“The mainline church is in decline.”
“Religious leaders no longer carry any authority in the community.”
“Most churches spend more on building expenses than they do on mission.”
” [arbitrary number of your choice] people leave the Christian faith every [another arbitrary #] minutes.”
“And where, oh where, ARE THE MILLENIALS? We gots to get us some millenials!”
We get it. Times are tough. We’ve all heard/seen/lived the truth of these despairing stats over the past 5, 10, or 25 years. Just because we’re sick of hearing them doesn’t make them untrue. Arbitrary numbers aside, people are leaving. We know this to be true.
And yet…have you noticed that, ultimately, the church is still a living thing? It might be sick and slow-moving in places, but alive, nonetheless. In some corners of our movement, some might even say…vital. Becoming. Hopeful. In spite of all the death spoken over her these past years, the church is yet breathing. Why is that? I’m just guessing here–but it has nothing to do with an organized youth sports league or a Christian Single Mingle. I’d venture that there are many simpler reasons the church is still kickin. They may vary from place to place, but in essence, are the same. Here are 10 ways that the Church gives life, sustains life, and ultimately, finds its life:
-Because potlucks. I’ve long preached on the healing properties of pie and casserole. In a world increasingly disconnected, simple practices of sharing meals together can bring people back to life. Even if they SAY it is all too quaint and precious for words…seriously, who walks away from pie? And yes, there are neighborhood potlucks, book club potlucks, PTA brown bag lunches…whatever. The church invented the pot luck, and her Frito pie will always be the best Frito pie around.
-Because it seriously takes a village.The task of raising children is a joy and a blessing…and it also utterly overwhelming. Once parents realize this, they will ultimately take help from whomever can offer it. And there is nothing like a village full of people who will teach your kids about Jesus, endure the silliness of VBS and church camp for their well-being, and sneak them some extra cookies at that potluck. People who know this keep the church alive. –
-Because humans have this impulse known in the south as a sense of occasion. And in the event of a birth, death, or wedding, even the most ‘spiritual but not religious’ types feel drawn to sacred space and an authoritative voice. Major life events send people on the hunt for deeper meaning…and more often than not, they find themselves in a sanctuary.-Because music is another way of processing the human experience. And believe it or not, the church can be pretty awesome at that sometimes. Culture wars aside, there is some sacred truth at work in the pages of those old hymnals. In the secular music world, there are seasons of artful abundance…and then there are the lean years. There are Beatles and Beyonce years… and then there are Bieber years. But Amazing Grace is forever.
-Because the world wants to believe that groups of people are still at work for social change. The Church can be unorganized, petty, and sometimes narrowly focused…but dang we got heart! Every now and then, a true prophetic voice emerges from people of faith, and when it does, it carries more power than any other collective body in the world.
-Becaues church ladies have always, and will always, run the world.
-Because the world is full of bad news, and we are plugged into it 24 hours a day. As long as someone is still trying to preach good news into that void, someone will still show up hungry to hear it.
-Because all those plugged in, turned on, and over-stimulated hours leave a deep longing for true human connection. That longing is a living, breathing body of its own, turned loose in the world. Eventually, nothing will fulfill it but the Body of Christ. And speaking of that…
-Because Jesus. We may get side tracked and utterly turned around every now and then… But the life and teachings of Jesus are still at the heart of who we are and what we do. And his words and way are timeless. Even more than Beyonce.
-And finally, because God is not done with us yet. I mean, that’s got to be it, right? As the whole arc of biblical narrative reminds us, God is always working on something in the midst of our chaos…and God always wins. God must still be moving around all these meetings, all these statistics, all these ‘worship wars’ and even in the Quest for the Holy Millenial Grail. God’s doing something, somewhere, and must still want us to be a part of it.
We are still alive because even when we die, we die in Christ. And somehow, that means hope, breath, and life itself.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you…Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”