Last week, Cross the Culture began the current four-part series examining the changing face of the American population and the implications for ministry these changes necessitate. Based upon a presentation by Dr. Jim Slack entitled, “Realities, Trends and Implications Concerning the Future of the USA, Evangelicals and Southern Baptists”, Part 1 of the series addressed the hypothesis that within the next ten years Anglo-Americans will be an ethnic minority in the USA. You can read Part one here. In Part 2, we examine the rise in illiteracy and its implications for the Great Commission ministries of local congregations.
The rise in illiteracy.
Two key components are converging in American life to create a rise in illiteracy within American culture today.
First, as we examined in Part 1, the current wave of immigration in America is a major contributing factor. Slack noted from 1970 – 2005: 35,000,000 legal immigrants have come to America. While the first wave of immigrants in the USA (1780-1924), worked diligently to gain a proficiency in English and therefore assimilate into American culture, recent studies indicate that “higher numbers and percentages of newly arrived and older ethnics are not assimilating that fast but are choosing to retain and use their heart language at home, especially with their children.” While the various ethnic groups are most literate in their heart language, communicating and functioning well within their own separate culture, they remain challenged with communication in the English language and many times find themselves functionally illiterate in American culture.
Second, the failure of the educational system in the US to prepare America’s children to function in a literate society is alarming. Ponder these facts “researched by and published by the U.S. Department of Education.”
1. Twenty-one million Americans can’t read at all, forty-five million are marginally
illiterate and one-fifth of high school graduates can’t read their diplomas.
2. Over one million children drop out of school each year.
3. Thirty-three percent of all children in California will not finish high school.
4. Fifty-four percent of American adults are either functionally or marginally illiterate.
Thus, in an ever increasing fashion, native born, English speaking, American citizens function in an oral culture dependent upon oral communication.
Implications for Ministry
As a result of these converging components Slack concludes, “The status of literacy among the US population is at such a critically low level that oral communication strategies have become a necessary ministry approach in the USA.” In essence, Slack is challenging the evangelical church to embrace that fact that the American population, with limited English literacy skills, is responding in ever diminishing fashion to presentations of the Gospel message based upon written communication. New evangelism/discipleship strategies are needed that go beyond simply sharing the Gospel in written form or simply “speaking the Gospel” with verbal communication. Strategies and methodologies need to be developed and employed to communicate the Gospel to individuals whose heritage is to process concepts, principles and information orally. (For an excellent, yet simplistic discussion of “orality” visit www.oralstrategies.com.)
While traditionally reserved for international settings, the church in twenty-first century America must turn to oral methodologies of Gospel communication to effectively communicate the Good News in our illiterate culture. A plethora of resources are available. A simple Google search reveals multiple websites containing outstanding strategies/methodologies for communicating the Gospel in oral cultures. While many of these tools address the communication of the Gospel in international cultures, application can be made to oral cultures within the USA. Helpful websites for further research: