In a post-Christian, post-religious culture, what does the word God mean?

Confessions of a young, churched baby boomer: 10 signs the world has changed:
Part 5 of a series

Jan. 8, 2023

By Rev. Rick King

What do we mean when we talk about God?

It turns out that that’s changed over the past decade or so, along with the practice of one’s faith among Christians.

The most recent Barna survey data I’ve found indicates most people in the U.S. still identify as Christian (73 percent), but only one in three adults in the U.S. attend worship in a church regularly.

And even “regular” church attendance has come to mean something different than it did ten to fifteen years ago: whereas it used to be three out of four Sundays a month, now it’s once every four to six weeks.

Furthermore, Barna’s developed a set of 15 factors in order to measure the level of irreligion. “If an individual meets 60 percent or more of a set of factors, which includes things like disbelief in God or identifying as atheist or agnostic, and they do not participate in practices such as Bible reading, prayer and church attendance…, they are considered post-Christian. Based on this metric, almost half of all American adults (48 percent) are post-Christian.”

And this is from Barna’s “State of the Church” report for 2016, pre-pandemic. I’d love to know what it is now, wouldn’t you?

Now, you and I both know that surveying requires people to choose particular responses to the questions from a limited range of options—and that when people are in a more conversational setting where they can tell their story, we get a much more nuanced picture of people’s spirituality.

I experience this regularly, as both a pastor and in my spiritual companioning ministry. In conversations about God with a variety of people within and outside the organized church, the word “God” has a wide variety of meanings. Likewise with people’s use of the word, “spirituality,” and what they describe of their spiritual lives.

That’s why with people in church, I find it helpful when we can talk about Jesus, who is much more specific and personal than when we talk about the concept of God, in a way that grounds us in a common set of stories about a person, even one we can more easily feel a relationship with.

Who is Jesus to you?