New Reality Number One: The Collapse of the Church Culture
Quotes from the book; my comments are in italics...
Many congregations and church leaders, faced with the collapse of the church culture, have responded by adopting a refuge mentality. Those with a refuge mentality view the world outside the church as the enemy. Their answer is to live inside the bubble in a Christian subculture complete with its own entertainment industry. Evangelism in this worldview is about churching the unchurched, not connecting people to Jesus. It focuses on cleaning people up, changing their behavior so Christian (translation: church people) can be more comfortable around them.
I remember when I started using the phrase "unchurched" to describe non-Christians; when I started talking strategy that revolved around getting the unchurched churched. It was supposed to be just another way to talk about evangelism. But it ended up shifting to a focus on getting people - churched and unchurched - involved in the life of the church. This phrase "life of the church" tends to mean three things: Sunday morning worship, Evening Small Groups, Ministry Involvement. The idea was that if you did these three things in a church, you would grow closer to God, to other believers, and support the vision of the church would result in a changed community for Christ. It works enough churches that it is still a viable strategy. But it doesn't work in enough churches to warrant it as a solution that just needs to be implemented better.
The point is, all the effort to fix the church misses the point. You can build the perfect church - and they still won't come. People are not looking for a great church. They do no wake up every day wondering what church they can make successful. The age in which institutional religion holds appeal is passing away - and in a hurry.
Church leaders seem unable to grasp this simple implication of the new world - people outside the church think the church is for church people, not for them.
So how does a church go about being a church that is simultaneously for people who have been followers of Jesus for a long time and for those who are just beginning? How does a church stay welcoming to both? By not emphasizing who is churched and unchurched, but by encouraging everyone to keep taking their next step with Jesus. Churched and unchurched as categories are too definitive while also being unhelpful. Christianity is exchanged with Churchedness; once I get "in" to a church, I am good with God. But Jesus calls us to follow him, and that is more messy, open-ended, never completed. Thus everyone is on the same plane - it's not about who follows better, but about who is following at whatever point they are at in life.
In North America the invitation to become a Christian has become largely an invitation to convert to the church.
As I just wrote, I sensed this to be coming true at Anchor. We've just changed our emphasis. Our questions is: When is Anchor at its Best? It's not when we gather for worship, it's not when the singing rocks or the sermon convicts. Anchor is at its best when those of us who follow Jesus do so in the everyday events of life. That is what it means to be/become a Christian. Church is helpful to the degree that it helps you follow Jesus in everyday life, not what it does for me on Sunday.
Many church leaders confuse the downward statistics on church participation with a loss of spiritual interest in Americans.
We need to recapture the mission of the church. In both Old and New Testaments we encounter a God who is on a redemptive mission in the world.
When Jesus came on the scene he entered a world very similar to our own in terms of its spiritual landscape.
Jesus tapped into this widespread sentiment of disillusionment with religion but hunger for God with his teaching about the kingdom of God and how people could become part of it.
The movement Jesus initiated had power because it had at its core a personal life-transforming experience. They had grace and love.
Grace and Love just can't be underestimated as our means of being salt and light. Jesus comes as Truth, the revelation of what is most real in this world, and his means of communicating that truth about God/Ultimate Reality is through Generous Grace and Strong Love. Following Jesus is alot about communicating the truth of God's work and will through our works of grace and love in the name of Jesus. Which means that what we do in the name of Jesus is easily recognized as the kind of stuff Jesus did when he walked this earth amongst us.