A dying church

A pejorative term directed against some congregations is that they are “a dying church.”  Either because most of their members are elderly or because they don’t get a lot of new members or because they don’t seem exciting enough.  I have always thought that this is rather wicked to say, since we have no idea about the true spiritual life that may be pulsing inside of these Christians, however elderly or not-growing or unexciting they may be.  Then our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, preached this sermon on Palm Sunday:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. And we also prayed: Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of His great humility and patience.

What does this mean? Do you know what this is saying? With these words we are really saying: Lord, help us to die. Help us be dying Christians. Help us be a dying church.

Ah, no. That doesn’t sound right! We don’t want to be a dying church! We don’t want to be dying Christians, do we? That sounds like failure. We want to be successful, we want to be admired, we want to be big, we want to be glorious. A dying church sounds . . . like . . . a story gone horribly wrong.

But this is exactly what it means to have the mind of Christ. We are to be a dying church, because we have a dying Saviour. For only by dying can we live. . . .

But what has Jesus done? What is this story we are hearing again today and will remember all this week? This story is not a story gone horribly wrong, but of our Saviour using suffering and death for life, for good. That what looks like defeat is really victory.And so we are a dying church because we have a dying Saviour. This is not our doing – our Saviour pulls us into His dying; for to die with Jesus is to live.

And so in baptism we are pulled into His death and resurrection.

We hear the preaching of Christ crucified and are pulled into the story of the cross.

We die in repentance and are raised in absolution.

The dying and rising body and blood of Jesus are put into your mouth, to pull you into that same dying and rising.

You see, that is what set the Apostles free to face death when they went out into all the world – they had already died with Christ! They had nothing to fear.

That is what set the early martyrs and the Reformers free to face death – they had already died with Christ! They had nothing to fear.

And this is what sets you free to face whatever this world and its evil prince may throw at you – you have already died with Christ! You have nothing to fear.

And so it is only by dying with Christ that can we then live. For dying with Christ, we live a life that suffering cannot take away, that the sins of others cannot take away, that the struggles of this world cannot take away, that disasters and tragedies cannot take away, that laying down our lives for others cannot take away, that not even death can take away.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church.

The fastest-growing denomination

That would be the Seventh-Day Adventists:

Rest on the Sabbath. Heed Old Testament dietary codes. And be ready for Jesus to return at any moment.

If these practices sound quaint or antiquated, think again. They’re hallmarks of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the fastest-growing Christian denomination in North America.

Newly released data show Seventh-day Adventism growing by 2.5% in North America, a rapid clip for this part of the world, where Southern Baptists and mainline denominations, as well as other church groups are declining. Adventists are even growing 75% faster than Mormons (1.4 percent), who prioritize numeric growth.

For observers outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the growth rate in North America is perplexing.

“You’ve got a denomination that is basically going back to basics … saying, ‘What did God mean by all these rules and regulations and how can we fit in to be what God wants us to be?’,” said Daniel Shaw, an expert on Christian missionary outreach at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. “That’s just totally contrary to anything that’s happening in American culture. So I’m saying, ‘Whoa! That’s very interesting.’ And I can’t answer it.”

via Adventists’ back-to-basics faith is fastest growing U.S. church – USATODAY.com.

Apparently the secret of church growth is NOT to conform to the culture.  But what people appreciate is law, law, law, as opposed to gospel.  Why do you think that is?

HT:Joe Carter

Theological bankruptcy

Christianity Today has a thoughtful editorial on the bankruptcy of the Crystal Cathedral and what that means (or should mean) for contemporary Christianity:

This past October, the megachurch prototype of the late 20th century filed for bankruptcy. A 24 percent drop in donations and a $50-$100 million debt owed to more than 550 creditors forced the Crystal Cathedral to file. It was a poignant moment in the history of modern evangelicalism.

Robert H. Schuller’s famous Crystal Cathedral was built on a foundation of self-esteem. In a 1984 interview with Christianity Today, Schuller said that when he came to Garden Grove, California, in 1955, he asked himself, “What human condition exists here that I can have a mission to?” His answer was “emotional hunger.” “Because of that,” he said, “we have developed our present ministry.” . . .

Schuller was tapping into themes of the human potential movement, the rage in the 1960s and ’70s, when Abraham Maslow’s theories deemed self-actualization the highest expression of human life. . . .

It’s like building a state-of-the-art structure. Technology moves at such a rapid pace that as soon as you move into the new building, you immediately find yourself stuck with an architecture that is already technologically dated, if only in small degrees at first. It isn’t long before another developer announces plans for something even more state-of-the-art.

Today both the Crystal Cathedral and the theology that undergird it seem woefully inadequate buildings in which to house the gospel. In an age deeply sensitive to energy conservation, a glass house of worship is a sinful extravagance. In a culture increasingly addicted to the self, the gospel of self-esteem is clearly part of the problem. In short, the Schuller enterprise is filing for bankruptcy on more than one front.

Some are tempted to hit the man while he is down, but this is unwise. Robert Schuller is not the problem—contemporary evangelicalism is. Schuller was only leading the parade of those who believe they are responsible for making the gospel relevant. The lesson is not that Schuller got it wrong or that his theology is out-of-date; it is not that we just need to find a better, more current point of cultural contact. The lesson is that our attempts to find and exploit a point of cultural contact inevitably end in bankruptcy. . . .

We must repress every fearful thought that suggests that making the gospel relevant and meaningful rests on our shoulders. The mystery of why and how people come to faith is just that—ultimately a mystery.  . . .

In fact, it is not only the listener who is deaf and blind to the gospel. The church is equally handicapped, especially regarding what will “work” to achieve genuine conversion. But—God be praised—we have a God who makes the deaf to hear and the blind to see! In every age and every culture, we are wise to trust the God who is rich in mercy and is able to accomplish through his Word that which he intends.

via Cracks in the Crystal Cathedral | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

It’s significant that Christianity Today is saying this, since that magazine has not been all that critical of the various church growth movements–each with their attempt to be culturally relevant–up to now.  Do you think this heralds the end of the megachurch church-marketing concept?

Trying to make Christianity cool

Twenty-something Brett McCracken is put off by what churches are doing to attract him:

Increasingly, the “plan” has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called “the emerging church”—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too “let’s rethink everything” radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity’s image and make it “cool”—remains.

There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool. For some, it means trying to seem more culturally savvy. The pastor quotes Stephen Colbert or references Lady Gaga during his sermon, or a church sponsors a screening of the R-rated “No Country For Old Men.” For others, the emphasis is on looking cool, perhaps by giving the pastor a metrosexual makeover, with skinny jeans and an $80 haircut, or by insisting on trendy eco-friendly paper and helvetica-only fonts on all printed materials. Then there is the option of holding a worship service in a bar or nightclub (as is the case for L.A.’s Mosaic church, whose downtown location meets at a nightspot called Club Mayan).

“Wannabe cool” Christianity also manifests itself as an obsession with being on the technological cutting edge. Churches like Central Christian in Las Vegas and Liquid Church in New Brunswick, N.J., for example, have online church services where people can have a worship experience at an “iCampus.” Many other churches now encourage texting, Twitter and iPhone interaction with the pastor during their services.

But one of the most popular—and arguably most unseemly—methods of making Christianity hip is to make it shocking. What better way to appeal to younger generations than to push the envelope and go where no fundamentalist has gone before? . . .

If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.

If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.

via The Perils of Hipster Christianity and Why Young Evangelicals Reject Churches That Try To Be Cool – WSJ.com.

Satellite churches with onscreen pastors

The latest in megachurch trends:  Doing without a pastor, except on streaming big screen video:

A new church was born Sunday morning, but, like an increasing number of congregations, it has no preaching pastor.

In what has become one of the most popular church growth methods across the country, a large white screen unfurled in front of the stage with the preacher’s image projected on it, preempting the live sermon and the pastor’s physical presence.

Welcome to the satellite church, a 21st century phenomenon that owes its success to advances in technology. These days, instead of starting new congregations, churches are reproducing the successful ones, franchise-style. . . .

Over the past five years, nearly every megachurch in the Triangle has done the same. Hope Community Church in Raleigh, Cleveland Community Church, or C3, in Clayton, and the Summit Church in Durham – all have at least one satellite location where the pastor’s message is recorded and then streamed live or hand-delivered on a DVD to an ancillary site where it’s screened for a different audience.

Though there are varying methods to the satellite concept, they share many of the same characteristics. Each satellite has a live praise and worship band and a local “campus pastor” who makes announcements, leads in prayer and tends to the needs of the congregants throughout the week.

But the heart of the service – the sermon – is given over to the big screen.

via Growing church opts for tele-communion – Religion – NewsObserver.com.

Why doesn’t everybody just stay home and watch it on their computers.  Think how mega such a church would be, with a congregation unlimited by location, space, or time.  Actually, I believe that is being tried.

Does anyone here go to a church like that or been to one?

Church growth for Christian Scientists

The Church of Christ, Scientist, founded by Mary Baker Eddy, teaches the gnostic and Buddhist/Hindu notion that evil, including sickness, is an illusion, which can be dispelled by proper thinking and meditation. The Christian Scientist movement used to be quite popular among the nation’s upper crust, with Reading Rooms and a national newspaper, “The Christian Science Monitor.” But these days the numbers are dwindling. So, like other desperate churches, the Christian Scientists are trying to employ methods of the church growth movement, including toning down their traditional teachings and practices to make them palatable to the masses.

Thanks to tODD for putting me on to this. He comments, “this story has it all! Church-growth-like numbers analysis! Attempts to be more relevant in the face of declining numbers! Insane levels of Gospel-less Law! Nutty theology that is neither “Christian” nor “science”! And, of course, health care!” From the New York Times:

Since the founding of their church 131 years ago, Christian Scientists have been taught to avoid doctors at all cost. It is a conviction rooted so deeply in church dogma that dozens of members have endured criminal prosecution rather than surrender an ailing person to what they see as the quackery of medical science.

But faced with dwindling membership and blows to their church’s reputation caused by its intransigence concerning medical treatment, even for children with grave illnesses, Christian Science leaders have recently found a new tolerance for medical care. For more than a year, leaders say, they have been encouraging members to see a physician if they feel it is necessary.

Perhaps more significantly, they have begun a public campaign to redefine their methods as a form of care that the broader public should consider as a supplement rather than a substitute for conventional treatment, like biofeedback, chiropractic or homeopathic care.

In recent years, the church has been lobbying to convince lawmakers that its approach is an alternative way of tending to the sick, and that its costs should be covered by insurance companies and included in health care legislation.

Lobbyists succeeded in getting provisions that encourage private insurance coverage of Christian Science care into both the 2006 legislation overhauling health care in Massachusetts and the United States Senate version of the health care overhaul; both measures were removed in negotiations. Church officials say they intend to keep trying, at both the state and federal level. . . .

The faith’s guiding textbook forbids mixing medical care with Christian Science healing, which is a form of transcendental prayer intended to realign a patient’s soul with God.

But rigid thinking has not served the church well in the last half century, Mr. Davis said. Though officials do not provide membership statistics, scholars estimate that the church’s numbers have dropped to under 100,000 from a peak of about twice that at the turn of the 20th century. The faith has about 1,100 churches in the United States and 600 abroad.

In New York City, falling membership forced the Christian Science church on Park Avenue to lease its building part time to a catering service in 2006. Another Manhattan church remains open; a third closed in 2005.

“We are a church on a slow curve of diminishment, in good part because of what people see as our stridency,” he said in an interview at the church’s New York offices on East 42nd Street near Grand Central Terminal. “So we asked ourselves, ‘Are we only going to pray for you if we find you pure enough and spiritual enough?’ ”

Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, in 1879 in Boston, wrote in the church’s textbook, “Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures,” that anyone inviting a doctor to his sickbed “invites defeat.”

Mr. Davis said that by toning down “the judgmental part of our nature” and opening the doors to people seeking Christian Science prayer as a sort of “value-added health care,” the church hopes to keep alive a form of religious practice that its adherents still see as the true path to salvation.

But if even the members no longer believe in their founders’ theology and practice, maybe they should just stop being Christian Scientists! (And this religion almost got into the Health Care Bill!)


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X