When it comes to church as we know it, we’re not in Kansas anymore!
Statistics repeatedly show that people, especially younger generations (particularly those 18-30 years of age), are leaving the church faster than we are bringing them in. Should this signal red flags to rise? It should.
Last night I attended a presentation led by a classmate of mine from seminary whose name also happens to be Nathan. Small world! He is now a pastor in the Memphis area leading a Lutheran movement called New Tribe Memphis. His presentation both challenged and stretched me in how church, mission, and discipleship all fit together in the everyday lives of people. Many of the thoughts he raised had been rumbling around in my brain for some time now, but he gave voice to ways church, mission, and discipleship could be introduced in the ministry setting. When it comes to church, it’s as the famous line from the Wizard of Oz goes, “Toto … we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Not too many years ago the church “was” the center of influence and life in the community and nation, but over time a gradual creep away from this place of influence has occurred, leaving us on the fringe, at times barely making a dent. Wrestle with this one, “If your church were to disappear tomorrow, would the community notice?” There are no easy answers to address where we find ourselves today. In the past, the church’s model for ministry was something called an attractional model. The church would pour money and energy into organizing pot-lucks, programs, bingo nights, craft fairs, and a whole host of other events to attract as many as possible into the church as a building. Please don’t misunderstand me, these types of activities still have an important place in our church, it is just that the next generation of Christians aren’t necessarily as open to respond to such methods as shown in the startling statistics in their mass exodus from church. They are not seeing the connection of these events to their growth as a Christian.
Today, what is needed is just the opposite, a missional model where instead of leading people to come to church to hear a professional preacher give words of grace and forgiveness, we instead help empower the laity to see themselves as missionaries, each gifted and sent to a particular and unique context of ministry. We “are” the church “in” the community, not a building but a people. In essence, the church become a missional outpost, constantly creating, empowering, and sending out disciples to their places of influence in the community with the tools and confidence needed to live out the Spirit-led calling to make more disciples. The goal for the missional model is for church to become a gathered and scattered community, centered upon the life-transforming cross of Christ. Check out the following video which describes the shift in church over the recent few decades:
I hope this got you thinking. As the church, we must think and dream of ways to reach the next generation for Christ who are leaving the church at an alarming rate. I have been reading a very thought-provoking book called Essential Church?: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts by Thom and Sam Rainer. If you want to be challenged, this is worth a read! In the authors’ premise they argue that more than two-thirds of churchgoing young adults drop out between the ages of 18 and 22. Think about that number for a moment … 70% of church-going young people are saying good-bye to the church, with little regard to coming back anytime soon (if at all). This number is huge, and should certainly make us ponder! Listen to the top ten reasons given for leaving:
- Simply wanted a break from church
- Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical
- Moved to college and stopped attending church
- Work responsibilities prevented me from attending
- Moved too far away from the church to continue attending
- Became too busy though still wanted to attend
- Didn’t feel connected to the people in my church
- Disagreed with the church’s stance on political or social issues
- Chose to spend more time with friends outside the church
- Was only going to church to please others
Do any of these ring true for you? Have you heard these from your son, daughter, or grandchild? The authors continue:
“The age-old adage rings true for churches: if you are not moving forward, then you are moving backward. Stagnation equates to dying. Your church may look the same week in and week out, but if you are not winning the next generation for Christ, then you are losing the battle.” (Essential Church, 16)
The question is, what can we learn from this? Did it challenge you? Affirm you? During the next few weeks in my blog, I plan to look at what it means to be a missional church, some of the pitfalls, and the huge opportunities that stand before us on the road we find ourselves on. I hope you join me on this journey and contribute your thoughts as well. It won’t be pretty all the time, but I hope to paint the truth as best as I can. I do not pretend to have all the answers and look forward to the dialogue of hearing how church has intersected your life. Some questions to think about: What are your stories about people leaving the church? Do you know any 18-30 year olds who have said good-bye to the church? What is their story? Why did they leave? If this is you, I would love to hear from you. Everyone has a story! I hope that we can open a dialogue about this important topic, no matter how raw and real it may become. Here is the bigger question lying underneath our discussion, “How then, might we come around this as the church?”
It is true, we are not in Kansas anymore, yet we follow a God who has chosen to use us, the Church, as the carriers of His most precious and glorious message of forgiveness and grace out into the world. We are His beautiful Bride, being prepared for the coming again of the Groom, Jesus Christ, to take us home to the place He has prepared for us from the beginning of time. In the meantime, God’s Word has given us our marching orders (Matthew 28:18-20).
The situation we face today is a whopper, and it is going to require us to think of church differently, to put on a whole new set of lenses that not only help us to “see” differently but to “live” different lives that are centered upon the life-transforming, missional message of the Gospel. A message so infectious that people look at us and think, “I want that for my life.” The good news underlying this is the constant reminder to not become discouraged along the way, because the Lord of the Church, God Himself, has His hand on us, leading us toward a brighter future.
I love the church! It is an incredibly beautiful thing to see the faithful believers God has called in a particular place, come together around God’s Word and the Sacraments. I have a huge hope for the church’s future and look forward to opening a dialogue with you on the picture God is painting in our midst. Is there a place for you in the church? Absolutely, without a doubt! I would love to begin a journey with you on what this might look like.
No, we may not be in Kansas, but we are in God’s grip of grace. Lead on, Jesus, lead on!
In His grip,