As I travel around my nation (and into other nations, on occasion) it seems, in general, that there is great confusion about the Church. People are not sure what the Church is nor are they sure, apparently, what it’s all about – what function it is to have in their life and in the world. And, these are the Christians.
So, we have Christians no longer attending corporate worship on a Sunday but they meet with another Christian couple at Starbucks for a coffee and “fellowship” and call that their weekly ‘Church’ experience. We have other Christians who don’t attend a weekly worship service and either don’t like coffee or don’t have any Christian friends because they simply take Sunday off and sleep in. Still others attend out of a sense of duty and go through the motions of their particular worship service – often without engaging the emotions. In some cases there is so little being offered that they are not even challenged to engage their thinking capacity. Still others attend when it is convenient.
Some time ago I was reading and came across a statement that intrigued me and upset me all at the same time. The author (sorry, don’t remember which book) stated: “The Church is about three things: worship, well-being, and witness”
I see these three things as I travel from local church to local church. They all start with a “w” so I even “feel a sermon coming on”. I see these three things in Scripture, as well. But, I have a problem with all this …
The Church has spent 90% of her time and resources in North America (I made the statistic up -but you get my point) on the worship and well-being portion of that statement. We build buildings to worship in, have terrific sound equipment to aid in the worship, overhead projectors, Powerpoint presentations, iPod capabilities, and on and on the list goes. We also have counselling centers, food kitchens, food baskets, inner healing prayer times, pastoral visitations -all to help with the “well-being” portion of this statement. But, when it comes to the “witness” part we put little to no effort into this aspect of the life of the Church and the believer.
The Lord was very specific with the mandate that He left the Church He founded and that He is still the Head of. Yes, I recognize that the early Church took care of those in need (well-being) and gathered often for prayer and corporate times to magnify the Lord (worship) but Jesus’ last words were…
Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Acts 1:8 “But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Note: “… will tell people about me everywhere…”)
It seems that the focus of the Founder of the Church was on the part that we give the least amount of time and effort (and money) to – “witness”.
Statistic: By 2035 there will be about 2 million practicing Muslims in Britain, compared with 1.6 million churchgoing Christians (not necessarily born again). This according to a study released by Christian Research. The Religious Trends report also warned that 4,000 churches could close by 2020 if congregations continue to shrink at current rates (reported in the Daily Telegraph).
The response by the Church – well, they think the study and the survey was flawed and misrepresents the true situation of the Church in Britain. What – is it worse than the report indicates? Oh no, they don’t think it is near as bad. They think! One is the result of scientific surveys and studies – the other “thinks” it is not so dreary. What happened? Has the the Spirit of Stupid come and sat on the Church or what?
It seems staraight-forward to me. When an organization like the Church invests 90% or more of its precious (and dwindling resources) into maintenance and not into ministry (outreach and soul-winning) then it is an organization focused upon itself and will surely slowly die. The statistic in North America is that a church loses 20% of its people a year – through death, people moving, other leaving the Church, some switching churches. So, although the numbers leaving each year grow smaller (20% of a dwindling total) the outcome is inevitable unless new life is added.
Some “new life” does come in through transfer growth but (again statistically) there is little new growth in the Church in North America in spite of the rise of megachurches and multi-site churches.
So, slowly but surely we are growing smaller and eventually churches close – and they are closing at an alarming rate – not just in Britain but here in North America. And, we continue to deny it – prefering to stick our heads in the sand – which, of course, leaves our “you know what” stuck up in the air ready to be kicked. And we are being kicked hard right now.
It is time to shake the Spirit of Stupid off of us and wake up and smell the coffee – count the bodies, buildings and budgets – and recognize what we are refusing to acknowledge … we are losing market share in North America. Jesus told us what we are to do (see the scripures above) and He also said “occupy until I come” which was a business term meaning to take more turf – to continue to take a larger market share each year…
The Mormons are hard at work doing just this. So are, according to the reports I quoted, the Muslims. It is time for the born again Christian Church to pull their collective heads out of the sand and make some major changes. It is time for individual Christians to realize that they too are going to be accountable to the Lord for their witness for Him and the Gospel of the Kingdom – or their lack of it.
And please, let’s not sit around and discuss it in committees and study groups for the next ten or fifteen years because by then we will no longer need to be resusitated – we will be dead and need to be resurrected – a little harder but not impossible to do. Let’s just get at what the Lord left us to do – “seek and save the lost”.