Monday, June 12, 2006

The Dying Church?

On the Christian Post there is an extremely interesting article by Dr. Thom Rainer who is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Rainer writes…

"The Dying American Church

I am by nature an optimist. I have seen the hand of God too often in my life to live in a state of despair and defeatism. But the state of evangelism in the American Church is such that I do have my moments when I wonder if the Church is headed down the path of many European congregations: decline and death.

The facts of a 2004 research project I led are sobering. It takes 86 church members in America one year to reach a person for Christ. Now I realize that such statistical studies are imperfect, and I make no claims of omniscience, especially in matters such as the regenerate population. But if the research is even close to accurate, the reality is that the Church is not reproducing herself. In just one or two generations, Christianity could be so marginalized that it will be deemed irrelevant by most observers.

Why has the American Church become evangelistically anemic? The research points to several possible factors. First, the Church and many of the Christians who serve in the churches have become doctrinally ineffective. Repentance is often avoided as a key truth of the gospel. Hell is rarely mentioned, despite its abundance of references in Scripture. And regenerate church membership and church discipline are sometimes perceived as relics of an old and irrelevant era. When these and other key issues are avoided or even watered down, the Church loses her power, and the gospel is no longer the gospel.

Second, church leaders are becoming less evangelistic. A survey of pastors I led in 2005 surprised the research team. Over one-half (53 percent) of pastors have made no evangelistic efforts at all in the past six months. They have not shared the gospel. They have not attempted to engage a lost and unchurched person at any level. They have become busy doing many things, but they have chosen through their lack of actions to be disobedient to Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:19, and many other clear passages of evangelistic mandates.

Third, Christians in churches often get caught up in the minor issues and fail to become passionate about the major issue of evangelism. I served as pastor of a church that spent two hours in a business meeting debating over a 5 percent differential in the cost of two similar pieces of furniture. I wish I had seen such passion for the lost and the unchurched in our community.

The numerical evidence seems clear. The American Church is dying. We are not reproducing Christians. American Church growth is typically the transfer of members from one congregation to another, rather than the conversion of the lost. I guess I could blame the churches, her leaders, and stubborn church members. But I must confess that I too often fall short in my own evangelistic zeal. Sometimes I get so busy that I fail to do the main thing. Perhaps the first step for all of us is the confession of our own sins of disobedience, our own failures to take the evangelistic mandate seriously. Perhaps if we determine that the problem begins with me, then we can be a part of the solution.

Will you join me in a personal evangelistic renewal? The results of our evangelistic efforts are in the hands of a Sovereign God. But we can be His instruments for this renewal. Perhaps then the American Church will see new life and new hope. Such is my prayer. I hope it is yours."

This article originally appeared on March 23, 2006.

So, What are your thoughts in regards to this article…but looking through a local lens?


filletofsoul said...

Overall, the article really isn't suprising. It would have been interesting to know what kind of churches he included in his survey. Surveys don't usually mean too much without details, even then they can still be misleading.
Anyway, the one thing that stands out to me is this quote:
"Over one-half (53 percent) of pastors have made no evangelistic efforts at all in the past six months. They have not shared the gospel. They have not attempted to engage a lost and unchurched person at any level." any level? Do they LIVE in the church? Don't they have any contact with any non-Christian people? ...neighbors maybe? This bothers me. First, because I really dislike the mentality of living in church bubbles. Secondly, our lives should be living testimonies to Gods goodness and grace. So, even without overtly sharing the gospel we should be able to influence those around us. Even though we are not perfect people, and may not always in all situations radiate God's light as it should be seen; you would hope that there are at least some rays getting through. You have to ask yourself; have our hearts and lives not been really transformed to a point where our every day conversation and actions reflect God's thoughts and character? ...Just thinking outloud.....

kenny said...

I am way too tired to read the whole post, and have not been reading much lately. Too busy with work and the end of the school year...and I try hard to refrain from saying...if the churches die...all the more buildings to buy up and convert to homes and or community centers.
Okay, I changed my mind and took the plunge and read the article. Now it is 130 in the morning so bear with me.

1st...evangelical efforts are important. Reaching the lost is what our mandate is, as a Christ follower and imitator. We are to be like Christ. What did he do? He loved the lost. He really loved them. Let me say it again...HE LOVED THEM. It was out of that love that people changed and followed him. So we are to do the same. It means loving people regardless. I think of the fishermen and how Christ said put down your nets and follow me and become fishers of men. Now fishermen are what we would consider to be uneducated men who are kinda rough with their talk, like to drink and what not. But Christ asked those men to be disciples and follow him. HELLO!
So if those men can be means all men and women can be. No matter what we have done, where we have come from. If we base it all on the fact that we need to look a certain way or come from a good home or need a specific amount of education we are doomed. I wanna make friends with my neighbours, I want them to see Christ in me because I have died to self. I realize that I am the same as them...but I have hope and have been restored (am being restored) by this awesome God.
I have done a lot of different things in terms of evangelism...street stuff, overseas missions, but now I am getting into the nitty gritty. Living in the West End, trying to bring the hope of Jesus to the people I meet, so that lives can be restored. My desire, to be used by God. A willing vessel, guided by the great captain.
Feed the poor, clothe the naked, set captives free, bind up the broken hearted...these things freely flow when you set your heart to love others, regardless! Just my 2 cents worth too early in the morning.

Misty B said...

When I read this I was struck by the fact that even if this statistic is even close to being correct (which I believe it is) I am incredibly lucky. I was that ‘one’ person that was reached for Christ (certainly by less than 86 people which is the point I guess.) My life is so much more meaningful now than it was before. I am so grateful to the people who cared enough to ask me to go to church (repeatedly but not in a way that made me think that I would loose them if I didn’t.) I am also indebted to the people who were intentional about reaching out to me once I got there.

We live in a culture where people are seeking spirituality. Yet I believe that when they look at Christianity they just see cost. I base this upon my experience of what people some people seem to ask me about when they know I am a Christian. Do I drink? How much do I tithe? Am I allowed to (fill in the blank)? I even had someone surprised that my pastor had allowed me to read an Anne Lamott book (because it has swear words in it.)

There are also an equal number of people asking me how I know God is speaking to me. They ask questions about how I became I Christian and why. They wonder if my life is better now. A lot of people have seen a change in me and are curious about where that came from. Others who have met me since I have become a Christian see something in the way I choose to handle certain situations.

I am no where near a perfect witness for Christ but who is? I think that God can use our shortcomings to reach others. You never know when something you say will stick with someone. Sometimes our shortcomings can make us more approachable. I find that people are not nearly as closed off to Christianity as we might think. I don’t even have to initiate a discussion. People do that for me. I just need to be open to it.

rosem said...

Not surprised by the study. Just finished reading a book called "Churchless Faith" = about where people disappear to from charismatic churches when they find church unsatisfying. Intersting study about how their faith evolves outside a congregation.

There are a lot of ways to interact with our communities. For instance, offering to host interest groups at our homes - esp if they are groups that have been started by non-attenders (scrapbooking, clutter control, poker, fishing, etc.) - gives us church 'insiders' a good read on people's search for meaning. Plus we make friends outside a narrow church identity. As Misty B writes, we don't even have to look for people who are 'on the hunt' for meaning - God brings them to us and we just tell them the Story.