Is the Church Out of Touch?

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?

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3 thoughts on “Is the Church Out of Touch?

  1. Hello Chris,
    Regarding the Barna study, perhaps what people are seeking is a way to put their faith and belief’s into action within their communities.

    The “institutional church’s” are out of touch in my opinion. In my most recent post I’ve given my take on where I think the church needs to go from here.

    Clearly, a change is needed…

  2. This brings up so many emotions as I am one of the many who is actively seeking a “church home” in a new city. I believe there are several issues on the table here. First, as unpopular as it is, the fact of the matter is that we live in a nation of people who have long since lost site of their priorities. Couple that with the fact that we have spent so much time catering to our families, trying to make up for the fact that we, or our parents, or their parents went without for so long, we have overextended ourselves physically, emotionally and financially. Years ago, when many of the problems of today were birthed, the churches began to see a subtle decline. Now . . . in the defense of the nation, churches had become outdated in that most pastors or leaders had no formal education and as man grew in his intellectual level, everyone began asking questions that could not be answered. Thus began the adventures in church hopping. All of you over the age of 40 know exactly what that phrase means. We were soooooo tired of hearing that every single thing we did was going to send us to hell. Our hair style, our music choice, what we ate and drank, the type of house we lived in, the lack of money we gave. Seriously! No one ever simply said – For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever BELIEVES, SHALL NOT PERISH . . . There was no gospel. Only condemnation and fear tactics. After bouncing from church to church, for many it became a burden and rather than look to their weekly meetings with joy, their hearts became filled with dread. As years passed, the decline of the congregations progressed and the churches knew they had to do something to combat the problems. With sheer grit, determination, and group enthusiasm they created endless programs, classes, groups, special studies, etc. . . anything they felt would draw people in. The results? Nothing. Some people came. Some people grew tired of it and left. They were still slipping in those fire and brimstone messages that everyone was so tired of hearing. I mean, couldn’t anyone preach the way Jesus did? But, here and there, you would hear stories of these great churches that grew from nowhere . . . in the middle of a cornfield (that’s absolutely true) in rural Georgia . . . the small valley of a mountain in Virginia . . . California!!! (that’s absolutely true) . . . A shed in Iowa. By and large, though, attendance was still on the decline and no one seemed to know the answers. But wait – then we introduced “the seeker-sensitive” church. Oh . . . my . . . gosh! That is a completely different discussion. I will say this. As a result of the movement, we did have many church buildings filled to capacity week after week. I mean, people were being told that God loved them! That’s awesome. God does love us. But, doesn’t God still hate sin? Of course He does, but no one was hearing about that. They were hearing about how to be nice. While we could all use a good dose of that, where was the gospel being presented? It wasn’t. And where were these people coming from? Well, from the old churches they had grown tired of. The bottom line was this. We saw fewer and fewer salvation experiences? What had happened to all those Sunday morning baptisms? Remember those? I sure do. It was nothing for there to be between two and six baptisms on any given Sunday morning, and a couple on a Sunday night. Not to mention what we would see after a revival. I sat through an eight day revival where we saw 74 people saved in only one night! So, has the church lost touch? Absolutely. But what is the real problem? Is it that the gospel has been lost or watered down? Partially. But that isn’t even the real problem. For me, it’s pretty simple. We live in a society where everyone works. After work, they want to play, then they want to rest. For them to “go to church” is an act of work. They don’t view group worship as a time of gathering and fellowship. They feel like they need to have at least one day a week where they can sleep in. So in your mind you think, “We’ll have our service around noon.” But the truth is, that isn’t going to work either. You have your group of people who are seeking that “church” experience they had as a child. Then you have the other people who just want to stay home and rest, and by rest I mean . . . play golf; go fishing; have a party or cookout; go shopping, which they will get up at 4 a.m. to accomplish. So, where is the solution. Well, remember those few great churches we mentioned earlier that grew from literally nowhere? Those churches ALL started with memberships of less than 40; small groups if you will. They came each week and presented the gospel. If you aren’t sure what that means, ask Chris. All of those churches, without exception, now exceed memberships of 5,000. They involve the community in everything. They get out and invite, they share, they are compassionate. They are . . . little Jesus’s, if you will. So, yes, the church is out of touch and will remain so until we come to the point that we understand this one thing. The world is lost and dying, and Jesus died for every sin of everyone in the world. The gospel has to be spread. Then the churches will grow. Just like when Jesus was here . . .

  3. WOW what a question… the answer is YES…

    But Here is my Answer:

    the following is something that come out of my time of worship at IHOP ATL. with my Friend worship pastor Ian Cole

    I will take up the sword
    I will take up Your word
    I will march straight forward and fight on
    I will break though the lines
    I will tear down the lies
    I will march straight forward and fight on
    I will not let my passion wane
    My commitment is all the way
    I will do whatever it takes
    To live for You
    I will bust through the gates
    I will love those who hate
    I will march straight forward and fight on
    I will tear down the walls
    I will make idols fall
    I will march straight forward and fight on
    I am Yours. Lord; I AM YOURS LORD
    Take my hands; take my strength
    All of the passion within me

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