Is the modern church out of touch with society? In 2008, a Barna study found that 51% of Americans do not attend a conventional church. Many, instead, are involving themselves in “organic faith communities,” including house churches, Bible study groups, intentional communities, etc. When you add to this a recent survey that found that 72% of Americans in the twenties consider themselves “spiritual but not religious,” and the trend, from the “institutional church’s” perspective, is quickly going in the wrong direction.
The post-modernism of our culture has had an interesting bearing on this discussion. On the one hand, people have become more collectivist in their mentality and have started placing greater emphasis on the importance of the community. On the other hand, if not contradictorily, they have become radical individualists, in which every person is allowed to define reality and morality for themselves, and this especially in religious settings. As a result, people have become more spiritual than religious, dislike organized religion, and now seek spiritual communities in which they can share and express their spirituality without being accountable to anyone. Given this spirit, it is hardly surprising there are now movements in Christian circles toward radically egalitarian, organic, anarchical models of church government, as opposed to the highly structured, authoritarian church models of the past two millennia.
How, then, should churches respond?
First, we should note that Jesus never left an order of service with His Great Commission. Questions like the style of music, chairs or pews, the length of the sermon, when to do announcements, whether or not to have responsive reading, what kind, if any, media to use, and endless others have no biblical answer because the Bible doesn’t address those issues. We must never confuse the worship service with the act of worship.
Second, whether the church is to be relevant to its members or to society as a whole, it must focus on its biblical purpose, essence, and mission. The mission is to make disciples and preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Its essence is to be a community of faith in which each member functions for the edification of the whole. Its purpose is to glorify its Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In other words, we must not confuse the church with a seminary in which we can learn all about the Bible, with a social club where we can get to know one another, or even an inspirational rally where we can sing songs of praise and worship. The church must see itself and act as the body of Christ on earth.
Third, the church must not water down doctrine for the sake of numbers. Jesus asked what good it did to gain the whole world but lose your life (Luke 9:25). In the same way, what good is a church in which the whole world attends but has lost its doctrinal soul? While I understand and deeply appreciate in many ways the desire to be seeker sensitive, if the church becomes so much like society that she cannot be distinguished from it, then what does she actually have to offer a lost and dying world? The Gospel is offensive to the lost. That doesn’t mean Christians should try to offend people, but when we stop explaining to people that they really are so sinful that they cannot save themselves, that they really do need God, then we cease to give them the one and only thing that is truly transformational: the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is the power unto salvation for them that believe.
I’ve made it a point here not to offer any suggestions as to programs marketing models. All such things depend on the culture in which the church is found. Certainly, a body of believers in the heart of New York City is going to have different needs than one in Mayberry, NC. What all will have in common, though, is that they are made up of fallen human beings who are striving to reach other fallen human beings for a perfect Savior. The focus, then, even in discipleship, must always be outward. Love is about the other, and if the church is not about love, then is it really about anything?
What are some things you would like to see the church do more (or less) of? What do you think would make the church more transformational so that others could become more like Christ and truly experience the love of God?