Christian shrinkage. Is that bad news or good news? Well, it depends, it seems.
The Pew Research Center’s new study shows that the proportion of Americans who identify as Christian has declined by nearly 8 percent since 2007. That’s significant and historical. And the decline is felt across all Christian sectors–Catholic, mainline Protestant, and evangelical Protestant.
What’s more, those who identify with no religion have increased by almost 7 percent. They now occupy nearly 23 percent of the general population, and 36 percent of the younger population.
You’d think this news would concern those who care about the American church. But some denominational officials have actually been feverishly trying to put a happy face on the Pew report. Take a look at some of the quotes from these writers over the past week:
- “It is good news for the church.”
- “Christianity isn’t normal anymore, and that’s good news.”
- “Christianity isn’t collapsing; it’s being clarified.”
- “Americans whose Christianity was nominal—in name only—are casting aside the name. They are now aligning publicly with what they’ve actually not believed all along.”
- “The numerical decline . . . is more of a purifying bloodletting.”
- “Fakers who don’t go to church are just giving up the pretense.”
- “Good riddance to them.”
Some of these church leaders are not only applauding the decline of those who identify as Christian, they’re also denying the slump in actual church attendance. One of them wrote, “Churches aren’t emptying,” while failing to mention that his own large evangelical denomination has seen several straight years of declining attendance and baptisms.
I realize they may not wish to alarm or demoralize the troops. But to deny what is happening in most churches is disingenuous to those who are feeling the pain. To them, it’s akin to politicians who try to sugar-coat a deep national recession and widespread unemployment. It’s insulting to hear “our economy is strong” when the people know better from first-hand experience.
So, why are these officials contorting themselves to spin the data? Some are afraid that admitting any erosion might lead to changing the status quo. One of them wrote, “Some will say that the decline in self-identified Christians is a sign that the church should jettison its more unpopular teachings. And in our day, these teachings are almost always those dealing with pelvic autonomy.”
He’s not the first one to resist someone who would challenge him to throw the first stone. Remember, Jesus did not ask the religious leaders to abandon the law. But he did advocate for change. Not in God’s message, but in the religious leaders’ methodology and their arrogance.
Understanding the shifts
The Pew report points to significant, rapid changes in the religious landscape. For those who love the Body of Christ, this is not a time to gloat about “purifying,” or bidding “good riddance” to “nominal” Christians.
One denominational spokesman wrote, “Evangelical Christianity is growing in America.” It is true that the Pew report mentioned that evangelicals, while declining as a percentage of the U.S. public, “probably have grown in absolute numbers as the overall U.S. population has continued to expand.”
Hardly a sign of robust expansion. But it does provoke a question. How can the evangelical population maintain its position while almost all of the evangelical denominations currently report losses? First, look closely at Pew’s actual poll question: “As far as your present religion, what denomination or church, if any, do you identify with most closely?” Notice, the question does not refer to attendance or membership or involvement. It asks which “you identify with most closely.” Respondents may identify with a certain denomination, but not participate in the church’s activities.
So, is this part of the significant shift that the Pew numbers are revealing? This would coincide with the new research just completed by sociologist Josh Packard. Dr. Packard discovered a large and growing multitude of Americans that we now call the Dones. They’re done with church. Many of them were very active in their congregations, but they’re done with the organized church. They’re not done with God. And the evangelicals among them may not be done with identifying with evangelicalism. They’re just done with the institutional church. In his new book Church Refugees, Dr. Packard explains why they left.
Dr. Packard is not a denominational mouthpiece. He’s an actual sociologist and researcher looking for honest answers about America’s shifting religious landscape. He’s talking with the real people who are reflected in the Pew study’s trends.
The church can learn something here. This is a time for soul-searching, and actually talking with the sheep who have wandered from the flock. It’s a time for listening–rather than carelessly guessing why they left. It’s a time for loving the lost sheep–rather than calling them disparaging names. It’s a time to ask how to be more effective and faithful as the Body of Christ, rather than celebrating the shrinkage.
Let me just say, as an evangelical-identifying Christian who recently has left employment at an alternately mainline/progressive identifying church, I fit squarely into the demographic Packard identifies for the Dones. I’m not yet “done” myself, but I’ve been talking to a lot of people recently who, like me, are right on the edge, and I TOTALLY understand the impetus to leave. I also agree that it’s offensive and inaccurate to assume that because I get it, and because I could easily become part of the statistic, I am in any way “nominal” or insincere in my faith–or that the other people I’ve talked to are. Thank you for all the work you’re putting in, looking into this phenomenon. It’s important and also clarifying, for me at least. May God bless you.
Thanks for the encouragement, Jenn(with 2 n’s). While I know that your position is not an easy one, it’s been really great to get to talk to people like you for this research. My understanding of what religion is and can be has deepened tremendously over the last 18 months of this project as we collected data, analyzed it and wrote up the results for Church Refugees.
I hope you are able to find support as you figure out the best way forward.
Thanks so much for your response. Ironically, maybe, I just graduated from seminary on Saturday, and won a scholarship to “continue building my library.” Your book’s on the list. Thanks for your research and sensitivity–and especially prayers.
There are a LOT of questions up for discussion here. Given the survey question is it possible that what was revealed was more about branding than faith? Yes–that could be the case.
Is it “good news” that people who weren’t really Christians but were somehow forced to participate in a church (for the parents…for the kids…for tradition…) now have the freedom to say “enough” and walk out off the church building? I’d say “yes” to that question, too, and hope we can win them back authentically.
Is there a truly a downward spiral or is this akin to the global warming debate where advocates on both side cherry-pick statistics and surveys to make a point? I think it’s safe to say we can expect a bumper crop of cherries; the picking is already underway.
Can we at least agree on this: The American church is facing challenges. The Gospel is unchanging. The “new wine in old wineskins” challenge isn’t new. And people need Jesus.
Those four points that I fully embrace are enough for me to be open to looking–hard–at the probability that, as an institution, the church is losing members, influence, and a platform in my town. Maybe the sky isn’t falling yet, but the skies are darkening.
So let’s sit down at a table and have an honest conversation about what’s next. Where is that conversation happening?
That conversation is happening at my supper table with a group of believers who’s conversations are more about how we can support “the church” rather than why we left its traditional footholds. We seek to serve and disciple as we go. We’re certainly not nominal and we have a significant Godly foot print in our community. The only thing missing, according to most Christian denominations is that we aren’t sitting in anyone’s church either.
[…] There are a number of articles floating around about the recent Pew Research study that supposedly shows that Christianity is declining. It’s not a surprise to those of us who work in the church, but here’s some interesting thoughts from this article. […]
I’ve been a Lead Pastor for 20 years, a professional psychotherapist for 30 years and married for 40 years. I cannot tell you how many times the challenges of each have tempted me to be done with all 3. However, I believe church, marriage & good mental health are God’s idea. I made a vow to uphold His Word, not my own comfort. I can’t find any loopholes to quit. A word of caution: Be careful which “sheep” you give credibility to – there will only be few who are willing to live out Matthew 5. Maybe we need to be listening to those who don’t know Jesus but long to see something authentic and real from those who say they do.
Thanks, Xberk. I’m curious, how do you want to treat the sheep who haven’t yet pre-committed to your Matthew 5 expectations?
Parkland House does not sit in pews but we are very connected to Matthew 5. We left the church so we could be more free to carry out Matthew 28:18-20. You think we left for our own comfort? We left so we can be challenged and used in ways we least expect it! I dare say we exercise more faith to work in God’s fields without the safety and protection of our past churches. Finally our FAITH is being tested in the line of duty!
I posted on the Pew study several days ago and received similar responses. One commenter misapplied I John 2:19 (a passage about antichrists!) to those who’ve left: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”
My favorite rebuttal is this retraction is fulfilling end-time prophecy. Some segments of Christianity are almost giddy over such news, and wear it like a badge of honor.
I attribute the evangelical numbers to sheep-stealing. The Boom gen fed the mega-church rise in the 80s & 90s and grew largely by conversion of mainliners. The Millennials, if they’ve stayed faithful to Christianity, clearly prefer the non-denom evangelical churches, further leaving the mainliners gray, empty and dying. The new wrinkle are these “dones” (which I suspect tends to be Gen X-driven). I look forward to reading Josh’s book.
The good news? It’s getting people talking.
Rick, agreed! In my own country (S. Africa) it’s not just Generation X’ers but those in the 40’s-70’s group who are slowly but surely becoming avid ‘dones.’
Just read this fantastic, insightful blog by a Millennial on church and faith: http://www.theologyinworship.com/2015/05/13/dear-church-an-open-letter-from-one-of-those-millennials-you-cant-figure-out/
Definitely confirming not only these Pew statistics, but also the message that Thom has been driving home in these “Holy Soup” blogs.
That’s good stuff, Rick. Thanks for passing it along.
I read the article and agree with what it is saying although I don’t want liturgy either. Even I asked myself, “What would a church need to do or offer to get me to go back.” I just cannot answer the question. My thinking and circumstances are always in constant change so it doesn’t mean there is no hope for this ‘done’ or any other. Things happen, circumstances change both slow and fast.
I may never go back and see myself as gone the way of my grand fathers who had gone to church earlier in life and fell off the wagon towards the end. There may be something inherited in my genetic thinking that had me come to the same end. Like me, it could be the same as for them. Church just lost its meaning an value over time talking about the routine, rituals and religiosity.
The whole Sunday thing just became a big waste of time and money. I have my relationship with God apart from Sunday church and church became unnecessary. It’s like, “Why am I still going?” and “What need is there for church?” It’s nothing but a big show with pointless rituals and sermons that I’ve heard many times before. Sunday morning stressed this introvert out keeping up with being a part of the workings of the weekly production. I had enough along with most the ministries were just a waste of time. I felt like a slave to church. It was a mind slavery. I was there out of habit and duty but my heart left before my body.
So the recession had me move for another job so I didn’t go finding a church to stay with.
It seems the only way these institutions will survive is if the members fall in love with Jesus and show it in a way that the rest of the world can see. This should be a natural outpouring of Jesus’ love within them. Many that have fallen in love with Jesus have left, several because they’ve been kicked out for not sticking with the “program.” If would seem that after many centuries, the traditional means are finally losing their grip and Jesus’ church is rising.
Thom, I couldn’t agree with you more on,
“The church can learn something here. This is a time for soul-searching, and actually talking with the sheep who have wandered from the flock. It’s a time for listening–rather than carelessly guessing why they left. It’s a time for loving the lost sheep–rather than calling them disparaging names. It’s a time to ask how to be more effective and faithful as the Body of Christ, rather than celebrating the shrinkage.”
with one great exception. Something that either horribly missing by neglect, or taken for granted by you…winning the lost. Even if the church calls all of us, “Dones”, back, sooner or later, we’re going to be fertilizers, and without new believers replacing us, the fate of the church in America is going to be even worse.
Thanks, ShahShanked. Yes, welcoming new believers and making disciples, that’s what I mean when I say we should seek to be more effective and faithful as the Body of Christ.
ShawShanked? Thank you for your comments. Replacing ourselves should be a matter of each Christian fulfilling their part of Matthew 28:18-20. Each “done” who is still bound to Jesus needs to make a disciple(s), that is leading them to Christ and them carrying out their obedience in baptism, then the “done” continues to teach these disciples all the commands he or she has been taught. It is important to gather–since we don’t like the lecture and pulpit any longer, how about gathering at each other’s houses while breaking bread and sharing everything with one another. That’s absolutely Biblical and endorsed by the early church. That’s today’s Christians not reinventing the wheel, but finally returning to our original roots!
I know of people, not at the leadership level, who would scoff at the research (or any research, for that matter) and say they’re not into numbers. But you know what? Good, solid research has actual, quantifiable numbers (or people) attached to them. So, people can say they’re not into numbers, but if they’re not willing to look at the people around them that represent this demographic, then they’re missing an opportunity. It’s always easier to scoff at what makes us uncomfortable. Even if not interviewed for Josh’s study, I know of people who I have actually spoken to that fall into either the done or none category. So, believe me, they’re out there and they’re real. They’re everyday folks, living their lives who for one reason or another have said “enough”. Whether they were part of any survey or not is not the issue as much as the fact that they exist. Now what are we going to do about it? I think now more than ever, the Church and the world is presented with an opportunity and no, it’s not an opportunity to do more of the same, but to look honestly at the situation and say what should we do? For some churches, they may be doing everything right. For others, it may mean being innovative in small and large ways. It could be something as simple as adding greeters to something more substantial as looking at the membership process or adding a worship service. Maybe individuals will be encouraged to start up the house or coffee/pub meetup they’ve been wanting to do bolstered with this information that confirms what they’ve always believed. Others may be freed up, realizing they’re not alone and be emboldened to live out their faith (however they identify it and practice it) without shame. Whatever it is, I think the most astute among us will be the ones to benefit the most from the study.
As has been noted in reference to this research it’s really more about those we now call nominal Christians, who for years have identified themselves as Christians but were not really committed to following Christ.
Some identified themselves that way because of family or tradition, but never really had the convictions of the faith.
As years pass and society no longer holds Christianity in a high regard, like when I was growing up it becomes much easier to let that self identification go.
They’re not all nominal Christians though. One can actually be devoted to Christ for years, in leadership, and decide to walk away in some way, shape or form. We are all individuals and to try to affix one generalized response to a multi-faceted problem, is not really helpful. Some may be extremely sensitive people who give up easily. Others have give their life to the institution with every intention of serving Christ through it and are burned out. Some are narcissistic, others are faithful followers of Christ who have been rode rough-shod and cannot take any more. I think it’s incumbent upon people to look at those within their sphere of influence and start there. The one or two that you may know that are disenfranchised, sit down with them and find out why. Be willing to be open and listen. There may be things you can say or do that would change their mind. There may not be and we may have to find a way to be okay with that, particularly if the person is resolute about where they are. That, I know, flies in the face of some theology which compels that people be brought back no matter what. But if a person refuses, I think you wish them well on their path but still commit to making needed changes in your church. Not to win back numbers, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Patrick, to be clear, the Pew study did not find or report anything about “nominal Christians, who for years have identified themselves as Christians but were not really committed to following Christ.” That notion was created by denominational employees. Until it is formally researched, we do not know the veracity of the assumption.
I have not left organized church in practice, but in my ideology. I don’t think I understand everything about the church perfectly, but I think I speak for many “dones” when I say that I am not on the edge out of offense or because I am getting lost. Just the opposite. In many ways organized Church is much more man focused than God focused. That is religion. Organized Church is Jesus + a lot that Jesus himself never commanded nor required. That is sin. Much Of what Jesus did require is done as an organization and not out of personal relationship. The Holy Spirit is shunned in many of our “Churches”. In short the current identity of the Church is false. The Church is not a place. We are Christs bride, and there is only one bride. It is difficult for someone who really knows God personally and studies His word to fellowship and work along side the current Church establishment. I know that is harsh, but it is true. Church leaders, stop focussing on running what you call Church. That is not your call. Your call is to partner with the Holy Spirit to focus the body continually on Christ.
Good riddance to nominal Christians? Absolutely not! Every Christian – every human being – is a child of God. Any church that shows the boot is not doing its job – it is just another exclusive club. Everyone needs love and encouragement, from the most committed to the fringe nominal who turn up only at Christmas to those who don’t turn up at all.
I meant to add Pat that you provide some good thoughts above – very much appreciated, thought provoking.
To be fair I think it was Ed S. who said “good riddance.” He’s actually a pretty smart guy and loves the church. I am hoping that he means “good riddance” in the sense of “now that we know what’s happening, now let’s figure out how to focus on ministering who we have left.” I could be wrong, though. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Not trying to be glib, but the apparent discrepancy in interpretation of the research can be explained by simply following the money. Denomination leaders are fearful and scrambling and trying to put band aides on cancer.
I think the unfortunate thing with the majority of these census’ – and this across the board in Western Christianity – is that they mostly relate to pew sitting ( or non-pew sitting, as the case may be ) and thus the inevitable withdrawal of financial tithing, and far less about the difference between having a deep Christian faith and spirituality while not going to church. Of course, many church leaders are worried if the coffers are looking a bit thin. Some of them just might have to go without a few luxuries.
I would suggest that calling a “done” a “lost sheep” is a disparaging name. I’m a done and here is what I am done with: a pulpit/pew divide, the plague of self-appointed “leaders” who have neither earned their position nor the relational maturity to maintain it without becoming dysfunctional and the churchs’ involvement in politics and state-worship both left and right. Lost sheep – yes, but most likely they are the ones (not filling) in the pews on Sunday.
Thanks, Smack. My use of “lost sheep” refers to those who no longer consider themselves part of the Body of Christ.
Thanks for the article.
I am still very perplexed as to… Why the church (denominations) still refuse to acknowledge the plain truth that… Churches are plateaued or declining.
Why are we so blind and so set against that which is staring us in the face???
Are we like the Pharisses & Sadducees of old?
Or are we just so unbelievably resistant to changes in our methodology? Lifetree Cafe (Lifetreecafe.com) is surely not the only answer to our dilemma…
But I think you have tried to show it (Lifetree Cafe) as an example of a paradigm shift for us…
To begin growing (our) Christs- Church… both in size and (more importantly) in depth (deeper in our understanding, knowledge and love of God). Mainly by having the four areas of hospitality, conversation, humility and anticipation be infused into our current church processes or methodology.
Is this correct…? If yes then… what I hear is we (the church) are now beginning to talk about this. So what is/are the answer(s) ???
Thanks for your comment CB. As the National Director for the Lifetree Cafe ministry, allow me to weigh-in on your questions.
First off, I completely agree with your observation that Lifetree Cafe can’t be the only answer to this dilemma. As we like to say at Lifetree, “We’re all in this together” and I think there are a lot of ministry innovators and thought leaders who are helping churches navigate this paradigm shift.
What I can tell you is that the ethos of Lifetree Cafe and the four acts of love that you mentioned (Radical Hospitality, Fearless Conversation, Genuine Humility, and Divine Anticipation) are making a huge difference in the churches who are receptive to change.
Over the years we’ve literally watched entire churches be transformed from the inside out as a result of Lifetree Cafe. They find themselves refocused on their mission to love Jesus…and genuinely love others. Lifetree Cafe provides a tangible and proven way to put that Jesus kind of love into action…within our churches and out in our communities.
An excerpt from a good article about what the Church can be doing in light of the changes taking place:
“So how do we build a church that can change the world? How did the first Christians, desperate in many ways, build the first church?
I noticed right away in the book of Acts that Jesus’ first disciples changed their minds. I mean, they changed their minds about some really important things, fundamental theological and practical changes about the inclusion of folks they never imagined they’d welcome into their inner circle. I suspect a gospel community convinced that Jesus’ message can change the world will always be ready to change an assumed perspective to more radically reflect the gospel message.
Those plucky first disciples were also perpetually put on the spot, interrogated in the city square, cornered by those who were curious. You can read all throughout the book of Acts many occasions on which members of the first church expressed clearly who they were and what they were about. It seems to me that a gospel community convinced that Jesus’ message can change the world will always be able to articulate who we are and why we’re gathered together.
The first church made a radical shift when it changed its mind to welcome Gentiles, but Acts is filled with stories that go beyond welcoming the stranger who wanders in. In the book of Acts, members of the first church went out to the margins, right to the very edge of acceptable society, and actively gathered in folks no one would ever have considered worthy. Like the Ethiopian eunuch, these marginalized folks were welcomed into full relationship with the community. Gospel community convinced that Jesus’ message can change the world will find itself on the margins, actively welcoming strangers, modeling radical justice in generous, lavish, even holy ways.
The Holy Spirit shows up over and over in the book of Acts, blowing into the gathered assembly and turning things on their heads. In response to her ongoing work, the first disciples created communities that were agile and nimble, ready to shift with the direction of the Spirit. It’s true that the first church presumably did not have leaky roofs or sanctuary carpet that needed replacing, so that perhaps they weren’t so preoccupied with institutional caretaking as we tend to be. But you can see it throughout the book of Acts: gospel community convinced that Jesus’ message can change the world will hold the past loosely and readily shift toward a future into which God’s Spirit invites us all.
Finally, a constant thread running throughout the story of the first church in the book of Acts is courage. Over and over again the first disciples faced a future they couldn’t see and took risks as if they had nothing to lose. In fact, they displayed the kind of courage many would call foolish, even crazy. Still, it’s clear in the story of the first church that gospel community convinced that Jesus’ message can change the world will act with courage.
Why? Why did they face an unknown future by building a church with such radical qualities?
They did it because they believed the gospel message could change the world.”
– See more at: http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/30099-what-kind-of-church-are-we-building#sthash.EmgAE3pw.yoUxf4jI.dpuf
A breath of fresh air, Pat. As someone said, it’s not a matter of simply affirming the Good News (the term ‘gospel’ is so tainted today) but BELIEVING it. That’s why we proclaim it by incarnation and word.
“Those parts of the body that seem weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,while are presentable parts need no special treatment.” Truth is many pastors and Church leaders will read this piece of scripture, but will be complete cowards to put it into real practice in their Churches. They want to present and give special treatment to the good looking, the wealthy, the talented, the educated with degrees in divinity. If you examine their hearts, they would like the weak, the less honorable, the unpresentable to walk out the door and become nones.
The structures of the church today are mirror images of other institutions – “baptized” in religious language. Their demise will be directly proportional to the extent that they have incorporated the behavior of the world towards the weak. It will not matter who churches say they are – I.e. “We are for the marginalized etcetera” – their mission statements etc won’t matter – because by their fruit we will know them. This requires maturity, relational and spiritual, multi generational community and as you note: a scriptural high regard for the weak.
Carl Jung had it right. We will make scapegoats out of anyone, anything rather than face the truth about ourselves. The American Church lives in the Shadowlands and knows it not.
Like many of you who have replied to this article, I am a “done” after nearly 50 years of serving the church. Why am I done? Among other things, I have found the church I know more focused on surviving financially and holding onto its assets than being the living Body of Christ. I am not a nominal Christian. But I don’t want to be preached at every week and constantly reminded of my “duty” to support the church.
Those evangelicals who dismiss the loss of mainstream and liberal Christians as “good riddence” are forgetting that there is no reason to assume that evangelicals and conservatives will remain immune to the trend away from Christianity into the future.
Conservatives are, by their nature, more resistant to the changing tides, and evangelical churches are more rooted in the tenets of their faith, more resistant to societal changes like the growing acceptance of gay marriage, which, in turn, helps protect them from the wider trends in society. So it stands to reason that they will not be the first Christian community to be impacted by those trends.
But with each passing generation (and this is, for the most part, a generational phenomenon) it is going to become tougher to prevent the trend away from religious identification from afflicting their own ranks as their young people grow up in an increasingly secular nation.
One only has to look elsewhere in the Western world to see how far that trend can go. I grew up in the UK in the 1970s as probably the first majority non-christian generation. Much of what I see happening now in the US, I saw happening in the UK back then. Now, barely 5% of the population are active Christians, and while I doubt the more conservative nature of American Christianity will allow the trend to go that deep, I also doubt we’re close to the bottom yet.
I must admit that I was surprised at the acceleration of the trend away from religious identification in this most recent Pew survey, but as someone else pointed out, perhaps we have reached a tipping point where identifying as non-religious no longer comes with a penalty, and conversely, professing religious faith is no longer a convenient proxy for claiming that you are a good and moral person — one that is mercilessly exploited by (mostly) conservative politicians. That’s a good thing in my mind.
I really enjoyed the article. I was struck by: an emotional response – it sounded like a high school breakup – “well I didn’t want to date you any way!” , or: “you can’t fire me, I quit!, You can’t quit, I just fired you!” I would suspect that there have been disconnected/done folks for years, however, it has not always been socially acceptable to acknowledge it. I am saddened by the intransigence on both sides.
However, many of the “Dones” are not nominal, but passionate, visionary Christ-followers. https://stevesimms.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/done-undone-or-not-done/
We do live in a new world of social change and upheaval, and it’s not confined to the church. For generations, the church was deemed to be the arbiter of social change, if not its driver. Now that is no longer the case. Yes, the church is indeed losing its influence. However, that’s not so much the result of “People not identifying with the church” as it is with the upheaval in all of our social institutions–the family, the stable job, the courts and law, politics, the economy, medicine, drugs (legal and illegal). While much of this is unprecedented in our society it’s very much a long term trend. it’s difficult to know what the results will eventually be, but we were discussing these changes in 1970, when I was in seminary. They really began with the Great Depression (if not before), and WWII accelerated them. In addition, we look at all this as a snapshot, while the Father looks at it like a parade, viewed from the sky. He sees all this both before we do, and with implications we never sense.
I think there may be a couple of “takeaways” from this:
1. Jesus is truly the same, yesterday, today, forever.
2. We (Christians) need to be ready to serve that same Lord, in church or out of it.
3. We MUST find new ways to communicate the Gospel–not the “Gospel of the televangelist,” which it seems is becoming more and more unpopular, despite the followings that many of these folk have, but the Gospel of the Son of God Himself.
4. We need to re-focus on the Gospels and Acts. The Lord Himself is revealed in those pages, and we need to become LIKE Him, and communicate HIM, not the “message of the church,”
5. I remember discussing these things with my seminary colleagues in the ’70’s (also a time of great change), and many of them dismissed the changes that were coming as wrong, evil, and not to be tolerated. The old answer was “church discipline.” I don’t think that was helpful in the long run, because in many cases it added abusive treatment BY the church to problems people were already facing. I think the “new” answer is “finding new ways to heal people,” because in reality this is the oldest way–Jesus’ way.
6. We (ministers) must be ready to relinquish control over people’s lives, and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to them. It’s been customary in churches in the US for people to try to take over the role of the Spirit, and it doesn’t work very well.
7. Will this increase the power of the church, or its membership? Well, asking that question is asking the wrong question. Rather, we need to ask, “How can I personally minister to the people around me, and help them to understand and know the living and true God?” In that context, the church is almost irrelevant, except as a place to share love, faith and hope with each other. And interestingly enough, therein lies both the church’s true power/influence, and the key to its resurrection.
Steve Bradley, well said. Well said. I estimate that you and I are about the same age, probably within 5 or 10 years of each other at least. The point is if old dogs like us can get it, then Spirit led intelligent leaders of the various divisions of our church can “get it” as well. We need to pray for them as we gather the “dones” for community and accountability. Blessings to you, sir.
Thank you for the continual encouragement. I took specific note of the spin put on Pew’s identity survey. Good riddance for certain. But perhaps there are more like me who have thoughtfully and prayerfully rejected religion and if asked today to identify with a religion, I would have to say, ‘none.’ I no longer identify myself as a Christian as that identity plays itself out in today’s western culture. I no longer identify myself as an Evangelical or as a Mainliner, as a Calvinist or as Arminian, as Presbyterian or Pentecostal, as a conservative or liberal. I eschew labels and yet want only to point people to the Christ whose sacrifice is sufficient, whose love compels me to visit the sick and imprisoned, to clothe the naked and to feed the hungry. I find community with fellow believers behind bars, and with those who understand their need – both physical and spiritual. I have grown more intimate with Jesus more in these years free from the liturgies and bulletins, pews and worship songs, than I could ever have imagined. Thank you for being willing to listen to the ‘dones’ and for telling our stories.
I agree with you that “Christian” has gotten a negative stigma now days. I can see it better to say, “I am a child of God, the property of Jesus Christ.”
We “as a local body of believers” congregate together in a building and we have a name on the door to identify what we believe, but our emphasis is NOT on the “building” or the “name on the door”. We come together to worship and learn together. So…there ARE groups of people out there who are sincerely seeking God, His Word and wanting to learn and grow together in a more “formal” setting. We believe in the power of a “corporate anointing” that is experienced when we all gather together at one time in one place (as the Acts 2 experience on the day of Pentecost). Please don’t “kick us out” of Chrisitanity (those who call yourselves “done” believers) because we meet in a building at the same time each week. Think about your family…. You live in a house together. You have different rooms that you occupy. You spend money for “upkeep”…but you are still a family who have relationship and purpose. The “house you live in” doesn’t define who you are as a family. As humans, we tend to “judge” and think we know better when we get certain “revelations”. I’m in agreement that much of the organized church has become stale, rigid and ” dead religion” (defined as doctrines of demons). That certainly needs to be addressed…But….PLEASE…don’t judge those of us who are sincerely reaching the lost, laying hands on the sick, casting out demons and preaching deliverance to the captives, just because we are considered an organized ‘church’. Just sayin’…
Most people do realize this, Jo. Unfortunately, those good works done by good people are grossly overshadowed by the system and the politics in some churches. In fact, if you’ve never served in leadership, you’d be surprised at what goes on behind closed doors to make some of those good works possible. Some people have no idea the blood, sweat and tears shed to make it possible for some of those good works while some other leader is fighting against them for some selfish or misguided reason.
As for the family analogy, it breaks down where some families actually do disassociate or distance themselves from one another for various reasons.
No ill will towards those who choose to stay and are doing good work. We wish you well as we choose to move on and serve Christ in our own way.
Jo, that Acts 2 experience on the day of Pentecost is the very experience the “dones” are looking for and why many of us left the traditional church! That experience did not happen inside the costly structure of today’s church. It occurred in the public square! It happened away from the institutions and then they gathered and met “house to house!” We really don’t have anything against church buildings, by the way. Some of us are sad that some churches can spend millions of dollars on a gym or a fellowship hall instead of building housing for the homeless for example, but we realize that great work is accomplished from our traditional churches.
You mentioned that we should think about our family and that the church is like a family. As a family, we live together though we have different rooms that we occupy. We spend money for upkeep and the house we live in doesn’t define who we are as a family. True.
But consider this. The “dones” actually minister where we live. When we make a new disciple and teach this new disciple all the commands we’ve been given and when we gather to worship together and celebrate our relationship with God together, we don’t take our new disciple to a house all of us Christians jointly own. We bring them into our own homes. Where we eat. Where we socialize. Where we play games and watch TV. That is also where we worship. We really share life with each other, not just at 10 o’clock on Sunday morning then again at 6 o’clock on a Wednesday night and any other scheduled time that dictates our turn to gather.
We also gather in spaces that generous traditional churches provide–at least the churches that aren’t upset that a group of renegade Christians are out loving each other off the grid! We meet in coffee shops. We meet in parks at picnic tables. We’ve even met once at a Bass Pro Shop restaurant! It’s not the buildings that upset us. It is the committee of man that says time after time that our call by God cannot be facilitated by whatever particular church we belong to.
When the Holy Spirit tells a group of 10 or 15 of us to do something, we don’t need the permission of a committee first in order to obey God. We gather our resources and go make disciples. Then we replicate ourselves. If your church is that church that doesn’t hamper the creativity of believers reaching others to disciple into believers, then you have a very special church indeed and there is certainly no reason for your people to leave it!
Awesome! Love this description of the Dones!
We shouldn’t be gloating about nominals dropping the charade and embracing their lost-ness. But if you think even 70% of the country are truly repentant followers of Christ, you’re blind. Probably closer to 10%, if that. But aside from God, no one can give us that metric. I was a nominal Christian for the majority of my life. Church was the family obligation that felt socially correct even though deep down I knew myself to be a hypocrite. After truly becoming regenerated (new creature) I have a heart for reaching out to nominals. They have been exposed to just enough of the Gospel to be effectively inoculated to it, thus damned. All salvation takes an act of God, but as Christians we need to shake them out of their stupor. If you know/love a lost nominal it’ll take a very close relationship, example of Christ in your life, and being exceptionally patient for the moment they’re ready for you to call them out on it. Don’t push, they’ll shut you out. Pray, and wait for the Holy Spirit. Proverbs 27:6, lovingly wound your friend. This is the sermon I wish I had a preacher bold enough to speak on. https://answersingenesis.org/education/spurgeon-sermons/492-nominal-christians-real-infidels/