Portland (one of the foci of our recent This Is Our City project) continues to provide a glimpse into the future of American ministry. More than a third of its residents are religiously unaffiliated, with minority faiths growing quickly.
Journalist Melissa Binder recently convened a panel on evangelism to the “nones” and Muslim refugees at the Christ & Cascadia conference, an annual gathering of Christian scholars, ministers, and culture leaders around the Pacific Northwest.
Binder spoke with James Gleason, pastor of Sonrise Church; John Baskaron, pastor of Arabic Christian Church; D. L. Mayfield, author of Assimilate or Go Home. Josh Chen, who directs Cru’s city ministry in Portland, later contributed to this conversation.
We live in city with a lot of “nones,” and many view the church with skepticism or apathy. How does that cultural reality shape your approach to evangelism?
Gleason: We’ve constructed a culture around Christianity that isn’t the gospel. It’s not the gospel that’s the problem. The gospel is amazing. It’s what we’ve done to the gospel. We have to deconstruct the wrapper of culture that we’ve put on.
We want people worshiping God for eternity—that’s no question—but we also want people fed, people healed, and people to find homes. Words and works bind together in a way. When we do both, I think we have an open door for people who are more skeptical of the institutionalized church.
Chen: I’m careful about the language I use when I talk to the “nones,” or really any millennials. There are a lot of words we throw out there that mean something different to the person we’re talking to than what we’re ...