Another Barna© Update is out, and this time we learn that some 76 million Americans--a full third of the adult population--has not attended a single church event in the past 6 months. One might be (and some have been) tempted to believe that the traditional church model has outlived its usefulness.
"Church for Men," for example, infers that the whole enterprise is just too wimpy for us 21st century guys. Sadly, Harold Camping believes that the God has called His people out of the local house of worship. Now, I'm all for any effort to stimulate discussion about how we might "do church" more effectively. But to imply that it's time to abandon the church model is dangerous, and ill-advised. Even to suggest the church concept needs a radical makeover is to first assume that we've been doing it correctly, and to the best of our ability, in the first place. And to that, I must take strong exception.
I've have come to the conclusion that the "“church growth movement" of the past generation or two has done even more damage than we previously believed. The market-based model and mindset of increasing our numbers has been a colossal failure, in my estimation--not only in its tangible results, but in ways we cannot so easily see.
The church in America has, sadly, almost completely abandoned the notion of stepping out in faith...led by the Holy Spirit...and devoted to the clear counsel of God's Word. I could give dozens of examples in this space, but I don't wish to impugn any single effort of well-meaning Christians. Let's just say that it's been my experience over the years that the modern church's interpretation of fulfilling the Great Commission extends only as far as the money implies we should go. Don't get me wrong--good stewardship is Biblical, and only common sense. But answer me this: when's the last time your church did something, purely because you were convinced it was God’s will...regardless of the cost, or whether it was "in the budget?"
You see, the exhilarating "mission" so many are seeking truly is readily available in the conventional church setting. Moving forward in faith; stepping out, with only our trust in His provision--that's the heart-pounding adventure the early church enjoyed. We don't have to deconstruct the church; it's the ideal modern model for serving the unchurched community, and an eminently useful staging area for the re-energized body of Christ. We need only return the church to its original purposes--clearly stated in Scripture--and away from man's designs.
Let's not fall victim to the restless spirit of this age. The desire for new and unique experiences...the mistake of esteeming knowledge over wisdom...these are the values of a post-Christian world. The church ain't broke, so there's no need to fix it. It's more like the gift that we--as children--received at Christmas, and treasured for about 15 minutes, before becoming bored. We can't enjoy its benefits, if we leave it up on the shelf. But we might waste a lot of time and energy, trying to replace what already works.