My Two Cents

If you follow Christian blogs at all, then you already know that there was an article in the latest Christian Chronicle that reported the news we already know: Churches of Christ in America Are Marked By Decline. (I added to the title of the article a bit for clarity due to my diverse readership). The source of this “news” is a book called Churches of Christ in the United States, published by 21st Century Christian (a Church of Christ publishing house). According to the article there are now “…526 fewer churches and 78,436 fewer people in the pews than just six years ago”.

Matt Dabbs has done a great job of accumulating links to blogs discussing this article. Danny Dodd has also written on it and posted links to blogs discussing this article. So there’s a lot of huff and puff about this article, and I suppose their should be. My perspective on this (if anyone cares) is that it is simply old news. I would postulate that there are few readers of this blog who can say that their churches have grown via evangelism in the past few years. Swelling numbers because your church became the least disagreeable in town is not evangelism. I’d like to hear from those of you who can say that your baptisms exceeded your losses during the past few years. You have my admiration, if so. In other words, we already knew the truth on this matter. And I’d like to ask: why shouldn’t we be declining?

We are among the American Evangelical churches, and they’re all declining. The fairy-tale mega churches springing up out of nowhere to become filled with thousands of followers have become the trend setters and mentors we seek out. And the truth of the matter is that they are rare, not common. Most cannot be replicated. And we end up comparing ourselves to what might as well be a fictional representation of what our church ought to be.

We live in a culture that has exalted individualism and electronic reality. The online community (which I love) has for many people fostered a replacement of real relationships that require hard work, compassion, compromise, and tolerance. Now instead of an address book we have a contact list. Instead of having to struggle through the forging of friendships, we just form  iRelationships. Virtual worlds such as Second Life become our primary lives. As someone quipped, I love my computer because all of my friends live there. We can nearly sustain our entire lives online nowadays. The keyboard has become our new front porch. Who needs a church when I can control my online world without the bother of real people?

Add to that fact that we in Churches of Christ have specialized for the past several decades in dissecting and destroying each other. Editors have been our bishops, papers have been our weapons of mass destruction, and nit picking each other’s efforts has led to general malaise and disinterest. The primary emphasis has been on us for so long now that we struggle to find time to relate to them. Those outside the church perish without ever hearing about Jesus.

The very thing that would save us is the one thing most of us seem to dread. Perhaps it’s not dread, it’s just intentional ignorance. We are not really looking for ways to talk to friends and neighbors about Jesus Christ. In years past we had fallen into the habit of talking about our church, as opposed to their church, supposing that if we rescued someone from denominationalism we had somehow taught them the gospel for the first time. Fine-tuning someone’s already present faith in Christ is only vaguely associated with the Great Commission, in my opinion.

There’s a whole world of people out there who have no knowledge of Christianity other than what they see and perceive from the media. That, unfortunately, is not a great resource of the truth. But it’s too easy to be overwhelmed in discussing the great vast lost world out there. There are some real basics that we need to practice. Prayer for the lost. Keeping a list of specific individuals we are attempting to share the gospel with. Being open to those who providentially are placed in our path.

But one has to question God’s role in growing the church. If our focus is on other churches and what they’re doing that’s right or wrong, then why would God bother placing someone in our path for some gospel teaching?  (Some churches were left out of the aforementioned directory because they added an instrumental service – an editorial decision that has come under fire. Rightly so, in my opinion). If our focus is on our traditions and our time is spent fighting about what we can and cannot do in a worship service, who can do it, and how often it has to be done … would there be any use in putting a seeker in our path? How many Christians are ready to share the gospel of Christ with someone, if given opportunity?

That, to me, is the big story here. The Chronicle article says that the acappella Churches of Christ have “1,578,281 adherents nationwide”.  Well now, over a million people could make a sizable difference if they all set their minds and hearts to something couldn’t they? I would say that if you had 100 people in a local congregation … and they all did something as simple as inviting one person each week to come to the assembly with them, enough interest could be stirred throughout the year to generate a lot of evangelism! We’re not waiting on the preachers to save the world are we? I hope not. I am one … and I’m here to tell you … that would be a bad plan.

My two cents? This is news we already knew. I’m glad the Chronicle ran it. I think there are pretty simple solutions to it all. In spite of our cultural mileau we are all still people. People have basic needs. Loving lost people enough to show them the love of Christ is key. Adding music will not add love. Adding power point will not add joy. Adding the newest hippest trend will not make sour Christians sweet. It doesn’t matter if one man thinks you belong in his directory or not. It’s all about Jesus and letting Him shine through us. OK, maybe that’s four cents!

Thanks for reading! Your response is welcomed.

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