These days, what is the American church known for? Is it known more for what it stands FOR, or for what it stands AGAINST?
We’ve posed that question to audiences across the country. Overwhelmingly, they say the church today is most known for what it opposes.
Research shows that the church’s finger-wagging reputation is a leading cause for its decline in our culture today.
But when it comes to decline and decay, the church is not alone. Many institutions have seen significant decline in recent years. And many would say the culture as a whole seems to be experiencing a period of decline. Check out this opening line in a recent news story: “The American Dream picked a funny place to die this week, in Aspen.” That was the site for the annual Aspen Ideas Festival, where high-profile leaders, writers and academics gather to assess the country’s health.
Real wages have not increased for most Americans. African-American males who do not finish high school have a 68 percent chance of ending up in prison by age 35. The education system is failing. Harvard professor and author Robert Putnam said cultural breakdowns are creating a knowledge gap between rich and poor kids, leading to class segregation.
A reporter on the scene wrote: “There wasn’t just an aura of gloom, but a recognition that no one has the answer.” One speaker proclaimed that his federal program would change the lives of thousands of disadvantaged youth. But even if he’s successful the effort would reach only 1 percent of the affected demographic.
STANDING FOR LOVE
Are America’s problems so big that no one can make a dent? Is there any large collection of caring people in the society who could come together to make a real difference? I can think of just one.
It is the church.
Even after recently reported declines, 70 percent of the American population identifies itself as Christian. Across the land we have over 300,000 local Christian congregations, plus thousands of house churches, plus countless parachurch organizations, not to mention the millions of Dones–those Christ-followers who no longer attach to a congregation but they still desire to live out their faith.
What if these multitudes would join a unified cause to love their neighbors? What if they seriously considered Matthew 5: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
What if this legion of love would tackle a big, far-reaching societal problem, such as education? A model already exists to send caring Christians into local public schools to mentor at-risk kids. Kids Hope USA matches schools with churches in a simple but highly effective weekly program. The only problem? There are way more schools desiring a church partnership than churches currently willing to cooperate. Could the nation’s 300,000 churches shine a life-changing light of love on the nation’s 100,000 public schools?
The church is, by far, the largest volunteer organization in the country. What if these millions would be focused on a mission of love in every community? Jesus provided some ideas of where to volunteer: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” This summer 20,000 Christian teenagers and their leaders are setting a good example of this kind of serving through Group Cares’ community mission projects.
And the church controls one of the largest financial treasure chests in the country–over $100 billion a year. What if churches would make even a marginal increase of dollars flowing outside their walls?
What would happen if God’s people, all across the land, actually came together to be FOR something?