We all know that the back door of many churches is much bigger than the front door. People are leaving traditional churches in unprecedented numbers. Many more people don’t really care one bit where the front or back doors are; they certainly don’t want to get anywhere near a church on Sunday. Some would say that an unfriendly or clique-ish atmosphere is the reason people are leaving in droves, or not even coming to church in the first place. However, it is only one of myriad reasons why many mainline churches are dying.
The "2000 pound elephant in the room" is the churchianity subculture that exists in most churches today. That subculture has caused the church to have minimal impact on an increasingly hostile landscape due to a serious lack of relevance within the broader cultural and postmodern context. It is imperative we drop all our pretentious Christianese language and unfruitful traditions, and begin to see how others outside of the church view our conversations and behaviors. Just our conversation alone can drive people away because it seems like a foreign language to them. We MUST begin to see and hear ourselves through the eyes and ears of the un-churched and make radical adjustments to our churchianity culture. In other words, WE MUST GET REAL!
The other thing that is killing off churches faster than rat poison in a room full of rats is our "model" of church. Are we being missional/incarnational, or are we still trying to be attractional in our form of church? 90% of churches today are still operating an attractional model of church. THAT IS NOT WORKING ANYMORE! We must stop trying to be consumer oriented and programmatic. Just hoping and praying that the products and programs we offer will cause people to come to the church on Sunday is failing, THEY ARE NOT COMING! We must begin to look at the context around us as a mission field and go into that context incarnationally. And while the orthodoxy of our message of Christ and Him crucified never changes, it has become necessary that we contextualize our methods of getting that message to those who are outside of the Church. This means we need to be creative and get our hands dirty. It also means we need to develop loving, compassionate, and authentic relationships with those God providentially brings across our path; and according to Luke, chapter 14, those He sends across our path will look more like the lame, blind, sick, maimed, and poor.
We have a mandate from our Lord Jesus Christ to GO into all the world… the world DOES NOT have a mandate to come to us! I believe the word "GO" is an acronym for "God Ordained". When we GO into all the world God ordains us to bear fruit for His Kingdom, and the churches will stop dying when we start going! North America is now the largest English speaking mission field on the planet! The Church has abdicated its responsibility to send its people as lights into the darkness. Today, most churches are nothing but a bunch of dim bulbs trying to outshine one another! As we go, we cannot drag our churchianity with us, we must leave it behind and learn how to become all things to all people just as the apostle Paul did when he went to the Areopagus on Mars Hill, and it is written that many there believed. He didn't win them by cursing their gods; he won them over by showing them the one true God.
Like Paul, our community of Christ followers have won many to God by GOing into the marketplace. We are learning to stop speaking in our shallow and irrelevant Christianese language. Instead, we ask relevant questions; then shut-up, wait for an answer and listen... really listen. People want to know that someone genuinely cares and is listening to them. We are learning daily what it means to walk in compassion and love as we endeavor to walk in radical servanthood. This is what it means to be missional and incarnational.
The only way we will ever keep the church from dying, is when we as Christ followers start living! And that means we must live intentionally and incarnationally by demonstrating the love and power of Christ to those around us who are in darkness and without hope. Again, we are going to have to be creative and often times take huge risks in order to look more like Christ in an ever-changing cultural, political, and religious environment. But who ever said following Jesus was safe?
Priest and Vicar of The Uprising ~ Ancient:Apostolic:Anglican Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Uprising is an Incarnational and Sacramental Anglican mission community seeking the spiritual renewal of our city through the grace, love, truth, and power of Christ.