Things aren’t the same now as they were when I was growing up in the church. The number of people who attend church these days is much less than in my day. Many denominations are losing people and many churches struggle to stay relevant in todays culture and demographics. Received an email from a good friend in reference to last weeks blog which questioned where the church was today and rate of growth or lack thereof. The email was refreshing because it said what many of us won’t. Here is a quote from that email. “I don’t have a clue and pastors really don’t either, how to get everyone on board with dynamic growth and spiritual outreach.” Numbers have become a big thing in judging success in almost all activities and now even church. So, let’s look at some numbers. Pew Research Center November 3, 2015.
“Is the American public becoming less religious? Yes, at least by some key measures of what it means to be a religious person. An extensive new survey of more than 35,000 U.S. adults finds that the percentages who say they believe in God, pray daily and regularly go to church or other religious services all have declined modestly in recent years.
But the Pew Research Center study also finds a great deal of stability in the U.S. religious landscape. The recent decrease in religious beliefs and behaviors is largely attributable to the “nones” – the growing minority of Americans, particularly in the Millennial generation, who say they do not
belong to any organized faith. (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/)
Among the roughly three-quarters of U.S. adults who do claim a religion, there has been no discernible drop in most measures of religious commitment. Indeed, by some conventional measures, religiously affiliated Americans are, on average, even more devout than they were a few years ago.”
Not as bad as some say, but make no mistake, there is little comfort in the numbers to those who see their church or denomination losing people.
“The falloff in traditional religious beliefs and practices coincides with changes in the religious composition of the U.S. public. A growing share of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, including some who self-identify as atheists or agnostics as well as many who describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” Altogether, the religiously unaffiliated (also called the “nones”) now account for 23% of the adult population, up from 16% in 2007.”
So it only natural that such figures should raise enough concern that a host of solutions would come forth like the blooms on a large healthy honeysuckle vine. We find ourselves today being overwhelmed by well meaning criticisms and of course the next great “growth Program.” There are always a host of books, seminars, companies that specialize in church growth materials and any number of lay led committees that for as long as I can remember seek to stem the loss of people to the church and return the church to a position of influence in our communities and nation. What is the mission of the church?
The Great Commission
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Is this it? Is this all there is to it? Perhaps we have missed or overlooked something. Did we miss these nine words….. “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Now that expands the playing field a bit. I will expand on this in the weeks to come. Right now I just want to think about where we are and possibly where we need to go. Leaving this thought and moving to a recent morning bible study, where our discussion took us to the state of the church today, one of the members present had a interesting line of thought as to church growth.
Maybe we are looking in all the wrong places, using the wrong tools and passing over a wealth of folks. Got me to thinking maybe it’s a chicken and egg thing. Transferring that thought to a “faith or church thing”, which comes first? After some thought I’m inclined to believe he might be on to something. Which does or should come first? Faith or Church? Well of course we can go to Acts and Pentecost which takes us to the infilling of the Holy Spirit and Peter’s impassioned message to the people gathered in the city at that time and brought these results.
Acts 2: 40-41
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
The church as we know it today did not exist. What did they have that allowed them to grow and prosper? They believed, they had hope and most of all they had faith. Nothing is hidden from God’s sight. Nothing is greater than God’s love. Nothing is stronger than God’s mercy and grace. Nothing is too hard for God’s power. Going back to last weeks post this is where I believe we are today in many churches and denominations.
“We have found it useful to build church buildings, and denominations, and clerical hierarchies, and liturgies, etc. Nobody should think, though, that these are one and the same as the true church; you don’t see any of these things in the vision given us in Rev. 7.” Stefan Stackhouse
No this is not a “get back to basics” thing. It is about recognizing what comes first. We have to recognize that the world has changed and the complexity of the culture and the demands of society must be understood and confronted to restore and preserve the faith. Simplicity is not the word we need here.
One last thought…..””Just about every denomination in the American church—including many evangelical denominations — is seeing a decline in numbers, so if it’s a competition, then we’re all losing, just at different rates.” -Rachel Held Evans
Next week…?, Faith, Church
Hope to see you here in the pew……jk