Beyond the surface

According to a Gallup poll on March 29, 2021, titled U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time, it states “Americans’ membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time.” Looking at this percentage, I can see how truly blessed I am to have grown up in a church community in a small town in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. I had the opportunity to learn about Bible stories and experience a church family. However, upon entering high school, I discovered that my faith lacked a substantive foundation. I needed to be pushed to go deeper in my faith during these years, but unfortunately, such growth eluded me. After coming to Waynesburg University, though, I was able to build my faith back up as I moved past the surface-level Christianity I had known.

What exactly is surface-level Christianity? To me, surface-level Christianity is never getting into the real essence of the Bible and knowledge of God. Imagine being in a relationship with someone for 10 years without never learning more about them than you did on the first date. While knowing only trivial things about them is okay at the beginning of the relationship, after years and years of being together, you are expected to know the inmost things about the person you love. It is the same with God.

While simply knowing about God and what He has to offer us is fine when we first believe in Him. However, if we really want to grow in our relationship with God, we must also grow in our knowledge of Him, and what His heart longs for. I feel as if many Christians in the United States are stuck in this surface-level relationship with Christ. They dwell only on what Christ can do for them, or the rewards they will get for loving Him. They never focus on why they believe what they believe, and ignore everything in the Bible that doesn’t make sense or is “too confusing.”

In short, surface Christianity is hurtful to a life of true faith. To get beyond the surface to true discipleship, however, there are several essential steps that I think are beneficial: Diligently studying scripture (even the hard parts); emphasizing God, learning how to listen to Him and obeying Him; and being accountable as a Church body.

Diligent study of scripture is essential to go beyond the surface. Scripture is not a manual we pick up as needed, it is the key to lifelong exposure to the heart of God. By emphasizing the person of God in scripture, we can cultivate an actual relationship and not just feeling.

The natural outcome of studying the Word is a heart tuned to God’s voice. As we ground ourselves in truth, we learn to discern God’s voice and follow Him into obedience. By emphasizing God in scripture, He will lead us to speak, act and choose according to His will that we learn through Scripture. 

Being accountable as a Church body is especially beneficial in our relationship with God. There are seasons when church attendance isn’t possible (COVID-19, sickness and the like). But this should not be our norm. The accountability and discipleship of the church equips us to be witnesses in our world, and keep us accountable with and among our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Surface-level Christianity will be preached and followed as long as we are on this earth, but believers don’t have to settle for it. Instead, use your foundation in Scripture to dig deeper and cultivate your relationship with God. Teach fellow believers how to discern the true motive for a changed character, and how God is the one who works it, not us. We don’t have to settle for status-quo faith. Jesus died for so much more.