The real solution to church decline
“How do we fix the dying church?” That's the phrase I have been hearing quiet a lot over the past two years.
“Why are we not reaching millennials?"
"How do we still care for our elderly?"
"Can someone please get the coffee out of the sanctuary!"
OK, that last one isn't really a question, but it's part of the overall theme.
First of all, let me preface. I'm a minister. I have been the full-time, solo pastorate at a church. (It didn't end well.) My story is for another day. Needless to say, after my experience, other pastors came out of the woodwork to support me. Pastors who were hurt, damaged, destroyed by the church. There are more of us than anyone would like to admit. We are a growing number. Many of those blogs regarding what the church should do to remain viable were written by the damaged Christian congregant or minister. We are a wounded team of warriors who still love an institution that has betrayed us. Once again, another story for another day. To get to the point, I've been mulling over two questions:
What is wrong with the church?
How do we fix it?
The reason these are becoming real questions is simple: churches are dying. Sanctuaries that used to hold two-hundred people now hold 30-50 on a given Sunday. Doors are closing for good. Churches can no longer afford to hire their ministers. The warning bell began ringing in the early 90's. Back then, churches laughed off the statistics which were beginning to show a stagnancy in membership growth. Now we have reached full blown decline and everyone is thirsty for easy answers to the problem. (Hint: We have all scoured the well lit areas looking for the “lost coins” of the church. We can safely call the bright and easy to hunt areas 'searched'. Maybe it's time to start looking in the dark.)
I am going to tell you, over the next few paragraphs, what the problem is, and how to fix it. Yes, it will be a real answer. Yes, it will be something every church could do. No, it will not be easy. I don't anticipate churches across the nation will be jumping on board with what I'm about to share. Many churches are still looking for the easy fix.
There are many a congregation out there damaged. Before I really get into the overall problem, let me say something regarding damaged churches. There are times when a church faces serious, and detrimental conflict. Let's say a major church split in 1977 over evangelism that took the minister with it. That damage will replay itself in the church like a scratched record until it's fixed. So the same church will spend the next 40 years scapegoating ministers, loved or not so loved, who even breathe the word evangelism. They might not even know why they are doing it anymore. Until the church fixes the initial 'scratch', the church will keep skipping and breaking congregants/ministers. (I may or may not be using an actual church as an example.) There's the answer for broken churches. Find the initial break, and fix it.
The answer for the collective church is different. The joke is, the church is always 20 years behind society. Clothes. Music. Social issues. If you want to test it, go to church this Sunday and pretend the year is 1994.
Clothes: We were going through a stage in fashion where we were told it didn't matter what we looked like, as long as we were comfortable. Just wear a t-shirt and jeans. (Even if the t-shirt was made by Gap.)
Music: Karaoke was at it's height. It was cool to go to the bar and sing the lyrics of a famous artist. All while the words flashed up on the screen for all to see.
Social issues: Helping people was as easy as writing a check. In the 90's it was the beginning of supporting a cause, rather than helping our neighbor. Maybe the causes were noble, but at the cost of relationship.
You should let that sit for a moment. I just described the modern American church.
Now the follow-up question should be: Why are we 20 years behind culture? The answer has everything to do with our missionary style. I mentioned this before, but it needs repeating. When the culture is not our own, we are completely ready to dive deep into their world, in order to understand their context. Over seas, new church plants look WAY different in it's inception than American new church plants. The problem is, it shouldn't. The outcome, the final product, should look different. The process to get to the final product should look relatively similar.
Instead, this is how the American Church has done church plants for the past 100 years:
“Church A is really growing! Look at what they are doing.
They have A B and C. Let's do that!”
Instead of starting with the culture and building in, they start with themselves and built out. We are perpetually 20 years behind because only a minuscule part of the Christian population is bold enough to start with the culture. Then, their result is copied, instead of their process to get to the result. By the time their result is Xyroxed by every church looking for an easy answer, the result is now 20 years too late. The American Church (and I would love to hear the European view of all this) has been built on the foundation of isolation.
I always get so frustrated when articles just highlight the problem and give no real solution. Here is a solution, a real solution. If you are a life-time Christian, who loves the church and how it's been done for generations, you are going to hate this solution. Yet, this solution will work.
Ready, for this? Start building churches like the culture is not your own, because it's not. Instead of coming to a community with a factory built, ready-made church that worked in San Antonio twenty years ago, come with nothing. There is nothing you can bring to a community that isn't already there. God is everywhere! While we have been cloistered in the safety of our stained glass prison, God has been working in the world! It is not our job to take our images, our symbols and jam them down the community's throat. It's our job to help the community see the images they already have. God, without us, is working in this world! It is our job to highlight what already exists, not paint over it with the skeleton of 200 year old worship. Has anyone asked the community, “How do you want to worship God?”
We have these bio-domes artificially surrounding our congregations, keeping our traditions and worship style intact. It's time to pop the bubbles, have a funeral for our old church, and see what God can do. Christians are built from the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can survive death. We can rise from the ashes. We, necessarily must die first. Let go, and trust God is on the other side. Let go, and begin mission work like it's meant to be done, from the outside in. I know I'm ready. Who's with me?
Seriously, who's with me? If you feel Christianity is where God is calling you, you feel isolated by the way church is done today, and you are in West Georgia, contact me! Let's start the research. Let's get this going!
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