Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why Are Churches Declining?

I'm not sure which is more discouraging; hearing folks complain about the widespread decrease in church attendance, or hearing what some think is needed to reverse the trend. I believe that part of what most churches are experiencing has it's roots in the turmoil of the sixties (decade not age group). That was when, I believe, church members first started wanting and asking for changes in the assembly. Words like "relevant" and "contemporary" started being used to defining what people were seeking. And that, for churches that blur the distinction between God's commands and man's comfortable traditions, set the stage for decades of arguing, struggling, dividing, and polarizing as churches gradually began to define themselves by their worship styles, preferences, and purposes. I repeat it regularly every time the subject comes up, but as long as you define yourself by your style of worship on Sunday morning, the less you look like Jesus and represent the Body of Christ.
The second, and bigger element in the "why are things changing" department, goes back several centuries. Even as a historian I don't dare venture a guess as to the date. But somewhere, Christians getting together to grow in love for one another and to help each other grow in Christ was replaced by a passive, non-participatory, one-dimensional, formal worship service, with times, places, and specified rituals to perform. Attendance not only became the definition of faithfulness, the assembly of the saints became a receiving experience and not a giving opportunity. It stopped being about helping others grow, and became the single most important part of our religious experience - and "IT BETTER MEET OUR NEEDS OR WE WILL TAKE OUR BODIES AND OUR BOUNTY TO A CHURCH THAT DOES."
Now we have workshops, retreats, books, seminars, degrees, and experts to tell us how to "meet needs" on Sunday morning and attract larger numbers to our "sacrifice of praise to God." I believe with all my heart that one of Satan's greatest victories was not having so many bars, brothels, and bad people, but simply turning the words of Jesus up-side-down. Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than it is to receive." Satan got us all to believe that didn't apply to our assembly time.
Today we are seeing, I believe, the natural evolution of "what's in it for me" as people simply say, "I don't need it." In their minds, if it was all about attracting them, meeting their needs, and entertaining them for an hour or so - it's not working any more. Remember, we are the ones that said it's all about the Sunday worship, and we are the ones who grew up believing it's supposed to do things for ME, and we're the ones who expected that worship service to be all things to all people thus making it a perfect prescription for judging, for church-hopping, and for failure.
A simple tool for building love for one another and for God should only be judged by how well it helps people develop a deeper relationship with Jesus. Yes, I know there are mega-churches with tens of thousand of members. I praise God for anything that glorifies Him. But are they mega-churches because they are attracting people to Jesus, or because they've got the "best game in town"? I don't know - I'm just asking.
The Hebrew writer said that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." If the church is the body of Christ, shouldn't we "really" look just like His body looked in the beginning? Back when Christians getting together was all about giving instead of receiving? We might be surprised to discover how attractive that is to a world with "needs."

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