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.)