Are Evangelicals Getting Dumber?

Donald Miller

Forgive me for being judgmental, because I am about to be judgmental.

This past Christmas season, I visited a church in Houston. It was a large, mega-church on the outside of town. I liked the service very much. The music was simply incredible, and the people were very friendly. I have family friends who attend the church, so I was excited to go. It was a Christmas Eve service.

When the pastor and his wife came up to deliver the sermon, they were amiable people, attractive, intelligent, very good communicators. They sat at a table and just kind of talked about the Christmas story from the Bible. What struck me as they talked, however, was that they were speaking to the audience, literally thousands of people (the church sat thousands and had several Christmas Eve services to deal with the traffic) like they were a group of nine-year olds. That sounds like a judgmental comment, but I don’t mean it to be. I am trying to be accurate. As they spoke to the congregation, I tried to decipher how old a person would need to be to understand what they were saying, and the age I came up with was nine. One of the points was that the wise men were seekers, and we need to be seekers. And another was that they followed a star, and God always provides a star, maybe the star is the person who brought you to church tonight? Then the pastor asked the congregation to circle a word in their notes, not unlike an elementary school teacher might ask his or her class to do the same in a vocabulary study.

I should say I don’t fault the pastor or his wife. They were terrific, and they were speaking to an audience that understood what they were saying (the idea we are each given a star I found absurd, and completely unbiblical and a radical misrepresentation of a historical text, but that’s beside the point) and were touched and moved by the presentation.

My question in leaving the service, however, was whether or not Evangelicals are having to dumb down their messages for an American audience. Fill in the blank notes? Circle the word on the page? There’s a star out there for you somewhere?

To say evangelicals are dumb is to say too much. It’s hard to imagine a greater academic culture than evangelicals enjoy. We literally have thousands of schools and even more annoyingly combative scholars, always at each others throats over whether the anti-christ will enter the world on a thursday.

So here is what I surmised: American culture has become a consumer culture, and a large demographic within the culture simply does exactly what they are told, as long as what they are told promises a pay off of some sort. They do not ask questions. They trust you if you seem trustworthy. Many evangelical leaders, then, simply become info-mercial-type salesman, selling their understanding of the truth to this large demographic. Most of them are extremely well intentioned, and do remarkable ministry around the world for the poor. The dumbing down of what we must loosely call truth is just a sign of the times.


Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.

  • Emanuel Freitas

    Shall we stop apologizing for being judgmental? To live is to be judgmental. Over a lifetime each one of us makes lots of judgments, that is, lots of decisions. I don’t think we can go through life without being judgmental. If we don’t make your own judgments, someone else will do it for us. I prefer to do it for myself.

    Since when “judgmental” has become a dirty word? Being judgmental is a good thing: it means that I have carefully thought about something and came to a definite conclusion about it. What is wrong with that? Of course I can change my mind provided I have new elements/facts to think about and possibly to come to a different conclusion, that is, a different judgment about it.

    Thanks for reading.

  • Annie

    It is a tragedy that this is considered a sign of the times. But I would have to agree. This topic is something I have been struggling with lately. I grew up in a pastor’s family, memorized verses, learned the context of the bible, helped in the nursery, and led youth studies as a teenager. When the whole “prayer of jabez” phenomenon abounded in Christian book stores years ago, my mom bought the book and would pray the prayer. I only mention this, because this is how I used to think it was supposed to be. Church services were designed to attract people to church, not engage in their lives. That would be too hard, and most people (totally generalizing) don’t like to be challenged, they crave stability and acceptance.

    Catch phrases like “the wise men were seekers, and we need to be seekers” used to make sense to me. I wonder what the wise men would think of their story being summed up like that some thousands of years later? I suppose it is true that they are seekers, I only mean that their story was probably much more epic then we now portray it.

    I say I struggle with this lately, because I feel as though I have been frustrated with people in general within the church (yet again generalizing). A local large church in my area is putting on a youth conference this week where they have said they will be praying for 500 hours and “believe for 500 salvations”. I think praying for the event is fantastic, and were 500 youth to enter into a relationship with Christ then that would be amazing. And the other young adults around me are thrilled about it and want to be part of it. But then there is part of me that wonders and just wants to scream….why 500? Would not just 1 be worth it? But even the thought of saying that makes me feel the horrible sting of self-righteousness by bringing it up.

    I feel myself emotionally pull away when out to coffee with a friend, and she asks if she can pray for me right then and there, because there is this trigger in my mind that makes me think she is praying for me just for the show of it. Even though I know she is a good person and has good intentions and is not doing it for the show of it.

    We are a consumer culture in every area of our lives. There is no denying that. I would even venture to say that our churches buy into it. We wear cross necklaces. Paint verses on the wall about Jesus next to a picture of a very attractive picture of Jesus. People go to church because it is a good thing to do. I feel like the question then becomes if we are just following the info-mercial-type salesmen version of truth….are we really reaching people for Jesus, do we really love him enough to care? It is easy to follow the info-mercial-type salesmen truth. It is easier to see a picture of a single homeless mother and donate a few dollars than it is to actually meet her and give her a hug and be in her life. Do we really know and understand Jesus? Will we ever? I struggle with this because when it comes down to it, as much as I love Jesus….it is a struggle to not be a “Christian consumer” for me and realistically I can’t judge others about not loving others, when I myself find it to be one of the most difficult things in life.