When Do We Live?

When Do We Live?

Dear Friends,

Do you remember the 1980s?  Big hair, loud clothing, Ronald Reagan, Cabbage Patch dolls, Boom Boxes, velour jogging suits, leg warmers, and cheesy movies all defined the 80s.  Another thing about that decade was that churches were typically part of mainstream culture, accepted in most places, even embraced in some.  That is not the culture of today.  9 out of 10 churches in America are either declining or they are growing so slowly that they are not keeping up with the growth rate of the community in which they are located.  Thom Rainer, former president and CEO of Lifeway Resources and current CEO of Church Answers says that 90 percent of American churches are declining and many of them will close.

In his work, Rainer has consulted with thousands of churches across the country and he says one of the main reasons for this decline is that churches are still acting like it’s the 1980s.  The world has passed them by and they are deemed irrelevant by members of their communities, frozen in a time warp and unable to adapt to the rapidly changing culture around them.  Here are some of the symptoms that he sees of this phenomenon:

Congregations use their church as a place to shelter themselves from their culture.  Our culture no longer happily embraces the church and its teachings so we run to our buildings as a place to getaway and hide from the realities of society that we don’t want to face.  Obviously, some societies in our country present a harsher environment to church goers than others but in general the overall societal view of religion has become antagonistic.  Church has become a place where we shut our doors to the world outside and pretend that the opposition doesn’t exist.

Pre-packaged programs have become our teachers.  The vast majority of churches in the 1980s were program driven.  If there was a perceived need, the pastor would order a resource that best solved that need.  There were (and still are) many pastors and teachers who make an excellent living developing and packaging slick programs to cover the needs found in a church.  Unfortunately, today’s culture no longer sees black and white, right or wrong.  Our culture and those raised in it view life as a multifaceted mosaic of grays.  One size fits all programs often fall far short of addressing the real-life questions of those we are trying to reach with the gospel.

Church growth is harder or non-existent.  If you remember, in the 80s we really didn’t have to put in much effort to attract visitors.  Going to church was still something people just did.  Even if, as a young adult, we drifted away, once children were born it was time to get back in church.  Because of that, church members did not need to make sacrifices to reach their communities.  The church member and their needs and preferences became the central focus of the programming.  Evangelism was no longer something everyone was supposed to do but became the responsibility of the pastor or paid staff.  This attitude continues to persist with members who are more concerned about worship style and personal preferences rather than lost people who need to hear the gospel.  

Change is seen as an evil to fight against.  In the 80s change was more incremental.  Churches did not have to worry about the rapid pace of change that we see in our culture today.  The last few years alone have born witness to massive upheavals of change in the world.  No longer suppressed by what they see as old-fashioned ideals and morality, today’s society sees themselves as modern day abolitionists fighting against social injustice in whatever form is presented.  While the church must hold firm on Biblical teaching, we must also strive to provide a place of safe and respectful dialog centering on Jesus and His Kingdom.  Holding on to extra-Biblical rituals and traditions can be just as detrimental as compromising clear Biblical commands. 

My friends, I am not passing judgement on our church.  Nor am I suggesting that we should embrace haphazard change just for the sake of relatability.  My desire is simply to open our eyes to the pitfalls of trying to ignore the world around us.  We no longer live in the 80s.  We live in a time of open warfare for the eternal souls of those around us.  We live in a time when we will have to sacrifice many of our comfort preferences in order to make the gospel more available to the lost of this culture.  We live in a time when we cannot hide, when we cannot shy away from difficult conversations, when we cannot wait for the lost to find their own way.  We live in the time for which Jesus has called us to be His witnesses, not inside our walls but out there in this culture at this time.

Only by Grace!

Pastor Mike