When I gave my life to Christ in 1945 America was basically a Christian nation. We were just coming out of a frightening war and the Christian church was alive and well. We could rent a hall, distribute a few handbills door-to-door and fill the building with interested listeners.
One autumn day in 1949 or 1950 – I remember the date because I was attending a Christian boarding school nearby – Evangelist Stanley Harris rented an empty car dealership in Spokane, Washington. He brought a huge choir, a Hammond organ, an aging song leader and a team of preachers all in white coats. The building was packed six nights a week for ten weeks. I don’t remember how many were baptized; I just remember it was a huge group. PTL.
The wind has changed directions. Whole denominations are losing rather than gaining members. Four out of five of your neighbors will not attend a worship service on a typical weekend, and nine out of ten of those thirty-and-under will not.
So, now what?
The issues are more complex than we can diagnose or fix in one brief blog, but let me make a couple of observations I hope will be helpful.
Those of us in the Christian community must be sure we are not focused on answering questions folks are no longer asking. A generation ago greeters at the church door might be presented a question like, “Is this church pre-trib or post-trib?” Or, “Do you use the King James version of the bible here?”
Today’s church guest is more likely to ask, “Our teenage daughter just told us last night she’s pregnant; do you have anything that will help us get through this?” “Do you have after-school child care where our kids will be safe?” Or maybe, “Things aren’t going well for us right now; what resources can we find here.”
Translation: “What kind of help can I find in this church?” “Does this Christianity-stuff really work in the world I live in?” “I’m not as interested in your theology as I am in learning how to survive.” Or maybe, “You know, it’s just a lot easier for us to sit home and do church on TV.”
Three things I observe that comprise the church’s mandate. (1) It must be a place where people learn to understand God and be regularly confronted with a love that is totally incomprehensible. (2) It must teach us how to love each other. Church done well creates a family bond that is impossible to find elsewhere. That usually happens best in small groups. (3) It must instill within us a longing to serve, to be intentional about helping others find the hope all of us crave.
How’s the wind where you worship?