Christians need to attract people to our faith, not force people to live by our values

Aaron Renn writes about Christianity in the United States as it relates to American society. His position is that Christianity has been in a slow decline in the United States for more than 50 years, and that Christians have lately lost their cultural dominance and in that way are now a minority. The Christian worldview and values are no longer mainstream, he says; our society is increasingly hostile to traditional Christian values.

Lately I’ve tried out this viewpoint as a lens through which to view the world. It’s been illuminating.

In Aaron’s July newsletter he remarks that because we are a minority now, we should start to act like one. But because we were the majority for so long, we have little idea how to do that. He believes we can learn from historical American minorities such as African Americans and Jews. We can even learn from Catholics, who have been a minority within American Christianity. These groups have historically done concrete things to sustain their communities and uphold their values. He urges Christians to do the same kinds of things so we can hold fast to what we hold dear in a world that woos us away.

Church event
Christians in community

There are arguments on both sides of whether the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Either way, we have functioned as a nation whose way of life was strongly informed by Christianity and Judeo-Christian values. As a result, it has felt like we were a Christian nation.

But now with Christians in the minority, values incompatible with classic Christianity are becoming mainstream. I think this is causing a lot of confusion, fear, and anger among many American Christians. We feel alien in a land we still think of as ours.

This is driving some Christians to fight for our worldview and values. They speak stridently about it, and they organize politically to try to make sure they endure, and restore them where they’ve eroded.

I think we should back off.

We Christians were are not here to win. We are not meant to force non-Christians to live up to Christian values no matter how much we are convinced our values are right. Andy Stanley, a pastor of a megachurch in the Atlanta area, preached a two-sermon series about this in May this year that was really good. Watch it here.

As I’ve written before, it’s not a Christian’s job to tell any non-Christian how to live. As I wrote then:

The Christian has three major jobs:

  1. Be the conduit for God’s love into the world
  2. Introduce people to God through Jesus Christ
  3. Encourage other Christians to become better disciples

There’s so much work to do in just these three jobs that we should be too busy to pronounce condemnation on anyone*. There will never be a shortage of people in need: sick, poor, addicted, grieving, lonely, incarcerated. Go and do for them.

* Or insist that they adopt our values and live according to them.

Christianity is meant to be a faith of attraction — we attract people to our faith through giving our witness and doing good and helpful things for people in God’s name. These things express our values and worldview in a compelling way because it shows that we are living them. That makes people curious and draws them in. It is here that we can begin to share why we hold these values, which leads us to sharing the Gospel. Those whose hearts are ready will join us. And that’s the thing God wants to win — hearts, because that’s the beginning of securing their souls.

When we insist that others live our values, especially by forcing them through legislation, we drive people away from the faith. We need to cut it out right now.


43 responses to “Christians need to attract people to our faith, not force people to live by our values”

  1. Stewart Waller Avatar

    Thank you for the interesting perspective. As a non-religious person myself, who also believes strongly in everyone’s right to believe and practice what they choose without foisting it on others, I’m always interested to hear thoughtful reflections from folks I differ from.

    I need to correct one factual error in your piece, though, because I’ve heard this grievance voiced by other Christians recently, and it is simply false.

    Cristians are not a minority. They make up a solid 70% of the US population. Where do you get this idea? Here is a link to the demographic facts of this matter:

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Hi Stewart – I edited that sentence to clarify that I mean that Christians have become a minority in terms of cultural dominance. We can still argue over that, but I will stipulate that a majority of Americans self-identify as Christian.

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    America was NOT founded as a Christian Nation, The Founding Fathers who were chased out of England for their religious beliefs, would have been horrfied by that idea, and hence, made sure that the Constitution cited Freedom of Religion as a cornerstone. Freedom of ANY religion, or none at all. It was no governing bodies business to be involved in ANY religion, nor promoting its ideas. That was an individuals own business.

    BTW, the Constitution of the United States main tenet is insuring the rights of the individual. Something I have to remind people of all the time. The majority of Americans can actually want something to happen, and try and vote something to happen, that can be Constitutionally illegal. And this is where our Supreme Court is supposed to step in and disallow it! That’s before we had a radical right wing Supreme Court. For decades if not more, the Supreme Court has always tried to rule to define and expand individual rights. This is the first court to start taking rights away, and based on an anti-constitutional religous tenet.

    America no longer represents what I believe are my rights, and it’s why I’ve been trying to emigrate, unsuccessfully, since Reagan was in office. For over 30 years, I’ve been following the clandestine actions of religious groups to place “stealth” religious candidates in local elections, and them being backed by, and co-opted, by right wing business interests that are also hoping to change the national mid-set to allow unbridaled actions for big business. It is an unholy alliance.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      There are arguments on both sides of whether we were founded as a Christian nation and I want to avoid trying to sort that out. It’s not the point of the article anyway. I only bring it up to acknowledge to Christian readers of this article that many Christians believe we were founded as a Christian nation, and to say that even if we were founded that way, look around, this country doesn’t act like a Christian nation anymore!

  3. DougD Avatar

    As a Christian myself I think you’re pretty bang on with this Jim. This cultural change happened decades ago in Europe and Canada, and was mostly peaceful. Only in America has it turned into such conflict. In the Netherlands the traditional Church is moribund, but small scale revival is happening in homes and other small groups. Kind of like the early Church.

    I think the American Christian right is making the same mistake as the Jews of Jerusalem did: they expected a political savior and became angered when the way turned out to be love, self sacrifice and caring for others. Whenever they have those CPAC meetings I wonder what would happen if Jesus himself showed up. Would they boo him for not being radical enough, or would they shout “Crucify Him!!”

    Stewart is both right and wrong in his assertion that Christians are the majority in America. I suspect there’s a majority that identify with Christianity on surveys because they grew up exposed to the faith, and because “America is a Christian country” but they don’t actively participate in the faith. Their children will not have this residual connection, and you will see a big shift in survey results in the coming years.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Great comment Doug. Here in the US, a subset of Christians have conflated God with country, imho, and want to fight to keep what they believe they are losing. The whole point of this article is that this is not what we are called to as Christians! I love your analogy to the Jews of Jerusalem.

      1. Lisa Marie Stevens Avatar

        Meant for Doug D

      2. Kodachromeguy Avatar

        Slow clap means ??

  4. Craig E Swarts Avatar
    Craig E Swarts

    Great article!! I agree 100%.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar


  5. Stewart Waller Avatar

    Doug, when someone says they’re Christian, I’ll take their word for it. I don’t think it’s up to you or me to decide who’s a “real” Christian any more than who’s a “real” American. 70% is a large majority that will not vanish anytime soon, whether you agree with their version of your religion or not. (If you want to experience being a despised religious minority in your own country, try being an atheist here for a week!)

  6. sonny rosenberg Avatar

    As a mostly non religious person I really enjoyed your article. For me, whenever someone promotes kindness and compassion over cruelty and judgement I’m cheered. I just ran across this article in the washington post which seems quite parallel to yours.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you! Thanks for the link to the WP article – I hadn’t seen it.

    2. Oliver Avatar

      I was going to point out that we’ll written article, you beat me to it. I have noticed the recent public soul searching among Christians right now and for many of the reasons pointed out by Jim. Looks like this blog is right on the Zeitgeist as always!

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        Wow, I’ve never had anyone say that about my blog before!

  7. Mark Avatar

    I agree with your article!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you!

  8. Gert-Jan Avatar

    Insightful article Jim.For me, the title applies not only to Christianity, but to every belief, whether it is religious or political. Religions (at least a number of them) are also about respect and tolerance; that should be incompatible with pressuring others to adopt your view and imposing your rules on them. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case in practice…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you. I agree, it’s bad news for any religion to tell people outside that religion how they should live and what they should believe.

  9. Lisa Marie Stevens Avatar

    Interesting post today Jim. How right you are. Are you familiar with Bishop John Shelby Spong ? He was an Episcopal bishop (passed in 2021 at 90 yrs old) and wrote several books, many of which I have read. We saw him speak at a Christian college her in Chicago area about 12 years ago. Smart man, he was surely progressive in his thoughts. The book most applicable to your topic today is “Why Christianity Must Change or Die”. You should check it out. I think you might find it interesting. Check at for a copy.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have not heard of Spong; thanks for the tip!

  10. Ted Marcus Avatar

    When I started college I encountered numerous self-proclaimed Christians intent on proselytizing. There were various Christian groups as well that focused on the fear of Hell and condemnation as a recruiting tactic. Since I’m not Christian, I had only a superficial understanding of Christian beliefs. But I definitely found the Bible-thumping and sulfur repulsive.

    So during the summer after my freshman year I decided to read the New Testament for myself. I went to the library and checked out the then-new Catholic modern-English Bible translation, praised for its readability. It wasn’t just the final book that was a revelation. It opened my eyes to the enormous disconnect between what the Bible-thumpers at college (as well as the likes of Jerry Falwell) were spouting and what Jesus actually taught. Jesus taught that love was the key to establishing God’s Kingdom. He embraced the marginalized, lifted up the downtrodden, and particularly denounced wealth, hypocrisy, and conspicuous public displays of faith.

    When school started again, I decided to engage with the proselytizers. I discovered that most of them apparently had never read the Bibles they were thumping. They responded to my questions and quoting of the Gospels with blank stares. They sort of knew the scripts the evangelical groups had given them to convert specific “targets” (e.g., atheists, Jews, and what today would be called “nones”). But they had no understanding of what Jesus actually taught in the Gospels.

    I did know one devout Christian who was a friend’s roommate. He scoffed at the Bible-thumpers, insisting as you do that God wants Christians to lead people to Christ by example. But he was the exception among the Christians I met in college and afterwards. And now, unfortunately, there seems to be an even bigger disconnect between today’s “Christian conservatives” and what Jesus taught. They seem to have repudiated Jesus’ exhortations to love in favor of Paul’s tireless efforts to promote Christianity, presumably because the latter best serves their own lust for power and control.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I remember that style of high-pressure Christianity sales. I experienced it firsthand. I hated it.

    2. tbm3fan Avatar

      I went through 12 years of Catholic elementary and high school. I may have been baptized Catholic but I am most definitely not. Much closer to atheist. However, I have read the Bible mainly for arguing back against priests in high school. Caught many in contradictions back in those days.

      Today when Christians talk about the Bible they seem to ignore the New and go with the more controlling and vengeful Old. It is as though Jesus CHRIST doesn’t exist in their world despite calling themselves CHRISTians. If they live the way of Jesus, kept their business theirs, and stayed out of my business, then we get along fine. Cross that First Amendment line and go legislative then watch out as I won’t tolerate it and will enforce my rights if I have to. This nation was not founded as a Christian nation, unless your Constitution differs from my version, so knock off the idea of cultural/religious domination especially today.

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        Or they try to turn the New into the Old by looking for commandments and laws in the New. While there are things there that Christians should heed and follow, it’s instructive that Jesus boiled down the entire Law to “love the lord thy God and love your neighbor as yourself.”

      2. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        TBM3FAN, sorry for the late comment, but I just read this, this morning…I also am a product of Catholic/Jesuit grade school; a “spiritualist” today, but I don’t believe in organized reliigion. I have to say, my experience with Chicago/Milwaukee Jesuit/Catholics and Lutherans, did not prepare me for the craziness of fundamentalist Christianity in the rural fly-over states, like Indiana. I’ve lived all over the country, but mostly in large metropolitan areas.

        The Jesuits could tell you when the modern bible was altered, what was left out, and the politcal reasons it was done (think Gnostic Gospels). They consider the bible a book to be read with a grain of salt as a book to help you on your path. I also remember priests telling us there was a place in heaven for ethical and moral people that tried to live honorably in the world, regardless of their religious beliefs.

        Many fundamental Christians believe that the Bible you buy at Barnes and Noble today is the exact and unerring worrd of God, and that everyone that doesn’t believe as they do, exactly, are going to the flames! My brother, an agnostic who has a degree in comparitve religion, with tell you that there’s about one degree of separation between fundamentalism and strychnine drinking snake handlers in Appalachia, and far more difference between them and the Catholic and Luthern church!

        You should be very, VERY concerned about what is being hatched in rural America and be ready to defend your rights!

  11. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    Right on the money Jim! The words of Jesus, and the words of those who call themselves Christian reveal a deep gulf between them in many many cases. I am a follower of Jesus, and I agree that our example, which should be love, is what is important.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Steve! Love is so attractive, it draws people in.

  12. Kurt Ingham Avatar

    Thanks, Jim. I always enjoy what you write.The voices of tolerance and reason always come through- so even when we don’t agree I find what you say as thought provoking and understandable. So much in ‘the ether’ is Believer vs. Heretic- and religion is just a fraction of that kind of division

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I appreciate this feedback Kurt. I try very hard to walk a fine line when I write things like this. I know people in the audience won’t agree but I want to share my message in a way that doesn’t alienate anyone.

  13. Aaron Gold Avatar
    Aaron Gold

    A very well written piece, Jim!

    I think what many Christians don’t understand about the drift away from religion is that it has nothing to do with religion itself. I am an atheist not because of anything that happened to me, but because of my own observations. Julia Sweeney said it perfectly; to quote (or possibly mis-quote) her, I think “the world works exactly the way you would expect it to if there were no God.”

    Personally I’d like to believe there was someone in charge watching over us, and that I’ll once again be reunited with my deceased loved ones — but I can’t convince myself to believe in something I just don’t think is true. To me, it’s a sign of self-respect; I prefer to live with the truth, be it pleasant or unpleasant.

    (Incidentally, I highly recommend her one-woman show, Letting Go of God, for a perspective on a journey into atheism. Search for it on YouTube, and you won’t miss anything if you listen instead of watch.)

    But I digress — can’t keep myself from flying the flag for atheism. I do think believers and non-believers can live side-by-side, and that religion has brought much that is good and beautiful in the world. And I have great respect for what I think of as “common sense Christians” — people like yourself who have deeply held beliefs and a tolerance for other beliefs and non-beliefs as well. I love the fact that there are Christians who see Christ as an ideal and try to live that — what a lovely thing to strive for.

    It is unfortunate that a noisy minority seems to think the way to “save” Christianity is to force Christian beliefs on all through legislation. All they are doing is alienating non- and other-believers from folks like you, Jim, who really do have a chance of bringing people back to the church. What bothers me more is that these people claim to hold personal responsibility in high regard. Apparently, they don’t — they think behavior they see as moral must be forced by their own version of Shariah law. I know what Christians believe awaits me if I am wrong and they are right. I am willing to risk those consequences. Isn’t that what personal responsibility is all about?

    Anyway. We’ve regressed to the point that when anyone mentions being Christian, my defenses go up — but then I read something like your blog post and realize that, yes, there are still Christians who lived what Jesus preached at the Sermon on the Mount. Thank you for speaking up, Jim, and reminding me that not all Christians are their own form of Taliban. I hope you will continue to speak up and that others will follow your example.

    If you ever want to talk non-belief, or Pentax cameras, you have my email address!


    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It goes to live and let live. There’s an argument to be made that as Christians, we want everyone to meet God and Jesus after we die because we believe it’s a very good thing. But I’m convinced that trying to convert people by preaching at them, showing them proof texts in the Bible, etc., does more to push people away than to draw them in. You have to show people the Christian heart, at least the Christian heart as I understand it from my Bible study — one of love and compassion and care. It’s compelling.

  14. Peter Avatar

    I think some words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi seem to sum up what I hear from you excellent article:

    “Preach the Gospel at all times — If necessary use words.”

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Succinctly put.

  15. Edward Currie Avatar
    Edward Currie

    Much of what you say in the article is resonant with what is happening in the UK also, but here perhaps at a faster rate of decline. I do not think anyone knows how to address this decline least of all the Church of England (Episcopalian). You make some very interesting points.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      This may sound crazy, but I say let the decline happen, and return to fundamentals of community and caring outreach, and let God sort out the rest.

  16. J P Avatar

    Christianity may be at its best when Christians are a persecuted minority. Although Christians as a majority are still easier on unbelievers than about any other religion in control of political power.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I agree — Christianity is best when it’s countercultural!

  17. Alan Avatar

    I wish people would stop using the term Judeo-Christian values. While there are some similarities, there are many differences. Better to talk about Jewish values or Christian values individually.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Interesting. I’ve never heard anyone push back on that term before.

      1. Ted Marcus Avatar

        “Judeo-Christian values” is one of those politically-charged terms favored by political conservatives who seek to impose their version of Christianity on the country. Or as they would prefer to describe it, they seek to restore the (conservative) Christian nation that the deeply religious men who founded the United States intended– in their revision of history, that is.

        Calling their beliefs “Judeo-Christian values” conceals their agenda. For one thing, it sounds more inclusive than the “Christian nationalism” it really means. It also attempts to avoid frightening Jews, whose propensity to vote gives them more influence than mere numbers would suggest. There are also a significant number of Jews whose conservative politics align with those who promote Christian nationalism. The term “Judeo-Christian values” may also resonate with certain evangelical Christians who strongly support Israel for mainly Apocalyptic reasons.

        While Judaism and Christianity share some common values because of their common origins, the two religions are entirely separate and differ in many significant ways. The attempt by political conservatives to unite their “values” serves a purely political aim that abuses and sullies both religions. That’s why it’s best to avoid that term.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Thanks for this. I’m not sure I fully see the link to Christian nationalism but I think I see the rest of what you’re saying.

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