What’s the thing that’s draining the life out of the American church? Is it a recent thing–or has it been around a while?

People often ask these questions after seeing our film When God Left the Building, which depicts churches, small and large, famous and not, that are struggling to find their way. Is there a common thread? Yes, I believe there is. It is the same thing that crippled the religious establishment 2,000 years ago when Jesus came to make a course correction.

What is this thing? It is . . . misplaced centrality. People today, as well as 2,000 years ago, tend to fixate on certain things that do not happen to be the One Thing–a living, loving, growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Individuals and churches often rivet their attention on other things. Some of these other things may be good things, but they’re not the One Thing.

What are these other things that become centers of attention? Here’s a sampling of some:

Rules. In Jesus’ time the religious people were focused on rules about the Sabbath, the temple, and tradition. The same is true today. Some denominations have even named themselves after their rules.

Sin. Religious leaders confronted Jesus with those caught in sexual sin and other transgressions. Today some churches and denominations make their positions on sexuality, for example, the centerpieces of their work and witness.

Sacraments. Centuries ago some churches established the centrality of sacraments such as the Eucharist, creating systems and qualifications and requirements around the rites. For many today, the sacraments themselves have become idolized.

Scripture. Many today like to advertise they’re Bible-centered. Sometimes the book receives more adoration than its author. Being “in the Word” gets more play than being with God.

Tunes. Not only has church music become the synonym of “worship,” it has, for many, become the object of worship itself.

Personality. Today’s conventional wisdom dictates that any “successful” church requires a “great communicator” who draws crowds and attention . . . to himself.

Again, some of these things can be good things. The problem comes when they become the central thing. That’s when people get the impression that a relationship with Christ is no longer enough, is no longer the real focus.

What would happen if we became not rule-centered or sin-centered or sacrament-centered or scripture-centered or music-centered or personality-centered, but clearly Jesus-centered? What would be different?

We’ve begun to ask these questions at JesusCenteredLife.com. Watch the video. Look at the thoughts of others as they grapple with the question, “Who is Jesus to you?”

If everything else is stripped away, there’s just One Thing that brings life.