How Adventist Evangelism Hurts Adventist Evangelism
We have a problem. It’s a big problem. ...
Even among professed Christians, the importance and relevance of the church is declining. In the US many people still identify themselves as Christians but each week the attendance and participation in the life of a local community of believers is declining.
James Emory White in his book, The Rise of the Nones, points out that the fastest growing religious group in America is the “Nones.” These are people who reject any denominational label. They are spiritual (meaning believing in God), but not religious. Some are “de-churched,” having left a church that they previously belonged to while others are “un-churched,” having never belonged to any group at all.
If we are honest it is not alarming that young adults grow away from church when they achieve a certain level of autonomy. Generations before have experienced it in huge numbers as almost a rite of passage where youth would grow up, get a driver’s license, go off to college, leave their parents home and then leave the church. Their names may have been on someone’s roll, but their presence and support were not.
What is more alarming in our day is not that the number of those walking away from church is proportionately higher, it is that the expected return later on is not happening. The boomerang effect would be young adults leave home, leave church, start families and then return back to their churches to raise their children under the values they learned. However that is not happening as much today.
David Kinnaman points out in You Lost Me that the millennial generation is waiting longer to start families, and when they do, they are not seeing the need to come back. The silent strategy of “wait, they’ll be back” is not working.
So how do we reach a generation that is not seeing church as necessary, important, beneficial to life; and quite frankly sees it as a burden? How do we reach people who love Jesus, but hate the church? How do we reignite a passion not just for God, but for his bride?
Well I believe that we need to redefine the church, and launch a movement of fresh expressions of church to reach those who have disconnected.
I think the church has been a victim of mistaken identity. We have used bad language for so long that it has affected our theology and our view of the church. Some of this language may seem trivial and simple but it has far reaching consequences. We have made church a building or a place rather than a body or a people. So we say we go to church. Therefore, we have almost compartmentalized our lives into what happens at a place and then everywhere else. If church is a place you come to, then it is also a place you leave.
We have also made church an event. In the African-American context one saying that we have often used is, “We had church!” I understand that a celebratory worship experience does lift the soul. However, we have sent the message that church is a form of entertainment or a consumer item; something to be critiqued and judged. So the average person sees their role as that of a consumer of this “product” called church.
Is it any wonder we struggle to get members to serve, give, sacrifice and disciple others? They are too busy enjoying (or not enjoying) the show.
So what is the church then? If it is not a building and not an event (as most of you reading this already know). It is a group of believers that God forms into the body of Christ and then fills with the Spirit of God. The church is not a place or an event. The church is people. So the best description from a personal level would be the church is not a place we go, or something we do, but it’s who we are.
If we grasped that and helped disengaged and disenchanted young adults to grasp that concept, maybe we can make a case for loving the church again. Because at it’s core, church is all about relationship. And no matter how sophisticated and technologically advanced our world gets, relationships never go out of style.
There is much more that can be said about redefining what church is. What I want to make a case for though is that what is needed today is not to try to simply save the forms of church we have, but to boldly and courageously start and begin new models of church to reach new people.
I think those of us who make our living as a part of the church or who are so invested in our local congregation immediately begin thinking how can I grow this church, save this church and win back those disaffected young adults and others.
What if the answer isn’t to try to hold on to them in the churches we have but to release them to start fresh expressions of church? I’m high on church…all church. I want people to find Christ, grow in a family and make other disciples in whatever form of church they can. This isn’t an out with the old, in with the new rant.
But I am passionate that trying to put new wine in old wineskins just does not work. And young adults who are searching for meaning and community are many times not finding it in the models of church we presently have. So planting more churches that look like the one up the street is not the only solution.
We need to reimagine what church looks like. And to find a model that I am proposing I want to direct us to the book of Acts 2:42-47. When we say we want to go back to old time church, maybe we have not gone back far enough.
Acts 2 shows a church with a few habits. Habits that I believe new models of church need to have. Notice first however how simple church seemed then. If it is one thing the church cannot be accused of now it is simplicity. Church is layered, hierarchical and complex. If someone felt called to start a new church our templates would cause their head to spin.
I have extracted three habits that the early church engaged in that I believe can serve as essentials for new expressions of church. And these are appealing and meaningful to people who have disconnected from church but still love God.
Eat – Share Life Together
People are looking for a family atmosphere within church. It is not about an event that happens once a week, or a building that they come to. They are seeking to build relationships of trust. One thing that helps with this is food. It is said of the early church “they broke bread together.”
What if we recaptured table fellowship and the home as a part of the life of the church? What if new churches do not overburden people so they are not able to get to spend time with each other sharing meals together in homes? How might this help us build relationships?
Pray – Seek God Together
I believe that God gives incredible answers to prayer especially in the context of mission. Miracles happen when we are pursuing the plan of God to reach those He misses the most.
There is a yearning in our culture to access the power of God. New churches need to be birth through prayer and saturated with prayer as a part of the life of the church.
I have said nothing yet about worship gatherings. Those are important. They are the on ramps for many people to connect with a body of believers. Their primary function should be a gathering to seek God together.
Love – Serve Others Together
The question many are looking for in a church is what is it doing for others. I believe every church, especially a church plant, needs to figure out how it will serve others in the community.
A major knock on the church is its ineptitude in the surrounding community. New churches that are started need to have a cause they are passionate about. The truth is, there are some who will engage with the cause of the church before they connect to the community or even believe in the teachings.
New churches being formed must answer that fundamental question – how are we going to make a difference in our community? How will we love our community and be the visible hands and feet of Jesus?
In closing I am an unashamed lover of the church. I believe no organization on earth has the potential to change lives like it. And it still is the hope for the world. That hope is in Jesus Christ, and we are all a part of His body. Let us be courageous enough to love the church enough to release people and resources to start new churches to reach new people