Monday, September 17, 2007

Collapse of the Church Culture

Today, I am going to hash out some of the points from chapter 1 in the book "The Present Future". The chapter is called, "The Collapse of the Church Culture".

One of the statements in the opening chapter that sends shivers down my spine was the following: They are leaving the church to preserve their faith. For most church goers that just sounds messed up. However, if you place your ear to the pavement and listen to the vibes; it is true.

In the book, Reggie takes a look at questions. He takes a look at what is the wrong question and then what is the tough question. Let's take a look at them for the first chapter.

Wrong Question: How Do We Do Church Better?

I have to be honest, this question hit me hard. I have operated out of this concept for numerous years - more than I probably want to admit to. I mean, I went and got my masters degree in Church Growth & Evangelims. Why ? So, I could help churches do ministry better, so we can grow and we can reach more people.

Every week, I receive promos for new conventions, new seminars and new ministry helps that will make my ministry better and for us to be successful. We always seem to be looking for the next thing that will help us.

Reggie hits it on the head when he says, " no wonder people are skeptical about the next thing coming on the horizon ". We are so busy with our lives and we jam-pack the church calendar. Here is a newsflash from the book that I agree with greatly:

Church activity is a poor subsitute for genuine spiritual vitality.

The reason, people are searching for meaning in their life. I think we, churches, have sold them this line that if they are in worship, if they are in Sunday School, if they help out with ministry, if they .... and the list goes on and they keep placing check marks after the lists ...

HOWEVER, what it has produced is a group of people who are tired, depressed, fed up and dis-connected to the church. Which is very sad. Reggie makes another great point in the following manner:

In North America, these people have been led to believe that their Christian life is all about the church, so this failure of the church not only creates doubt about the church, it also leads them to all kinds of doubt about God and their relationship with him.

We, as churches, have decided to run and hide. We have built fortress ( church buildings ) and we hide inside of them. At times, we think that we will abide by the Great Commission and do an outreach event. We cringe to do so because we love to live in our bubble. However, the outreach event is really messed up as well (usually). Why ? Because we expect them to come to us and we want to get them cleaned up and have them part of us so we can be more comfortable with them. What a vicious cycle.

Reggie makes the following statement that I have been chewing on for weeks as he explains how this is the wrong question. Here it goes:

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.

The premise: church hopping is for church people. Those outside of the church are looking for meaningful relationships and a purpose in their life. Also, he points out ( and this is tough ) that people outside the church think that church is for church people NOT THEM.

The conclusion: We can make the church better and we can "grow" the church by bringing along some church hoppers. The need for the church is not a methodological fix; it is a misson fix. Thus, Reggie states that this is the tough question that we should be easking:

Tough Question: How Do We Deconvert from Churchianity to Christianity?

This can be very hard. What has occurred in many circles is that we have forgotten about Jesus. Our focus has been more about the church ( the institution ). Now, please hear me, the institution can still be used as a vehichle to introduce people to Jesus. However, we need to make sure that we are converting people to Jesus and not to the church.

Reggie reminds us as I have seen in numerous arenas as well is the following: People may be turned off to the church, but they are not turned off to Jesus. the first time that I encountered this was in 1991 while I was playing basketball in the inner city of Indianapolis. Some of the guys said, " man if i could get &%^$# past the religion of church, I would love to have a relationship with Jesus ".

Those statements have shifted greatly though. People are now noticing they can have Jesus without the church. But, a scary thing is now, they are not associating Jesus with the church. They see the church has a religious club that they have no desire to be part of.

We need to get back to the mission. The church was created for us (people) to join God in his redemptive plan of the world. We have moved away from it and we (the church) has turned the focus to ourself.

Here is the good news. God is still active. He is still calling us to be part of the movement. We can answer the call. Do you hear the voice and are you willing to hear the call ?

We need to go out. We need to be with the individuals in the world. You are already there: in school, in work, social networks. Be Jesus to them. We have two powerful "weapons" ( I hate that analogy ) and they are grace and love. The world really is searching for God. However, they do not think they can find God in the church building, so they are out there on the search ....

Will you help them on their journey ??

I am still wrestling with how I will be doing this in my daily life. I am looking forward to the journey. I am also thankful that I am part of an "institutional church" that is missional and moving more and more that way daily ( I believe ).

I will be revisiting this soon on my personal journey and our church jouney. Chapter by chapter, we shall go.


grace said...

Awesome post Jeff!

This jumped out at me...

"The need for the church is not a methodological fix; it is a misson fix."

You give me hope that change is possible from within the institution also.

Heather said...

Jeff, thank you for your emailed invitation to comment.

These questions are ones I asked myself a couple of years ago, when I came to the conclusion that the institutional church that I was a part of had led me into a "church lifestyle" rather than closer to Jesus.

I am still part of a church that I attend almost every Sunday, but it has a very different model. This has grown out of the people there asking these very same questions.

The pastor sees his job as one of nurturing people to get to a place where they can head out missionally into the world themselves - not to bring people into that particular church, but to bring them into an understanding of, and relationship with, Jesus. He recently had the joy of commissioning a family to do their work as missionaries in a suburb of Melbourne with a few other families. That is the kind of thing he wants - to get people to a place where they can leave to do their own missional activities.

There are no programs. None. The women get together once a month, informally, over coffee. The men are less organised (a gender discrepancy mostly), and get together only occasionally, most often at a bar or coffee shop. These are social gatherings rather than "church events". There is no purpose to the evenings other than to get together to chat about whatever. There is a very optional mid-week Bible study that supplements what is said and done on Sunday, and it is run very much as a conversation. The children also learn the Bible age-appropriately on Sundays, in the same room as the rest of us, at a table down the back.

The other people in the church see their job as both to grow themselves, and to encourage others to grow as well in a safe community atmosphere. People are encouraged to use and practice their giftings, and to go out into the world as missionaries.

Everybody in the community has their own missional thing, outside of any church programs. Some visit the aged, some do counselling, some do religious education in schools, some work through other volunteer organisations.

It is a backwards model in comparison to the rest of Churchianity, but it is one that I have found to be most coherent with the Gospels.

I am so glad others are questioning the attractional church model and looking for other more missional ways of doing church.

travis said...

Great post....Thank you!
I have hard time communicating to those that are converting to the church instead of Jesus. It kind of makes feel like I am judging! I am uncomfortable with the practice that the church is more of a priority than the relationship with Jesus. Thank you for sharing your far!

Jeff Greathouse said...

Thanks for the comments. Hopefully part 2 of 6 will be up this weekend.