The American church is quaking. Pressure is building for a new reformation.
We’re approaching the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation. Then too the church faced unstoppable pressure to transform. Many methods and practices of the church had lost their luster. A building storm of discontent swiftly changed the church as it was then known.
It appears we’re witnessing the start of another such upheaval.
“Over the last 30 or 40 years it seems like the model of church, more than the theology, just doesn’t resonate with American society. It was a model that was built in generations past. And society, the culture, has moved far beyond that,” said researcher and professor Scott Thumma in our documentary, “When God Left the Building.”
What about the current model is ripe for reformation? In his day, Martin Luther targeted 95 issues. Let me suggest just five today.
FORMAT. The typical congregation is a membership organization designed to drive weekly attendance at a central location. The culture is increasingly rejecting that format. Service clubs and fraternal organizations that relied on this format are also struggling. Some have lost half of their members in recent years. What if the church were to become known more as a relationship than an event?
PROFESSIONALIZATION. Ministry today is the work of the paid professionals on the stage. The people in the pews believe they’re expected to merely sit passively and watch the show. In an increasingly interactive and participatory culture, viewing faith as a spectator sport lacks authenticity and personal investment. What if all Christ’s followers felt empowered to be a part of “the priesthood of all believers”?
FOCUS. Churches today emphasize a wide variety of things. Morals. Service. Bible knowledge. Repentance. Social ills. Better living. Worship. Today, most people say the church is known more for what it opposes than what it promotes. What if the church would become known as a community of believers focused on growing a relationship with Jesus, and loving one another unconditionally?
DENOMINATIONALISM. In the last century, churches proliferated across the land through a denominational franchise system. Centralized control, resourcing and reputation worked–until the public soured on such things. Will centralized systems survive in a time when everyone has easy access to whatever they need from a variety of sources?
COMMERCIALIZATION. The American church has become an industry, with all the trappings. Its most-referenced success indicators are numerical–attendance figures, dollars, and square footage. Its industry titans have become stars–some within their communities, and some nationally. In some cases the “product spokesman” is more famous and adored than the “product.” What if the church became known not by its branding, stars or stats, but by its stories of God moving in wondrous ways?
These are a few vulnerabilities of the church as we know it today. As they start to reform we will witness the birthing of a very different church as we know it.
I’m eager to see what God is going to do.
(You’re invited to fully participate in an exploration of a possible new reformation at the Future of the Church summit experience in October in Colorado. More details here.)
Yes! I’ve been preaching this for 30 years – I’m in!
I reckon you’re quite right. I would add a sixth. All you points relate to how we present ourselves, but I reckon we need to look at our message as well. We have narrowed down Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom of God making everything new to a save yourself gospel. What if we tried to present Jesus and the good news he taught and brought?
I should also add that in July I did a post with a very similar title – The new reformation.
Just extending the point of professionals and passive attendees. The word liturgy means work of the people. This does not mean a church has to adopt a full liturgical service but that participation should come from all.
Thom, you’re stepping on a lot of toes here. The sad part is that all your points deal with people clinging to tradition; NOT theology! Many people will be offended because you are rocking their comfort zone.
Robert Putnam has an excellent book titled ‘Bowling Alone’ that details the decline of american community including social organizations and churches.
With the handwriting on the wall…isn’t it time we listened.
“Then too the church faced unstoppable pressure to transform. Many methods and practices of the church had lost their luster. A building storm of discontent swiftly changed the church as it was then known.”
I’m not even sure what to make of this explanation of the Reformation, but it is woefully inadequate to the point of misleading. You can say this is not about theology all you want, but for Martin Luther it was absolutely all about theology. Methodology always flows out of theology. Always. The methodology of the Catholic church of Luther’s day was the fruit of years of theological drift. Luther’s 95 Theses was not a list of better methods. It was a list of 95 theological statements related to the gospel. He was calling the church to reform her doctrine because he knew that correct methodology would follow.
When you ask the question “What about the current model is ripe for reformation” you are asking the wrong question. When you start with all of the things you don’t think the world likes about the church, you start on the wrong foot. You have doomed yourself to constantly asking “What method works” instead of “What is true and what would that look like in our methods”. Models and methods only reveal what we already believe about God and the way He works. It is those beliefs that need reformation and we should be more prayerfully scrupulous to make sure that our methods reflect what we say we believe.
ba-da-bing! If it isn’t “secundum verbum Dei”, it isn’t reformation…
3 years ago my wife and I started Parkland House Ministries as an in home Bible study with about 1/2 dozen people. We haven’t been trying to grow so much as we’ve been making disciples. Today Parkland House is a part of a denomination that sees the need to change but up to now, does not know how to receive us. We have 3 “houses” in our House to House church each meeting on a different day through the week. We get almost no help from our association because we do not fit the criteria they set as a standard, which is to eventually move into a structure in which we can hang our shingle and say we are a church!
Our church family consists mostly of college students and of other Christians who have dropped out of their traditional church for whatever reason. They love Christ, but they want to be more than a spectator. They have seemed to find a home in one of our house fellowships! Though I was a professional public speaker, I almost never preach anymore. We share meals together and share the word with each other. We worship as the Spirit moves us.
Some of the churches in my association see Parkland House as the weird step child while some of the churches see us as a threat to their “territory.” The local churches understand what we are doing but can’t always wrap their heads around “why.” We will be starting our 4th “house” soon and though we do not add to our numbers daily, we are adding to our numbers several times a year!
(Footnote: This Sunday we will have our very first corporate worship service where all the house churches in Parkland House will gather together for the first time! We are expecting about 45 to 50 to be at that service.)
Good work pastor Bill. You do well in this kind of ministry. Today churches are mostly not good (little interest) in doing discipleship work but very eager to recruit members.They have turned themselves into kingdoms of their own (selfish) with no love for other smaller churches. There are many heresy which is very difficult to differentiate unless you are a teacher who understand the bible truth very well. Students will not be able to differentiate heresy until after many years of learning from different kinds of teaching from all sources and not only one type from one denomination. We need the Holy Spirit to teach us and we must study and search the bible for answers ourselves without ceasing. The Sunday Christians are lost as they are tossed about by winds of doctrines hence following after heresy (Ep 4:11 to 16). Jesus came to save the lost but the lost thought that they are save in their mega churches. Small groups of Christians (me too) had left the Mega church when they see something is not right in their church. What is the reason. The criteria is the teaching and motive. Leave if the teaching is in error and motives of leadership are not sincere. Motives like greed of which many pastors (scandals in Millions of $) were exposed in mega churches. Check it out in you-tube. God has left so many tall buildings (cathedrals) in Europe in the past centuries. Yet we love mega churches with huge buildings. Focus on discipleship. Shalom.
Bill, I did the same thing about 10 years ago. It confused the judicatory leader of the denomination I was credentialed with at the time and I had to leave that denomination. I’m now retired (supposedly) but still have deep connections and frequent contact with most of those original people who still get together in various venues – some attend traditional churches and others meet informally. May God bless Parkland House and you for your leadership.
I think bigger churchs have more of this problem littler churchs tend to show a little more love toward there people one thing i look fr is does yr church run courses, its important and does every thing the church does have a price tag to it not good and remmber the kingdom of God is with in u and also if u can raise the dead & heal the sick but have not love for yr brother the bible says it means nothing, but we dont see the dead raised or people getting out of wheel chairs here in austraila the real church are those in the work place mission field on the street
You forgot feminization of the churches and its lack of appeal to alpha malesâ¦..
So I showed up at a bible study at a Congregational church to see if I can connect with anyone and find a friend. I wanted something that is more back and forth. After watching some online, live, church services on sermonaudio.com I know I just will not stick to going back to a traditional church service. Just listening to a few services online throws me into that church hypnotic trance that preaching tends to do. One of my issues with church is that I seldom remember what the sermons were after I leave. At least with a bible study, you can talk back and forth, ask questions, give an opinion or listen to everyone else responses. Of the two bible study sessions I went to so far, I can remember both because I could be involved. I was invited to church there but after reading the bulletin and read through their service plan, I’m like, I don’t think so. The Sunday morning production I grew so tired of is one of the main reasons I quit going. I got so burned out from working it that I just couldn’t even sit through it any more. I know from experience that even having been out of church for 4 years, if I go back, I’ll just grow tired of it rather quickly and just stop going again along with I don’t want to get trapped into anything again. I did chuckle when Thom mentioned the “trappings” of church.
The reason you seldom remember the sermon is because it is a known fact that you only remember 20% of what you hear attested to be educational experts. If you want to remember 80% or more you have to discuss it with others.
Bring it on!!
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Its not just coming, its already happening (and has been for the last 20 years or so). I think it was Leonard Sweet who pointed out that “every five hundred years God has a rummage sale”…God’ is reminding us that 1) its not about programs and causes its about relationship. And 2) God is reminding us that the same power and authority given to the new testament church is ours as we use it to bring others into that relationship. I always ask Christians, “when is the lat time you healed the sick and raised the dead?”
Bring on the rummage sale, Pastor Linda!
I believe with all my heart that God is reforming his church. I am witnessing it and we are all going to part of a very wild journey. In the very near future the celebration phase ” I’m going to Disney World” will be replaced with “I’m going to be the church”