Something tells me it’s not just me. I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of the American church lately. I’ve heard more than once from different sources that America is the only country in the world where the church is shrinking instead of growing. In fact, I’ve heard predictions that evangelicalism as we know it is coming to an end. You can read the article that was published in the Christian Science Monitor here.
I was talking with a friend who pastors a church in Ireland and even he had something to say about the western church. His words echoed in my ears for a while. “In the next ten years the American church is going to look much like the church in Europe. A post-Christian environment will emerge where very few churches have full-time paid staff members. We’re ministering to more people here with less money than we ever have before.”
Here’s the thing that my fellow church and ministry staffers may not like me saying. I don’t necessarily believe that the things I mentioned above are bad things. We’ve spent so many years building our own kingdoms with bigger buildings, slicker marketing, and a $4 billion-a-year Christian entertainment industry. During a recent drive through Dallas, I saw mega-churches sprinkled all along the interstate. They looked like shopping malls with massive structures and expansive parking lots. How is it that we can have so much, but bear so little fruit? I spoke with a pastor recently who had no idea how to share his faith and has never led a soul to The Lord. He shared that, growing up, no one ever taught him how to witness. It’s no wonder the American church is weak when we’re better at putting on a show than we are at giving away the greatest hope there is!
So why do I believe that the things mentioned in the first two paragraphs aren’t necessarily bad things? First of all, the church has always had a way of flourishing during hard times. Excessive prosperity has a way of making us lazy and stupid (not to mention greedy for more). Hard times make us prioritize and focus on what’s important. “Hmmm… should I spend these resources on reaching the lost, hungry, and sick, or should I bring the latest rock star in for a concert?” Also, when things take a down-turn, we pray more. Jesus said that the House of God is a house of prayer. There are very few churches that I know of that have a line in the budget for prayer. In fact, there are very few churches that I know of that have regular prayer meetings! God has a way of bringing his bride back to the things that matter most. A good shaking once in a while is a positive thing!
The important thing to remember is what Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “… and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” God’s church will stand and continue to march forward. Nothing can stop it! So if we find the church as we know it changing and things disapearing, then maybe those things weren’t The Church after all.