Churches in crisis
May 7, 2012
Pastor Russell Doebler, Hope Community Church, Howard Lake

If you think the message of today’s church is out of touch with society, I understand.

If you are concerned about many churches closing their doors, I’m with you.

People outside the church often don’t see the point of church, and many people inside the church agree – and are leaving in unprecedented numbers.

Could it be that the problem is that we are missing what the purpose of the church is?

In the Great Commissio, Jesus said the church’s purpose is to disciple (teach and train) others. But it appears that in our culture, the goal of the church is to have really good services that are well-attended. We put a lot of emphasis on the worship event, but do little to train people to serve God.

Attending a Gospel sing-along and hearing a speech on the Bible doesn’t really make one a disciple. Not that singing to God isn’t a good thing, or that hearing a sermon isn’t beneficial. But do we really get trained to disciple others by simply attending church?

Since people are at different places in their spiritual journeys, and not every person in a worship service will relate to every sermon. Many times, I’ve found myself preaching a sermon for people who weren’t even present!

No wonder our society thinks the church is out of touch. One study showed that each year, nearly 4,000 churches in America close their doors. Of those that survive, half of them do not add one new member through conversion growth.

Each year, churches lose 2.7 million people who think the faith is irrelevant. Only 2.2 percent of churches are growing by conversion growth. What is going wrong?

Perhaps we have failed to be the church Jesus started. Perhaps we are no longer operating churches that the 12 apostles would recognize as churches.

Many churches try to fix this problem by doing what attracts society, rather than doing what attracts God. In fact, most church activity is based on our culture, not the Bible. That is, we provide what people want, instead of what God wants.

You would think that a marketing approach that caters to people’s desires would be successful – yet the American church is declining.

What can be done?

Jesus told His disciples that before they attempted to grow the church, they should first stop, wait, and pray (Acts 1:4–8). The foundation and starting point for church activity was the prayer meeting. When they prayed, God sent the Holy Spirit and the resulting power enabled the church to serve effectively. God answered prayer with miracles more convincing than a great marketing plan.

But today, how many churches have an effective, regular prayer meeting? Sadly, many churches put more effort into buildings, programs, and marketing than into prayer and discipleship.

The thought of putting prayer first, though Biblical, is radically counter-cultural. Some people tell me, “You can’t force a first-century model into the 21st century!”

Really? It seems to me that the first-century model was also counter-cultural. For Jews of the first century, relying upon the sacrifice of Jesus – instead of sacrificing animals – was contrary to their culture. Meeting in homes to be taught by fishermen and tax accountants – instead of being taught by a rabbi in the synagogue – was unheard of. Welcoming Gentiles into the family of faith was also radical.

If we continue to shape our churches around what our culture wants, our efforts will continue to backfire. The church, by definition, is counter-cultural. How can we shape culture if we are being shaped by it?

I’m not proposing that we don’t attempt to relate to people where they are. My point is that we make it our aim to follow the Biblical recipe, and let God do His work.

I’m also not claiming to have this figured out. I just want to be more Biblical than I used to be. I believe, in these days of church crisis, that God is looking for people who will return to a Biblical understanding that challenges the religious culture around them. And I believe God can, and will respond in a similar fashion as He did in the first century.

I’m looking for others who share this conviction. If you do, email me at BlessedHopeHowardLake@gmail.com.