I asked the pastor and congregation members, “What’s your church’s mission?” The answers were all over the landscape:
- To carry on our tradition in the community.
- To make people feel good and want to come back.
- To show God’s love through acts of kindness.
- To keep our old building open and maintained.
- It’s the same mission as the Rotary club.
This church has experienced decades of decline. Its story is depicted in our documentary film When God Left the Building, releasing this week on DVD and video on demand. The film compares the current struggles of the American church to the demise of the Eastman Kodak Company. Former Kodak engineer Steve Sasson describes how his company’s mission drifted, leading to the company’s eventual bankruptcy. Watch this brief clip from the film:
Organizations and institutions begin to unravel when their mission loses clarity or begins to drift. That was true for Kodak. And it’s true for churches.
Church leaders and members are using this film to spark conversations about some crucial questions–questions that can lead to new vitality in any congregation:
- What–really–is the church?
- What is its core purpose for being?
- What is our congregation’s core mission?
- Who are we here for?
- What does our budget say about our mission priorities?
- What are our signs of success and effectiveness?
- What is God calling our church to become?
These questions threaten some who fear any answers that don’t align with the shape of the institutional church as we’ve come to know it. But for others, these questions lead to revitalization and spirited hope for the future of the church.
Stories in the film show the results of God’s people who have illuminated the church’s mission. These include a church in Texas that lives out a seven-day-a-week ministry through hundreds of mini-congregations, and a church in Pennsylvania that dared to extend their ministry to the patrons in a local pub. They’re seeing what happens when “God leaves the building”–in a good way.
Others across the country, and around the world, are finding new vitality as they hear God’s call to really become the church. An organization called Fresh Expressions serves to “give permission” to those who are inspired to be the church in new–and sometimes ancient–ways.
Fresh Expressions comes out of a movement in England that is finding encouraging sprouts of new growth in an otherwise barren spiritual landscape that has spread across Europe. British ministry pioneer Jonny Baker describes a Church of England study that validated over 20 types of “fresh expressions of church. Over half are lay led. They genuinely are reaching people who were not followers of Christ before.”
“Mission is the key,” says one of the subjects in When God Left the Building. As long as some consider the tacit mission to be the self-preservation of the current institutional machine, the American church will continue its decline. But when we embrace the true identity and mission of the church, incredible things will happen.
I would like to show this to the church I pastor. However, when I went to purchase a copy, it it sys it is only intended for individual use. Can you please clarify?
Jack, there are 2 versions–one for individual use, and one for group or congregational screenings. See details for the licensed version at the bottom of this page: http://wwv.group.com/whengodleftthebuilding/#church
“Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.” CS Lewis
Too many churches aim at Earth. Even with best of intentions, aiming at Earth is aiming at Earth.
Perhaps there is too much focus on hierarchy and organisation and far too little of bringing Jesus to the community the church is in. Do churches full of affluent people reach out to the poor in any real way? I can’t see any real evidence of it. Most organised religion in the UK seems aimed squarely and largely at the white affluent middle class, like politics and the media is. Church at worst has merely become another arm of the respectable. And I heard somewhere that Jesus came for outcasts, not respectable people…
People have to be realistic. Spirituality is best to have alone but church is a place to spend time with, befriend, and encourage others in respect to God with life in this God forsaken world. Church in reality has more to do with the people of God being a family of God with each other than actual worship of God. Worship is also best done alone.
It takes good relationships of people with people to keep people together in a church. It’s the same in the business world. The bible teaches how to do that AND it works in the business world. I think more people can use advise of other Christians with life problems than having church totally focused on God alone.
Pray all you want to God but you can get the same no response praying to a rock. You WILL get a response from others in a church who may have once lived through your problems. I’m not saying not to pray but God may put the right answers in the heart of a Christian friend at church. In return you may have lived through and be able to help others with their problems.
Seeing the greatest God in the universe is completely incapable of showing up to fix any of our physical problems, Christian people need to be around and available for each other and so makes church a good central place for this sort of thing. Maybe this is how church needs to be sold to the world because no one is going to show up for a God who hasn’t showed up for anyone in any physical sense in 2000 years. Yes, I’ve been whining to God about His obvious lack of presents. With over 7 billion people alive in the world now, you’d think He’d have the decency to make an appearance now and then! Right?
Do you know that if in all of history there has been 10 billion people that has lived and died, at the great white thrown judgement, if God only spends 1 hour judging each person, judgement is going to last well over a million years?
This is why Missional communities are on the rise. People are tired of the North Atlantic Consumerist church, and they are looking for authenticity and reality instead of flashy programs and falsity. Especially those millenials who can sniff out fake at at distance!
The clip speaks so truly . . . and brutally. We tell ourselves what our faith mission is according to some formatted statement, but it’s so generic and vague and uninspiring it’s hardly worth remembering.
When Jesus Christ inhabits me, the world is lovable again and worth every ounce of my strength. When the strength of his love drives me, nothing else matters. I only wish I could know how to convey that to what we have called the church. I’ve come to wonder if the church wants it anymore.
Great comment!!! I find personally in the UK that organised faith, that ‘faith’ which is usually aimed at the great and the good and those who see Christianity as the icing on the cake of a wonderful life, just not that inspiring to me at all. Very polite, reserved and affluent people often seem to be fixated on rules and regulations, which although we need boundaries etc, I believe what we all cry out for is a childlike faith and a simple but deep and intimate relationship with Jesus. Churches do not reflect this at all. I think God works with the broken and the lost in disenfranchised communities far more than he works with those who really have their faith in their money or assured future in a career or whatever.
In our church it is to help people to help themselves to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. Our mission statement is Romans 12- 1 to 8. The purpose of our leadership is to recognize where each individual is on this journey and journey forward with them to the end of life. All other needs in the Church and community seem to get met without notice.
Those whose primary aim is to serve Jesus to the best of their ability each day are going in the right direction. Those in the church or who claim to be Christian, and are seeking to do their own will, however well hidden that might be, are going to fall flat on their face sooner or later, and probably drag others down with them, too.
“Those in the Church” are going to fall flat on their face. You are seeking to do your own will upon others with that statement, suggesting everyone in a “Church” is not like yourself.
Not sure what you mean???
Really enjoyed and benefited from every single post above, each person for me has something of great value to add an share…, sadly or not!!! , I have left my church although I love some tradition and taking communion, to be honest this whole business of sitting down when told, then standing up, repeating certain commitments to god… I realise I need some structure and boundries and yes I need others who god speaks too, so its a process of continually learning and growing in Gods love, but however its not working for me, the middle class of which I am not a member…. keep the church going, large amounts of monies are continually raised, but when I found out,, which took some time I am sad that it all goes in maintaining the church, other articles people have said well , its seperate issue I be to differ, but of course others have a right to their opinion also I know some wonderful Christians who support, poor people like myself, so my postion is one of someone on a fixed income, due in part to long term health issues and raising a handicapped son… so I don’t have a nice fat pension in fact I barely manage… I do not see the church I left sustaining itself down the road, 75 percent of that church are over 75, with a handful of people in their thirties or fourties… and they are not middle class either.. not sure where to go from here because I do like to pray in community and do service work which is very rewarding… I liked the Taize model, the beauty of the music and the meditative quality to it, but praise bands are not my thing although there are a few tunes I enjoy, I find a lack of reverance to them…with sooooo many different ways how can we ever unify…..Ill keep praying on it for sure.. and reading,, really like this article.. yep big change is in the air whether folks like it or not….
Simply have faith in God! It’s all I can do. I have ill health and am unemployed. No fun, but God is there for me.
Some church people are losing their patience with being mere Sunday spectators. But will their churches empower them?