New Reality Number One: The Collapse of the Church Culture
All is not well – Reggie recites statistics (that are admittedly old, but recent surveys say that they are right on track). Surveys stated that church attendance hovers at around 40% of our population (although this statistic maybe skewed too high.) The further down the generational food chain, the lower the percentage each succeeding generation reports goint to church. The drop is from the 52% of the builders (born pre-1946) and seniors to only 36% of gen-Xers. (This number is probably even lower for net gens.) A 2001 survey revealed that the number of Americans who have “no religious preference” has doubled from 1990 to 2001, reaching 14% of the population. And these aren’t atheists who make up only 1% of the population. Youth specialists note that 90% of kids active in high school youth groups do not go to church by the time they are sophomores in college. One third will never return. (These are numbers from McNeal, I think it is higher than that).
Question posed to our church staffs: Are we living in a culture that doesn’t necessarily “need” God to operate the church? Do we operate like a giant machine, with church leaders serving as mechanics?
The Wrong Question: How Do We Do Church Better?
McNeal identifies a cottage industry in advice on how to do church better. Suggestions surround giving us advice on offering small groups, contemporizing our worship service, marketing our services, focusing on customer service, creating spiritual experiences, becoming seeker-friendly, creating a high-expectation member culture, purify the church from bad doctrine, return the church to the basics.
He then states that church activity is a poor substitute for genuine spiritual vitality.
We encourage church activity, the problem is, we don’t have much evidence to support the assumption that all this church activity has produced more mature followers of Jesus. In fact, as Willow Creek’s Reveal report has shown, they found that it does not.
Tough Question: How Do We Deconvert from Churchianity to Christianity?
We need to stop thinking of Christianity in terms of its institutional expression (our concept of church) and remind ourselves that Christianity was begun as more of a movement.
Although interest in institutional religion is down, interest in spirituality is up. I recently blogged about Lifeway’s research as reported by Ed Stetzer and Scott McConnell which backs this up. People in the non-church culture don’t associate Jesus with the church. In their mind, the church is a club for religious people where club members can celebrate their traditions and hag out with others who share their common thinking and lifestyles. (Look at all of the media attention Jesus will get in March. Why aren’t all of these people flocking to church if there is such an interest in Jesus?)
A Theology of
We need to recapture the mission of the church, that of a God in the Bible who is on a redemptive mission in the world.
The Beginning of a Movement
When Jesus came on the scene he entered a world very similar to our own in terms of its spiritual landscape (religious interest coupled with institutional religion).
This spiritual interest in our society lacks Christian content and file systems. This is the scary part of it. Left to their own imagination people will devise all sorts of crazy stuff about God, from New Age crystals to self-enlightenment. But this is also the opportunity of the current spiritual landscape. People are open to revealed truth of God if they can get it.
Has the Church lost its influence at this critical juncture? Can it reclaim its sense of mission? Can it show itself to be part of a life giving movement instead of a static institution?