The lament we hear from many sectors in American Christendom is over the increasing number of people who shun church.
While the numbers seem to bolster this observation, no one can agree as to why the exodus is happening. Some say those who have gone missing have left the Faith entirely. Others point to a form of Christianity that has simply decided it doesn’t need the institutional aspect of “churchianity” to be vital.
I think part of the source of the problem is that the American Church can’t define what its purpose is. Many people are showing up on Sunday and asking themselves why they are sitting in that pew acting like nothing more than a flesh seat cushion, and the Church isn’t answering their question. After a while, with the point gone missing, people decide they could spend their time more effectively doing something else.
Turning church into another form of entertainment created some of this malaise. I think another piece comes from the American Church’s inability to answer in a practical way the tougher questions and needs of people today.
It’s not that the answers don’t exist. I believe only Christianity has those answers. But the Church here seems stuck on its image and not on its mission. It keeps trying to be hip and can’t seem to be relevant, no matter how much it claims it be (or is trying to be). And in those rare cases when it is relevant, it’s only so for the individual and not for something bigger. No matter what anyone contends, people really do need to be part of something larger than themselves.
People are not seeing the purpose. And until they do, the hemorrhaging of people from our churches will continue.
I think every church needs to have its leaders stand up each quarter of the year and reiterate the mission of that church, exactly how they are working to meet that mission, and exactly what they expect of everyone sitting in the pews to make that mission a success. You can talk about being missional all you want, but unless it is understood and owned, missional remains a buzzword only.
I also think church leaders need to get off their mania with programming fads and get back to something they stopped doing a long time ago: identifying the personal spiritual gifts of the people in their charge and helping those people put those gifts into play. I know too many gifted people who left a church because they had a gift to bring and that gift went unwanted.
Here’s a tip for church leaders: The gifts God has given the people in your church are a clue to what your mission needs to be. If you’re not aware of your people’s giftings, then you won’t see what your mission is. And if you don’t work to enable the fullest use of those people’s gifts, then your church will never be successful in anything it does.
There is purpose. Each church should know its purpose. Each person in that church should know his or her purpose. If that’s not happening, then it’s no wonder people question why they are sitting in that pew one Sunday after another.