Like I said in the previous post, I choose option three. I can’t stick my head in the sand. My conscience won’t all it. And I’m not giving up. I think there’s too much out there worth fighting for. So for me, I’m taking up my Cross and am going to continue to press on. But that leaves me with the question, now what? What do I (and we) do next?
Well, based on the view from my seat, the people who have chosen to stay and press on have made one huge mistake. They have tried to turn the Church of Christ into the local non-denominational mega church. When I say it like that, it doesn’t sound as good. Here’s the more objective way to say that. They have decided to go down the same road as everyone else, just because they perceive that they are experiencing some success. That’s a bad idea.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I study churches religiously. (Hah, there’s an ironic statement). But, I really do. I put in a lot of time digging into and dissecting the churches that are experiencing success as well as the ones that going through catastrophic failure. I want to know what makes them tick. I want to know what makes them fail or succeed. Why, so I can know what to do or not do. So in that sense I am talking out of both sides of my mouth.
So I’ll just say that, in this instance at least, I think we’re missing the boat. When we look around at our non-denominational mega-church neighbors we see their cool pastor wearing jeans and a corduroy blazer with his super-cool haircut. We take notice of their big-budget children’s ministry complete with its own circus show, err . . . I mean worship service. (I know, that was uncalled for. Sorry, won’t happen again). And perhaps most of all, we see their huge rock concert slash laser light show that they call their worship time. No apologies for that one. That’s the truth. And most of all, we see their completely full parking lots and multiple services. Careful there, envy is a sin.
So what do we do? We jump in head first and we try to copy all these cool things that seem to be causing their growth. WRONG! BAD IDEA! HIT THE PAUSE BUTTON ON THAT ONE! Here’s the problem: too many of us that have jumped haven’t looked deep enough to realize that those things aren’t causing their growth.
First of all, the cause of their growth begins with the very churches that the people are leaving en mass. Stop for a moment and think about that. Not everyone who leaves you’re church is actually falling away. Some of them are just looking for a church that will help them and their family grow. If your church was meeting people’s spiritual needs they probably never would have gone window shopping in the first place. That’s the main cause of the growth of the non-denominational mega church. It’s the slow death of the denominations. And that should give us all a huge clue about what we need to be doing.
So if that’s the first reason that some other churches are growing, then coming in second on this little list of ours is that they have tapped into the true nature and purposes of the church; which is something that the highly institutional Church of Christ (and many other large brand-name denominations) has totally, completely and utterly failed at. In short, they have focused on being the Church instead of doing Church. There’s a huge difference between those two ideas.
Here’s what I have come to believe about people who are spiritually hungry. First, many of them either don’t know the Bible well or have been hurt by their current church experience. Because of that, they are not going to appreciate one particular set of doctrines over another. That’s either because they can’t differentiate one from the other, or because their pain has caused them to care less about it. So for example, when they choose to go to the church down the road only shares communion once a month it’s because they simply choose to ignore it or they don’t appreciate the big-time significance of the communion in the first place.
Second, most people don’t really care about the size of the church or the big production that goes on once they are inside the building. Admittedly, most folks will think it’s weird if a church doesn’t have some sort of music. But whether you have a worship band full of young musicians, a little old lady tickling the ivories or one guy up in the front leading everyone in a powerful and moving song via a cappella style, is largely irrelevant. That’s not what brought them there in the first place (or what keeps them there).
Third, people who are spiritually hungry want to be fed in a place that won’t condemn them for being a day away from starvation. In other words, they don’t want to be condemned for revealing that deep down they are actually spiritually homeless and on the doorstep of spiritual death.
Getting back to that statement I made about the purposes of the church. What does that mean? Well, let me first say that this is where most Churches of Christ drop the ball. They either don’t acknowledge that there are specific purposes that they should be striving towards or they have not found a balancing point with them. From what I can gather there are five purposes: worship, fellowship, evangelism, serving and discipleship. In case you’re not familiar, these aren’t original. These have been identified, documented and practiced for a long time. Because of the institutional nature and traditions of the Church of Christ we tend to be big on discipleship and worship (at least in practice). Why you ask? Well, how many times does one church need to have a worship service where you do the exact same thing? Or how many bible classes do you really need to have? What’s missing, well we usually give a token nod to serving others. But we flat out consistently drop the ball on evangelism and fellowship.
Through all the gimmicks and expensive ministries this is what usually differentiates these other churches: deep, meaningful fellowship and a true spirit of evangelism. In case you’re not sure about what these two things are here’s a little help. Your church does not have fellowship just because you have a potluck once a month or a lot of people like to stand around and chat while they enjoy a cup of coffee on Sunday morning. And evangelism does not exist in programs. Period. If you have to create programs in order to stimulate evangelism then you have already failed and fulfilling that purpose. So don’t kid yourself into thinking that just because you hold a Gospel Meeting once or twice a year or you have a Friend Day every spring that you are experiencing evangelism.
So if we’re not supposed to keep doing what we’re doing. And if copying the big church across town won’t work, then what’s the answer? What does is the Church of Christ supposed to do? Well, in short . . . BE WHAT YOU STARTED OUT TO BE!!!
Just like it did in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the Church of Christ can be relevant again. The Church of Christ can grow again. We just have to get back to being BIBLICAL and stop trying to replicate what we did in our glory years or what others are doing now. In the next post we’ll try to wrap up this little series and try to identify where exactly we can go from here.