Why Not Here?

For the past few weeks I’ve been telling the congregation that the church in America is in trouble.  It is.  Church attendance in America has been on the decline for decades, and if things keep going the way they are a time will come when nobody goes to church. 

But I’m not worried. 

I’m not worried about the church of Jesus Christ in the world, that is.  This mission is too important to him, and he will not let it fail.  If it dies out in one place it will surely spring up in another.  If it falters in this country it will flourish in Asia, or Africa, or Latin America.  In fact, it is.  28,000 people a day are coming to Christ in China.  A dozen new churches are started each week in Cuba.  In some parts of India the church is growing at an almost unbelievable rate. 

So, the question I’ve been asking the congregation for the past few weeks is this: if the church is going to thrive somewhere, why not here?  I’ve been talking about the things those thriving churches have in common, how people come, and give, and pray, and serve, and telling them that while only the Holy Spirit can bring about genuine revival, all of these are things we can do to help. 

But on Sunday, after the early service, I saw Maron El-Khouri, who told me how his daughter Emma respoded.  Emma is four years old, and after three weeks of hearing this same pitch she asked her dad, “Why does Pastor Jim keep saying the church in America is in trouble?”  “Because people in America aren’t coming to church like they once did,” he said.  To which she replied, “I’ll come!  I’ll come every Sunday!”

Now…that’s the spirit.  I’ll bet she would give, and pray, and serve as well.  And if we can raise up a whole generation of Emmas, I think the church in America will be just fine.

So…Why Not?

negativity-change1In my last post, I told you that SO FEW people know the purpose of the church, but now that you are one of those people I have a question: if the essential purpose of every Christian church is service, outreach, fellowship, education, and worship, then why do we not organize ourselves that way?  Why do we not have—in large churches, especially—a minister of service, a minister of outreach, a minister of fellowship, a minister of education, and a minister of worship?  If these are the essential minstries of the church then shouldn’t we be doing them, and wouldn’t it help to have someone in each of these areas who could recruit, train, and motivate our members toward that end?

It seems obvious, but I don’t find many churches that are staffed that way.  Instead I find churches with youth ministers, children’s ministers, ministers to young adults, median adults, senior adults, etc.   In other words, churches seem to organize around specific populations within the congregation, and I think there’s a reason for that.

I think that when the baby boom moved through the church it overwhelmed the leadership.  Pastors who had been perfectly capable of caring for small congregations were suddenly trying to care for all these children and all their parents.  As each population reached “critical mass” the church called another associate: one for children, one for youth, one for “college and career,” etc.  At a time when the culture was pushing people through the front doors of the church it was all the church could do to keep up with the growth and provide for the needs of those people.  The emphasis was, necessarily, on things like fellowship, education, and worship—all things that happen inside the building—because that’s where the people were.

But what do you do when the culture is pulling people out  the back doors of the church?  Do you panic?  Do you change your worship style to make it more compatible with the culture?  Do you ask your staff to come up with more exciting programs to reverse the tides of change?  Do you go to church growth conferences hoping to fill those emptying pews?  Or do you take a deep breath, relax, and return to the essentials, to those things the church of Jesus Christ has been doing from the very beginning: service, outreach, fellowship, education, and worship?

I think you do, and I think you will find when you do that two of those five things have their focus outside the walls of the church: service and outreach.  If we live in a time when more people are outside the church than inside, then isn’t it wonderful that Jesus anticipated such a time and told his followers to go (out)  into the world and make disciples of every nation, to go (out) into the neighborhood and love our neighbors as we love ourselves?  And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could take him at his word, and do what he asked us to do?

I think it would, and I think that if we did it faithfully we wouldn’t have to worry about how many people are inside and how many people are outside the building.  We would minister to both in the same way he would.  We would throw ourselves into the joyful work of service, outreach, fellowship, education, and worship.  And to be more effective we might even organize ourselves for that purpose—the essential purpose of every Christian church.

Why not?