God is still "alive" and wanting people to LOVE and accept one another so people feel FREE to be in the church with everyone who LOVES one another. We are ALL DIFFERENT but God LOVES us ALL. Those who LOVE God should be loving and considerate of ALL His people. WE need to accept one another.
10 Ideas for Saving America’s ‘Dying Church’ (if that’s what you want to do)
Mark Driscoll says the church is dying. Ed Stetzer says it’s not dying but rather transitioning. Recent statistics seem to favor both opinions, yet stats never tell a complete story.
According to Steve McSwain, author of The Enoch Factor, “between the years 2010 and 2012, more than half of all churches in America added not one new member. Each year, nearly 3 million more previous churchgoers enter the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.”
McSwain’s conclusion is that while the church will never fully die, “churches are going through more than a mere transition.”
And he’s right, the Church is experiencing more than a transition and yet it’s nowhere close to dying. At least, not quite yet. But since everybody seems to be offering the Church advice on what ails it or offering ideas to fix it or giving long lists as to why nobody wants to come to church anymore, I thought I’d throw my own thoughts (in no particular order) on how to “save America’s Church” if that’s what you want to do. (And these are just ideas. And may not apply to every church.)
Stop overreacting. Ignore the posts and Tweets that are sensationalized with fear. Having spent the last year studying this country’s Christian history, one thing is certain, the Church in America is never at it’s best when its leaders are in panic mode.
That said, don’t ignore the trends and statistics. And don’t pretend they’re not real or that they don’t apply to your church. Because chances are, they do apply. And if your church isn’t experiencing the lull that’s happening in other parts of the country, it likely means it hasn’t hit you quite yet.
Consider your geography. Your worship community is made up of people who have been shaped, in good and bad ways, by its location. In fact, that’s what makes your church unique. Celebrate that. Become a living breathing part of the community you make up. A church pursuing “community” isn’t about small groups or a Tuesday night gathering, it’s about becoming one with the people who exist around you, whether they tithe to your church or not.
Resist being reactionary. Yes, Church involvement is on the decline. And your church might be feeling its weight. But wisdom is never reactionary. Fear is reactionary. Making changes to how you do church might be necessary–heck, it’s likely necessary–but pursue change with much thought and prayer instead of fear.
Nobody cares about your church’s brand. This may not be 100 percent true. Because indeed there may be some people who go to your church because of its branding. But I think today’s church culture has become far too preoccupied with applying good/brilliant business/marketing practices to the function of church. I think we’ve become so caught up in creating a pleasing or “cool” experience that we’ve lost (or are losing) the beauty that’s found in simplicity, humanity, and what celebrating God feels like when it’s not on a timer. And furthermore, churches that focus much attention on branding forget the importance of spontaneity and how often our beliefs and doubts can be affected by the element of surprise.
It’s about people, remember? We talk a lot about the Church being made up of people. And I think most people believe that to be true. But many churches seem to be forgetting that fundamental Christian ideal and instead treat people like cattle or like inanimate objects or like spectators or like idiots. Don’t underestimate people. Don’t assume their ignorance. Because in the end, it’s not about the building, programming, gimmicks, etc, it’s about people.
Ask the people what’s wrong. Because they likely know. If your church is on the decline and you want to know why, ask the people. If given the chance in an open environment, most will likely tell you. You might not want to hear it. And it might overwhelm you. But rather than reading a book, attending a conference, or copying another church’s ideas, why not ask your community’s people?
Stop treating Jesus like magic. Because he’s not magic. And though I believe miracles happen, faith isn’t about miracles happening, it’s about stories and journeys and experiences affecting other stories, journeys, and experiences. In recent years, many churches have become “all about honesty,” which is great, because honesty is a good thing. But what about reality? We all need some reality mixed in with our honesty and spirituality.
Who’s not welcomed at your church? Ask yourself that question. Because as much as a church is defined by the people who show up, it is also defined by the people who would never show up or even feel welcomed to visit.
Inspire the mystery. Church should be a community of people who inspire each other to engage the mysteries of God. And some worship communities are just that, an environment where to engage God isn’t just about filling in blanks but it’s also about being okay when the answers aren’t clear or are unavailable. That doesn’t mean church shouldn’t celebrate truth. But faith isn’t just about truth. It’s also about doubt and about the questions and about inspiring people to be who they are among a community of people engaging life’s mysteries.
And give yourself some grace. Because we can’t truly help to create a space where grace is extended to all when we can’t even extend it to ourselves. A pastor friend of mine once told me that the church’s problem isn’t that we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves, the problem is that we do…
(And PS: my website is under construction. Forgive the mess.)
You wrote: "Stop treating Jesus like magic. Because he’s not magic..." What is that supposed to mean? As a pastor for more than 20 years that's experienced both growth and decline in his church, and has tried everything thought possible to make the best of the situation....I can only truly conclude in the end that every person that ever got truly saved and became a regular member of our church was entirely due to the "magic power" of Jesus in their life. It doesn't mean that we do nothing, or not do our best to minister to people and love them. That's truly something God uses. But, true spiritual conversion requires a mighty miracle of God....every time.
Why I stopped going to church: 1. Immoral culture (in local congregation) 2. Anti-gay dogma (at denomination level) 3. Rampant hypocrisy (everywhere) People at yoga are much nicer. People at the gym are much nicer. People at the library are much nicer. Want to save the church? Try love. Try acceptance. Try kindness.
I just blogged on the 10 kinds of people not welcome in the church. I particularly like your idea of living locally within the wider context. Christians aren't just church people - they're mothers, fathers, citizens, neighbors, coworkers, and friends. Thanks for this! http://cindybrandt.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/ten-reasons-not-to-go-to-church/
Great piece. I agree with the call to scatter (and not just gather). The unchurched aren't just going to walk into a church building. They need to be moved towards, served, loved, listened to, and ultimately led to a Savior. It's not just about "centralizing", but decentralizing the church on a rhythmic, weekly basis. Also, it should be noted that Jesus turned tons of people away with his preaching. Yes he gathered crowds, but offended all kinds as well, to the point where people plotted to kill him. So, we shouldn't gauge "success" in church simply based on numbers. There will be seasons where churches are called to preach a glorious, but offensive truth to the world and many will hate them for it. Churches will not always grow. This is normal. Jesus promised it would happen. Not all are saved.
All these ideas are good and important for our churches and communities. But I have to wonder if the biggest factor in this "death" or "transition" is simply that more Americans are becoming atheists? You can't change the fundamental purpose and beliefs of the Church. You could try to better rationalize faith with skeptics, but there are plenty of authors and bloggers and speakers out there doing that. It seems like the atheist authors, bloggers, speakers, etc. are persuading more people these days.
The single most important thing that you miss here is children. You are right that people are the most important. Helping people meet their most basic needs must happen before they can even hear a Gospel message. The church is literally dying because we are not replacing the population that has left or is dying. We need immigrants. I wrote about this on my last experience trying to go back to a Presbyterian Church (USA) for my kids. What I left with was confirmation of the social research I have been doing the past 2 years. The numbers and my experience say a lot. http://mindsquirrel.com/2013/10/06/church-i-know-how-you-will-die/
As parents blessedly endowed by God with a daughter with special needs, we have witnessed how challenged those within the body have been in welcoming congregants with physical, mental and emotional disabilities has been until now. It is important for us to remember Jesus said, 'Whatever you did to least of these brethren, you did to me.' Much prayer is still needed for those in leadership positions within the church to seek the will of God about establishing special needs ministries and, if they are not led to start a ministry then connecting families to churches that are in their communities is vitally important. We are grateful to have found that at our home church Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale and share our family God story to encourage others out there to persevere whatever the circumstance. God will never leave not forsake you. http://youtu.be/G3H4-GJvixA Blessings.
Driscoll's numbers have plateaued and have actually gone down, along with giving, in the last few months - horrors! So now he says the church is dying?
Can I just tell you how good it is to read your words in this space again? Well, it is. Thank you for these - spot on.
How about preaching the Gospel? Jesus' death on the cross wasn't just for show. It really did accomplish atonement.
For 25 years I bought into the belief that church was everything. Volunteering, serving, giving my all to support the cause because I loved Jesus. I was even on staff at a church for 7 years, blogging and networking and sharing ideas with other churches. Then I came out as gay and was suddenly "not pursuing God's will for my life." I've stopped going to church for now. I've made Jesus my everything and I've never been more at peace in my life.
I used to go to a small Lutheran church that was amazingly welcoming and real. But I cut my tithe to support my disabled sister, and the pastor started listening to Marc Driscoll, and soon he led the church to leave the ELCA and advocate against any type of civil rights for gay couples. Who is not welcome there? Anyone who truly loves Jesus, that's who.
This is fantastic. I especially like the point about the church's brand. I go to a small, Lutheran church, which I stumbled on at the brink of leaving my faith behind. What drew me to it was not its brand, although I like a lot of things about how it logistically operates, but simply that I was wanted, loved, and valued. That's what comes first, in drawing people in.
That would be the assumption for sure. And yes, atheism has increased but stats suggest it's only slightly. General belief in God is actually up slightly from what it was in the 1990s.
I *completely* know that what you describe happens--and I'm sorry to hear that it happened to your former congregation. Leaps from ELCA to Driscoll just blow my mind on so many levels--so incredibly much that is not common or shared despite some shared lexicon. Granted, I work for the ELCA and it is not without its flaws but still........
I can see that. I wonder what the statistics would be if you looked, not narrowly at atheism, but all rejection of Christianity based on simple difference of beliefs (and not something the church did wrong). Many still believe in God but can no longer accept the rationale for Christian dogma. Christianity has been so tied up with movements against evolution, women's reproductive issues, homosexuality and the political far right.... I think it would be interesting to know just how much is really the individual church's fault vs. people just not being able to accept what the Church teaches anymore.
Great insight. I fight the urge to leave the church every day! I am by no means an atheist but I do not disagree with a lot of their arguments against Christianity. The church mostly ignores and dismiss their arguments as silly and unbelievable but never seem to give good reasons for why the atheist's ridiculous claims are any more ridiculous than our christian claims are. Pastors like Driscoll respond to questions against the faith with such arrogance that no unbeliever would ever possibly see their response as a loving urge to follow Christ. The church can not seem to exist without the dogma. Legalism has been replaced with a partial grace that attempts to be the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down. This post has some great points but I think there is much more to the reason the church may be dying. Honesty would be a great place to start rebuilding the church. Humility probably wouldn't hurt!