What is Happening To The Church
Matthew 22:36-40 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) – 36 “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in Moses’ Teachings?” 37 Jesus answered him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and most important commandment. 39 The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ 40 All of Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”
A recent poll named “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism,” is stating that atheism is on the rise and religiosity is on the decline. There has been similar research in the past few years and there seems to be more and more evidence to support all of this.
First off, before going any further in the discussion I think it important to note a flaw that I saw in survey. The question that led to the statistic that showed that religiosity is on the decline might have produced incorrect results due to the wording and a shift that is occurring in some circles surrounding the word “religious”.
In many of the Christian circles I run in, the word “religious” has come to represent a prideful, Bible thumping, legalist that is seen as the example of what not to be as a Christian. If asked twelve years ago if I was religious I would have quickly said yes. However, if asked now, if I am religious, I am most likely to quickly say no, I am spiritual. In other words, I am a no on that question and I am a churchgoing man of faith who is devoting my life to working with others and according to this study, I would be one of the proofs that people are leaving the faith in droves.
In other words, I believe the study is flawed, but not totally untrue due to other research I have seen.
Now, on to the topic at hand, people leaving the church in droves. I remember repeatedly hearing one saying when I was a youth pastor and was encountering messages and trainings for youth ministry: HE WHO CONTROLS THE YOUTH CONTROLS THE FUTURE! I am not so sure the word control is the best word to use, but I get the point. So, if the church of to day is to look at the future, it has to look at what is going on in the youth.
Well, according to the Barna Group three out of every five kids (59%) that are in church now will leave the church later (see Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church). They did eight national studies and came up with six themes that seem to be the most prevalent reasons:
Theme 1 = Churches seem overprotective
- “Their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse”
- “Christians demonize everything outside of the church”
- “Church ignoring the problems of the real world”
Theme 2 = Teens’ and twenty-somethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow
- “church is boring”
- “faith is not relevant to my career or interests”
- “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough”
- “God seems missing from my experience of church”
Theme 3 = Churches come across as antagonistic to science
- “Christians are too confident they know all the answers”
- “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in”
- “Christianity is anti-science”
- “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.”
Theme 4 = Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental
- ‘they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.”’
- “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”
Theme 5 = They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
- “church is like a country club, only for insiders”
- “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.”
- “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths”
Theme 6 = The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
- ‘not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church”’
- ‘their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience’
I think the most pressing issue is the idea that they are experiencing Christianity as shallow and specifically the idea that they are not experiencing God in the church service. I have to wonder: If they are not experiencing God in the service, what are they getting in the service? Clearly, nothing worth staying for!
It is easy to get all hyper-religious and say it is them and they must be way too self-centered and in great sin etc. I do not have that luxury, because I have stated similar ideas in previous posts.
I am not saying it is impossible for a person to experience personal interaction with God in the average church service, but it is clear that whatever we are doing currently in most of our churches is not LIKELY to lead the youth that are in these churches now to that experience. Without the experience of God, there is no experience. It is just a room full of religious mumbo jumbo (consider everything else observed in the study).
Add to the ideas of: Not being able to ask the pressing questions, that in the middle of all this church mumbo jumbo the church experience is incapable of solving real problems (like depression), the feeling that once you have sinned the church will never forgive you (in spite of what Jesus says he does) etc. the standard experience of the generation to come is not one that represents a deep personal love for God or a love for one another.
If we are not bringing the youth to a personal exchange of love with the Father and our example is not one where it is clear that we love one another (the fact they do not feel free to ask the deep questions, and feel openness means being frowned upon by the church proves this) means we having trouble representing Christ adequately to the next generation.
John 13:34-35 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) – 34 “I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. 35 Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other.”
If large groups in various places and in various churches/denominations are experiencing a lack of love, then it is probable that something we are doing may have communicates love to previous generations, but not to the ones to come.
We can blame them and ignore it until they become the dominant generation and it is too late or we can assume God is moving into a new season for our church models and move with Him.
Perhaps, if a new generation is coming through that thinks and experiences things in a vastly different way, the church should do some changing to match some of these changes (within the confines of what is biblical).
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) – 19 Although I’m free from all people, I have made myself a slave for all people to win more of them. 20 I became Jewish for Jewish people. I became subject to Moses’ Teachings for those who are subject to those laws. I did this to win them even though I’m not subject to Moses’ Teachings. 21 I became like a person who does not have Moses’ Teachings for those who don’t have those teachings. I did this to win them even though I have God’s teachings. I’m really subject to Christ’s teachings. 22 I became like a person weak in faith to win those who are weak in faith. I have become everything to everyone in order to save at least some of them. 23 I do all this for the sake of the Good News in order to share what it offers.
Some of these things are relatively easy to change some would require massive shifts. I do think a HUGE starting point is to be more open and candid and take a massive step away from the angry and inflammatory rhetoric that has become the public face of American Christianity. We have to stop the overly vigorous debate about whose theology is better because it will not matter if you win the debate and get to preach the supposed best theology to and empty room.
What we need to do is open our minds to what is best representing God to this new wave of thought that He has allowed to rise up. It is not that what we have built in concept has not been an awesome solution to the problems that were confronted during the years these models became en-vogue. Those problems are no longer the focus because the model was successful so new problems arose that have to be met with different solutions.
From a more personal perspective (supported by some empirical evidence) I do think that some kind of small group experience, which can be tied to a larger worship service or could also not be, would seem a better venue to deal with many of these issues.
The more personal experience and the more close knit culture of small groups can be more conducive to a more open and caring experience. There is more room to discuss the harder questions and although the answers may not be perfect the idea that God is interested and personal interaction with God and other believers is a better foundation than attaining of mere information.
After all, the people who had attained the most Bible information in Jesus’ day had all the information to know Him better than anyone else and yet they fought and resisted Him at every turn, persecuted Him, ridiculed His work, and eventually had Him killed. It is no good to know the Book of God if you still end up not knowing the God of the book.
There was a study and the resulting article from the Barna group from 2007 that suggests my focus on the small group models might be at least a good step towards looking in the right direction. House Churches Are More Satisfying to Attenders Than Are Conventional Churches suggests that a far greater amount of attendees at house church models were satisfied with the leadership, the faith commitment of the people involved in their gathering, the level of community and personal connectedness they experience, the spiritual depth they experience in their house church setting. This was a study of all age groups, but look at how many of the same areas surveyed are tied to or at least related to the reasons teens stated they were drawing away from the traditional church.
If you look at what the results show is taking place at these groups, you can also see how the individuals participants in the group have more potential for personal experience with God and each other that in the traditional setting of any size.
- 93% have spoken prayer during their meetings
- 90% read from the Bible
- 89% spend time serving people outside of their group
- 87% devote time to sharing personal needs or experiences
- 85% spend time eating and talking before or after the meeting
- 83% discuss the teaching provided
- 76% have a formal teaching time
- 70% incorporate music or singing
- 58% have a prophecy or special word delivered
- 52% take an offering from participants that is given to ministries
- 51% share communion
- 41% watch a video presentation as part of the learning experience
I am always astonished at the resistance that ideas like this get from traditional church is the only way people who have made an assumption that a building with a seminary trained pastor and a big cross on the front is the only way God will reach people properly and effectively in our culture.
Well, first off, statistically that is simply not true. Think through all we have discussed here.
Second off, there is no example of a church of that kind in the new testament. There is the idea of a pastor and teaching etc. but the only clear models were in homes and the Jewish believers in Israel still went to the temple as a cultural norm. The non-Jewish converts met in homes.
I am not saying to put the wrecking ball to your building and abandon traditional ministry. I am just saying that to say the house church or small group people are somehow unbiblical or somehow less Biblical is an outright lie. They are from a literal perspective doing a better job of following the example of scripture than those of us (I myself still attend a traditional church with my family) that still attend a traditional service.
Philemon 1:1-7 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) – 1 From Paul, who is a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and our brother Timothy. To our dear coworker Philemon, 2 our sister Apphia, our fellow soldier Archippus, and the church that meets in your house. 3 Good will[a] and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are yours! 4 Philemon, I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers because 5 I hear about your faithfulness to the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. 6 As you share the faith you have in common with others, I pray that you may come to have a complete knowledge of every blessing we have in Christ. 7 Your love for God’s people gives me a lot of joy and encouragement. You, brother, have comforted God’s people.
Consider the statistics above and the observations of Paul about Philemon and the “church” that met in his home. It was successful and Paul himself, inspired by God (as anything that appears in the Bible is inspired by God) calls the meeting in Philemon’s home a “church”.
We are so busy looking at keeping things the way we think is best (the way we as individuals are comfortable with) that we fail to seek what will work best for the next wave God is bringing into dominance throughout the planet. It is a failure to love God as it is a failure to love what He is loving how he is loving it.
So do I believe droves of people are leaving the church? Absolutely! Do I think we can stop the bleeding? Absolutely! Before the problem started I believe God had already laid the foundations of the solution. I just suspect that some of us Jonah’s are resistant to the kind of work God is calling us to next.
Spit up on the beach and ready to minister as God wishes,
W. Lawrence Hess
- Stop Going To Church (yourjesusmind.com)
- Beyond 59%- Why The Youth May Have Let It Happen (corynikkel.com)
- You: American Faith in Churches Wanes (thedailybeast.com)