Dean Inserra, the lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, is challenging Christians to evangelize a neglected demographic: unsaved Christians.
In his newest book, “The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel,” Inserra discusses how he believes that the most underrated mission field is that of cultural Christianity.
What is ‘cultural Christianity’?
“Cultural Christians are people who claim to be Christians if asked, but their answer to why they are a Christian is basically that they aren’t atheists,” Inserra told Faithwire in a recent interview.
“The saving work of Jesus Christ through his cross and resurrection are completely unnecessary for their Christianity,” he said, pointing out that this may seem “bizarre,” but it is the reality of cultural Christianity.
Inserra explained that it is difficult to define “cultural Christianity” in America because the term currently doesn’t denote a distinct category.
“It shows up as ‘Christian’ on a poll, survey, or census, and is the reason why the majority of Americans would claim to be Christians,” Inserra said.
But he pointed out that “many of the people who claim to be Christians are merely believers in a generic theism, see themselves as good and moral people, and therefore in their eyes, Christian.”
“In the Bible, we see no option for a generic or vague theism, ‘big man upstairs,’ or some cosmic force, but rather the one and only God who has revealed himself through his word, and ultimately his son, Jesus Christ,” he said. “A Christianity that is not defined by the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not one the Scriptures recognize and therefore is an entirely different religion altogether.”
Every person is a sinner, so every person needs a savior
While talking with Faithwire, Inserra pointed out that his own upbringing in the church shaped his opinion on cultural Christianity today because not once was he told that he “was a sinner in need of a savior.”
It was actually on a youth retreat in middle school where he recalled hearing the Gospel for the first time.
“I was shocked that I could’ve been in church my entire life and not heard this news about my sin, my need for forgiveness and that only Jesus could provide it,” he recalled. “I realized soon after my conversion that most of my friends were in the same boat I had been in, where they knew the church, but not Christ.”
“They were Christians by culture and not by conviction,” he said.
The largest, most underrated mission field in America
In “The Unsaved Christian,” Inserra encourages churches and Christians to seek out places that have these nominal, cultural Christians.
“For most Americans, this is our largest mission field,” he said.
“Your next-door neighbor might even put up a nativity scene on their mantle at Christmas time and still have no idea about the Gospel,” he added, arguing that people are more likely to meet a cultural Christian than an atheist or agnostic.
He pointed out that a good spot for churches to start is simply preaching the message of saving grace from the pulpit every Sunday morning.
As the lead pastor of a church in Tallahassee, Inserra knows how important it is for the local church to be invested in their local community.
“Your local context is where the real, actual ministry takes place,” he said, adding that he’s noticed that people are quick to jump on overseas mission trips, yet disregard their own city as a mission field.
“I worry that those folks are more interested in an experience than a mission,” he added.
The job of the local church
Inserra emphasized the importance of building relationships on the day-t0-day, noting that so many people fail to do this because it doesn’t produce “Instagram-worthy” content.
“While I strongly believe we must take the Gospel to all people and nations, if we are going to claim to be a local church, we must first and foremost see ourselves as local missionaries,” he said. “I don’t want to merely work for a church, I want to be about my city.”
Not only is there a crisis amongst churchgoers, but there is also a false assumption that it doesn’t matter if Christians go to church in the first place.
Inserra added that it is common to hear Christians say that “I can have church anywhere,” which “sounds spiritual, but it is completely untrue.”
“I also think the affluence of many people gives them so many more options than previous generations that they have prioritized almost everything else in life over their church, and it has become so commonplace that they don’t think anything of it,” he said.
Inserra also affirmed the importance of reaching out to places that are not familiar with the Gospel, as well as to communities that have a surplus of churches.
“We must go to the very secularized areas of our country and to unreached areas of our world,” he emphasized.
He added that even though the Bible Belt might have access to the Christian faith, it doesn’t mean that they are actual Christians. It’s often in these places that cultural Christianity thrives, leaving people unfamiliar with the true Word of God. Just because there is access to Christianity, he noted, doesn’t mean that “people are actually Christians — it just means people aren’t hostile towards Christianity.”
“We must remember that the cultural Christian is just as lost and in need of being saved as the atheist or agnostic,” he stressed. “I think sometimes we think that cultural Christians need to only get more serious about following Jesus, but in my book, ‘The Unsaved Christian’ I claim that it is not discipleship that they need, but rather evangelism.”
“Admiration of Jesus and a hat tip to the existence of God does not save,” he said. “Faith in Jesus Christ and repentance is what saves.”
You can order Inserra’s book here.