It seems everyone has an opinion these days as to why there are declining numbers for church attendance and the percentage of Americans who affiliate with Christianity. I even offered my own view months ago that if Christ’s church dies in America it is only because it committed suicide on the altar of cultural relevance.
But here’s something else to consider. Maybe the problem has less to do with the church, and more to do with our people? That’s not to say that the church doesn’t have plenty of areas where it can improve. But maybe the struggle our churches face in penetrating the culture has far more to do with the rebellious hearts that define our society, and the warped expectations that society has trained them to hold for church.
Rachel Lu did an admirable job digging into this reality in a recent piece at The Federalist that specifically addressed millennials. She properly noted that it is no surprise the youngest generation of Americans are disenchanted with the church when they expect it to do something it isn’t designed to do.
Lu acknowledges that part of what churches do includes missions work and social ministry like serving the poor and needy. But if all you’re after is social work, you’re likely to become disgruntled with a church that focuses on much more, including spiritual rebuke of sin.
Along those same lines, there is an increasing expectation in American society that every behavior, every life choice, every decision we make as individuals be “affirmed.” That’s how many Americans have come to judge good people from bad people: if you are affirming, you’re good; if you’re corrective or judgmental, you’re bad. But a good church is not going to represent Jesus as merely a life coach or self-help guru pushing you towards your best life now. Church isn’t about ego boosting or a place to have your personal life philosophy respected. It’s a place where Godliness is counseled and holiness is preached.
One of the things that has dumbfounded the pseudo-academics that pontificate on church attendance numbers in America has been the reality that Bible-based churches are continuing to thrive while those that strain for cultural relevance are hemorrhaging members. But there’s nothing perplexing about it. Lu writes,
Christianity is supposed to form believers who are in but not of the world. Because of that second part, much of what you hear in church might seem weird, archaic, uncool, or out-of-touch with the society that you know. But that’s exactly the point.
If you’re thoroughly immersed in American culture, don’t go to church looking for a “relevant” message. Everyone who walks in should at least understand that what the world offers them is not enough. Immerse yourself for a while in the “out of touch.” You may find yourself reevaluating what is truly “relevant.”
Bingo. The reason “relevant” churches die is because there’s no reason to go there. There’s nothing different than what the culture offers besides just a request for you to take time out of your schedule to come be entertained. That may work for a few weeks, but it will quickly grow tiresome and meaningless. Again, the church was intentionally designed to be counter-cultural, not culturally relevant. It finds its “relevancy” in God’s eternal purpose, not in man’s fickle preferences.
Imagine rejecting a refrigerator because it doesn’t dry your hair effectively. That would be utterly ridiculous. Maybe a fridge could dry it, but that certainly isn’t what it is designed to do, and a person wanting their hair dry should go find something created for that purpose. It’s the same principle with the church – don’t come to church expecting it to do something it was never designed to do.
The church exists to bind believers together and point all people to Christ as Lord. It’s where you go to worship your Creator. If that’s not what you’re looking for, your rejection of the church has a lot more to do with your narcissistic desire to be god of your own personal universe than it does any failure of the church.
Photo: Reluctant Christian