious persecution, wanted to start over again, and create a kind of kingdom of God on earth. The founding fathers wanted to create a kind of Utopian, egalitarian state which would mirror the values of the enlightenment. These influences create in the cultural DNA of the United States a kind of inherent enthusiasm and ‘can do attitude’.
In contrast those doing mission in the non – US West face a massive challenge, namely apathy and indifference. People simply don’t seem to care. It is not that they are simply bored by religion, but bored by politics, and public life. Strangely the only place you will seem to see people from Western Europe and Australasia get really passionate publicly about is sport. In comparison to the US, Western Europe and Australasia seems marked by a kind of cultural ennui.
This raises a really important missional question then for those doing mission to the non – US West. What does the good news mean for the bored, the indifferent, the cynical and the weary?