I attended a local consultation over the last two days regarding community transformation. The promotional material said it was “a roundtable gathering of Christian leaders looking at church outside the walls.” I didn’t really expect them to mean it. But one of the questions we sorted through on the first day was, “What is the problem with church as we know it?”
We were given some interesting statistics to ponder. This from a book By Reggie McNeal titled The Present Future
The current church culture in North America is on life support. It is living off of the work, money and energy of previous generations from a previous world order. The plug will be pulled either when the money runs out (80% of money given to congregations comes from people aged fifty-five and older), or when the remaining three-fourths of a generation who are institutional loyalists die off or both.”
“From 1990-2001 the number of people with no religious preference has doubled.”
In research done by Thorn Rainer regarding those who are born again in America, he came up with the following percentages:
Those born before 1946 (Builders) – 65%
Those born between 1946 and 1964 (Boomers) – 35%
Those born between 1965 and 1976 (Busters) = 15%
those born between 1976-1994 (Bridgers) – 4%
David Barrett, author of the World Christian Encyclopedia, estimates that there are already 112 million ‘out-of-church Christians’ around the world – 5% of all who call themselves ‘Christians’. He expects this number to double by 2025. “
This kind of information is coming from all over. I received this quote in a letter from an institutional bunch:
New Zealand author Alan Jamieson in his book, A Churchless Faith, has been studying this phenomenon for years. To his surprise, it is not the ‘normal churchgoers’ who are leaving the church: 94% of the Christians he has interviewed who are currently without a church were in positions of leadership or responsibility, such as deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers – and 40% of them were once in full-time ministry. And the vast majority of these did not leave as an act of abandoning their faith, but precisely because they wanted to preserve it and saw the religious system as a detriment to their spiritual growth. Many people who cannot conceive of anything other than the traditional church-oriented Christianity, the movement is unsettling or even frightening. It may well be one of the most exciting developments in recent years.
So what are we to make of all of this? At least a number of people are seeing the irrelevance of institutional Christianity as it as evolved into this century. Of course most of these studies hope to encourage Christian institutions to reform the box so that those who’ve left will come back in.
In the end, that’s where our discussion ended after two days. People trapped in the box just cannot see outside it long enough to know that there are some incredible ways to live out this Christian experience without wasting so much time, energy and resources on the machinery our culture has come to equate with Christianity?
For the most part, I am convinced the box is a deterrent not only to growing in intimacy with Christ but also in engaging the culture with the reality of who Christ is rather than the baggage of Christianity. But I was also reminded that there are a lot of people who really love Jesus and are seeking to follow him who are still in that box. They are trying to make the most of it, not realizing, that it is getting the best of them.
At the same time, I know some who would quote the statistics above as proof of a world-wide movement of people seeing through the frailties of the box and are abandoning it for a greater relationship with God and with other believers. They point to this information as proof that they are right and others caught up in the system are wrong. That would be a mistake. People coming to be part of a movement will only create another box in time and still miss the relationship Jesus wants most with them.
Wouldn’t it be better if we got our eyes off of systems and hope about movements and fix them squarely on Jesus? Do what he tells you to do. Follow where he tells you to go and encourage others to do the same. Then we’ll simply be the church in our day, with a variety of expressions as God shows us how to share his life together and how to make his love known in the world.