The Real Church: A Hopeful Future
As my days in Bible College drew to a close, I was a young, idealistic, church fanatic. Armed with the understanding and knowledge of what the bible had to say about what the church could be, I was ready to change the world. Very few churches could withstand the power of God who wanted to change the way that church was being done, or so I thought. I became a Youth Pastor and ‘put in my time’ working with teenagers in the local church. I loved working with teenagers. It was one of the best seasons of paid professional ministry. During this time, I could see the underlying issues that the local church that I was a part of was struggling to overcome. Many of the issues related to the inability to connect with people that were outside of the walls of the church.
While we were a church that wanted to ‘reach’ a community, we were unable to attract the very people that we thought we needed to reach. There were literally hundreds of thousands of people that didn’t go to any church, within a 10 mile radius of us, and we remained a church of under 500 people. There were seasons of growth, maybe a hundred people would show up here and there, and there were seasons of decline. We continued to evaluate what we were doing wrong and what we needed to do different to determine how to change. Never could we really find the answer to really being the church that we knew we could be.
Church Planting – Starting Fresh?
I switched my job title and started in on helping to plant churches. I thought maybe this would allow for a ‘new’ opportunity with the ability to start fresh, without all of the constructs of the history of the church. We hired some church planters and got to work, trying to reach the people that we seemed to be unable to attract. This venture was maddening in the long run, because we ended up planting churches with the very systemic issues that we had been trying to offset in our own church. There was no magic bullet in church planting. In fact, it ended up burning out several pastors, with several failed church plant attempts.
Looking back, it is very clear to me that the issues that we were trying to offset were never going to fix the local church. In a broader context, the American Church is clearly the most consumer driven entity that this planet has known. People go to church because it is something that they enjoy. And there alot of other options, other than church, that people enjoy so much more! The American Church isn’t able to compete with the entertainment value that culture has to offer. But we certainly tried.
I heard it said early on in ministry that the local church should be a hospital for the sick and wounded. In my idealistic mind, this made a ton of sense. The local church is where people could find God, find restoration, and find life. But that didn’t seem to be happening in the context that I was in. We weren’t a hospital, in fact, we were shooting the sick and wounded when they came to our doors for peace and comfort. We did this with judgment. When an addict would walk through the doors, we wanted them to ‘clean it up’ before we would be able to assist them. When a child molester came in our doors, we locked down our children’s ministry to protect the kids from the evil that had infiltrated our ranks. And when there was a marriage that dissolved, we asked one of the parties to leave the church, because it might be too awkward for both parties to be present in a church service.
Will the Real Church Please Stand Up?
I’m sure there are churches in America that have ‘got it right’ and have it ‘figured out.’ I know plenty of churches that clearly say that they want to reach damaged, troubled, messed up individuals, and maybe they are, but the statistics are abysmal in terms of church attendance and involvement. You can look at any Barna study regarding the church and see that the church simply isn’t doing what the church says it should do. The church isn’t reaching the addict, the single mother or father, the child molester, the homosexual, or the homeless. Because the church is inward focused, hoping to keep what it has and outlast another life cycle of the people that are currently involved.
With that in mind, I believe the local church in America has or is becoming obsolete, without any real value to the community. If you look at community services that our culture offers, they help mend brokenness and find ways to bring repair to disintegration that has become a fabric of our society. These are the organizations that are growing and thriving. The Church seems to be holding on for dear life, hoping that another ‘normal’ or ‘clean’ person will walk through the door, that can integrate into an already white washed culture. If someone with spots comes through the doors, the church seems very quick to point out the spot, and direct them to a different opportunity.
I still have my idealism, but it has been confronted with the realism that it is highly unlikely that the church in America will change. It will only change, when the core values of a growth focused church change from becoming a place to kill the sick and wounded to assisting and reviving the sick and wounded. That is a culture change that I don’t know that can happen.