How The Church Can Grow

There’s a lot of talk about how the church in America can begin to grow again, or at least stop losing members in droves. If you’re a twenty something, you probably know better than most that there’s a large group of people who are leaving the church when they leave college. If you aren’t a twenty something, next time you step into church, look around for people in their mid twenties, those who used to fill young marrieds and singles classes. There aren’t many of them.

Many believe that the problem lies in the style of our worship services not being appealing enough to a younger generation, one that grew up with computers, the internet, and, well, pretty much whatever they could have possibly wanted. But I don’t believe that is the source of the problem. People my age are very interested in God, Jesus, the spiritual realm. The problem is not the worship services, or how cool the preachers or pastors are. The problem is, church no longer has anything of relevance to say, at least in generation y’s opinion. The thing is, they are wrong. The church does have something to say, and a whole lot to do. Its time that they stood up and became what they were always intended to be.

The way that the church can once again gain relevance is simple. Preach the Gospel. You might think that the church is all ready preaching the Gospel, that yes, they have got the whole substitutionary atonement thing down. They’ve read Paul backwards and forwards and argued about every possible paragraph he penned. But the church has forgotten that the Gospel is shown in full in the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Gospel is the life of Jesus. And unlike our traditional interpretations of Paul, ones based entirely in how redemption works, the Gospels show us salvation in action. They show us how we are to live our lives, which is the true mission of the church. Today’s church focuses on getting people to Heaven, which, if one reads the Gospels honestly, was never the focus of Jesus. His focus was on telling people how to live like God intended, which brings salvation from something, but not from hell. It brings salvation here and now, salvation from the ways of the world which leads to death. And Jesus’s resurrection is the foreshadowing of our own resurrection, with real bodies, into a real world the way God intended it from the beginning. This promise of resurrection gives us the courage we need to follow Jesus, to take up our own crosses, literally, to be willing to lay down our lives rather than die protecting them.

And this is what my generation is looking for. We’re looking for meaning. We look around at a world where we seemingly have everything, yet, things are still drastically wrong. Progress has certainly alleviated some problems, but it has brought on a whole new set. And we look to our faiths to find answers to our problems, but we’re taught private piety, and little else. There is no social ethic to the church, but there is a definitive social ethic to the gospel… and the hypocrisy drives us away. We read, “love your enemies” and hear praise for warriors in church. We read “true religion is taking care of the widows and orphans” but we see bigger and bigger buildings, more and more programs designed to benefit us, and well, we don’t really see any of the least of these sitting in church buildings.

This all comes back to how we teach salvation. If the church continues to focus on an other worldly heaven, with a mansion, robe, and crown… they will continue being irrelevant. If the church decides to teach salvation as its found in the Bible, salvation which shows up in our lives, that distinguishes us from the world, the church will continue to flounder.

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16 responses to “How The Church Can Grow

  1. Yeah, I gotta agree. All you heard the past 10 years was “We need to change the worship, we are losing young people!” First of all, let’s see some stats. Second, so you want to keep all the young people and just say “screw you!” to the older generation? Third, the young people who you changed for are now older so, are you going to change it again for the younger people of THIS generation?

    I think what many churches are lacking are relationships. Many at my church are not that interested in the worship but more so in the small group they are involved in. That is where real worship and real commitment and real closeness to God lies.

  2. Excellent post… I second Dude. My church, most of the people disappear, while the young 20’s crowd sticks around an extra 30 minutes to talk. People need more relationships, more discipleship, and a focus on being real. The reason so many whipper-snappers are turned off by church is because they see it as a superficial, fake place where people do not show their brokenness. Once we turn church into a place for sinners again, then young people will be attracted.

    But for now, most of our churches are places where everyone’s got it together and we’re just waiting for the sweet by and by. Young people hunger for genuine relationships, and many churches are not doing enough to promote it.

  3. People at most churches don’t understand that the porn addict, the woman struggling with adultry, the kid who is doing drugs, the marriage that is breaking apart…is happening to the people they talk to every Sunday. They people they sit next to each week. They just would not believe, if they knew, what is going on.

    My home church has been a wonderful place…a safe place, to pour out your heart and struggles to others who will understand and pray for you. In many churches, you go forward and tell the church you are struggling with adultry, they will shun you.

  4. As someone who works with college age people on a daily basis, I can say that our young people really would like to make a difference in the world but they don’t know how. They see the poor people suffering from injustice contrasted against the privileged people who make the rules that lend to the oppression and suffering of the poor. And they don’t know what to do. I think our younger generation is really disappointed with the state of the world, but they feel helpless to correct the situation. If the church focused on preaching the gospel of Jesus rather than confusing everyone with abstract theological terms, perhaps these young people would feel encouraged and more empowered to take action.

  5. JMG, that sounds a lot like the hippies from the 60’s. Being disappointed with the state of the world, they see people oppressed and the privileged who make the rules. That really sounds like a page from some Jefferson Airplane song.

  6. Roland,

    You should take a trip to the inner city sometime and meet some people. I think you’d be surprised at how much injustice there really is, and how privileged you are just by the basis of who your parents were. Its true that in this country, unlike many third world countries, people have more opportunities to get out of poverty, but the reality of things is that that is much more difficult than we’d like to believe.

    And that’s just the cycle of poverty, which doesn’t take into account our ridiculous drug laws that incarcerate non violent drug offenders who are mostly black, essentially ending any chance for upward mobility not just for the guy or girl involved, but any offspring they may have had before.

    Or not to mention the fact that our government bails out Wall Street when they make stupid decisions, inflating the currency which hurts hard working poor people the most.

    Not to mention the countless innocent lives taken by our wars, as well as the wars of other nations.

    To deny there is injustice in the world and that our faith is based almost entirely on the idea of bringing justice (ever heard of Jubilee before?) to the poor and bringing peace to the world, is ignorant of you, not to mention unsympathetic and unchristian.

  7. I agree with what you say here, to a point. I think it is hard for churches to teach a lot of what many consider “social relevence” because of the political overtones.

    Many people can’t hear a person talk about “peace” without thinking that it’ll become some sort of left-wing harangue. Others equate talk of “poverty” as a shorthand for instituting socialist principles of government.

    Our church in America is in a dangerous place. We’ve come to love all of the trappings that wealth of nations can provide–$2500 VBS anyone? We can’t then preach the struggle of Christlike living because it jeopardises all that the Church holds dear.

  8. The thing is Kat, and if I remember correctly you’ve got some anabaptist roots, so you’ll understand where I’m coming from, but the Kingdom of God IS a political entity, but at the same time its completely different from the politics of the world.

    Regardless of if peace or poverty have been traditional left wing causes… they should be the causes of the church, but trying to fix things the same way the left does misses the point. The way that we address the problem is through self sacrifice, through love, and through community. Not through force.

    And you are right in saying that the church would look horrible if it started trying to preach Jubilee, when we spend tons of money on buildings, and programs and all that stuff. But we’ve got to start somewhere.

    And people have no trouble with preaching ridiculously jingoistic stuff from the pulpit. Or talking about things with members. I’ve almost gotten to the point where I can’t handle the America worship in our churches. We are the Kingdom of God, and our allegiance is there. If I have to deal with right wing garbage at church, they should be able to listen to some good social justice theology without losing their minds.

  9. If I have to deal with right wing garbage at church, they should be able to listen to some good social justice theology without losing their minds.

    Or, how about this?

    We forget about using the Cross of Christ to preach various political agendas and instead become the people of Christ, with the natural outcome being that as we look more like Christ things start to happen that are good.

    And, no, I don’t have anabaptist roots. I AM Anabaptist to the core.

  10. I agree. But I think if we don’t talk about how Christians should act… ie being peacemakers, caring for the poor, etc, then nothing is going to change. My main point is that evangelical christians need to reteach salvation in the broader sense, and in doing so, people will be energized to do what they are supposed to be doing. Right now, Christianity is fire insurance, a get out of hell free card. There is nothing revolutionary about it. There is very little of Christ’s teachings. There’s a lot of Paul and a lot of living like the world.

  11. You have articulated some very important things here. I have been spending a lot of effort with my church family lately attempting to correct the limited “salvation = heaven/afterlife” paradigm. I usually receive responses that range from blank stares to people inferring from my statements that I am denying heaven and/or the afterlife.

  12. Thanks for the comment Jeff.

    One of the most important means of correcting that misinterpretation of scripture is pointing out that one of the main verses used for supporting that view, “in my fathers house there are many rooms” the word there is essentially like “motel”. Its a place where you stay temporarily. Heaven, or paradise, is the resting place before the resurrection. N T Wright has written extensively on the subject, coming from a perspective of the historical Jesus.

    http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm

  13. Once again Justin, you throw your famous strawman argument up and also assume things. I never did deny there is injustice in the world. I was just making a point that what JMG said is nothing new. We have heard it all before.

    Also, if you read my site you will see I agree with you on the drug laws. Big time. That being said, I would have to disagree with your quote here “ridiculous drug laws that incarcerate non violent drug offenders who are mostly black” Regardless if the law is ridiculous, if you break it, you go to jail REGARDLESS of your color. It sounds as if you are saying these laws are in effect just to get the black man in jail. The fact is, these laws are on the books because of one thing..MONEY.

  14. Roland, I get what you are saying about my comment. And I think the fact that we have “heard it all before” means that what the church has been doing isn’t working all that well. To get back to Justin’s original idea, young people see the church as just another extension of the rest of society. There’s nothing different about it–just as Kat’s comment about $2500 VBS illustrates. The church is supposed to look completely different from the world, and from the young person’s perspective, it just doesn’t.

  15. Roland, you say, “Regardless if the law is ridiculous, if you break it, you go to jail REGARDLESS of your color” Year of arrest and conviction statistics will show you that are very wrong here. Minorities are convicted of crimes and sentenced to jail time at a much higher rate than whites as a percentage of total arrests for each minority group, which indicates a bias in the courts against minority. This mostly has to do with the lack of quality legal representation by most minorities.

  16. hi, Do something to help those hungry people from Africa or India,
    I created this blog about them:
    at http://tinyurl.com/5qlbzs

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