I’m working on our final sermon in Ephesians this week and found some info from Barna that just really brings the reality of the Church’s mission to light in the US. We’re not cutting it. The reason we’re not cutting it, is we’re creating our own systems and culture and expecting the unchurched to come to us. But they have no buy-in or reason to come to us. We go to conferences and read magazines that show us all the latest and greatest (“bigger, better, faster” I like to call it) in the “church world” but nationally, church attendance continues to decline. I think we’re blinded to this reality by the emergence of ever more “mega” mega-churches. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing at all against big churches. It’s just that they really are the minority of what is happening spiritually. And while some of these large churches are doing tremendous things to advance Jesus in the US, others seemingly go a little bit the way of the cruise ship (I’m trying to be diplomatic, I’m really not at all wanting to be the bitter church planter because that is not at all motivating this post, long live the megachurches everywhere!). My worry is that kind of thinking and programming just moves Christians around from church to church and has too little impact on truly reaching those who don’t comprehend the reality of who Jesus is. Here’s a portion of Barna’s analysis of the particular study I read today:
“Unchurched people are not just lazy or uniformed,” the researcher continued. “They are wholly disinterested in church life – often passionately so. Stirring worship music won’t attract them because worship isn’t even on their radar screen. More comfortable pews cannot compete with the easy chair or the bed that already serve the unchurched person well. Church events cannot effectively compete with what the world has to offer. The only thing the Church can provide that no one else has is a life-changing, practical encounter – and on-going relationship – with the living God and with people transformed by similar encounters. Until such a connection is made, focusing on features, programs and benefits other than such a life-shaping encounter is more likely to lose ground than to gain it.”
Barna noted that the millions of young unchurched have no understanding of or interest in a church, even if it is “contemporary” in style. “Millions of young adults are more interested in truth, authenticity, experiences, relationships and spirituality than they are in laws, traditions, events, disciplines, institutions and religion. The confluence of preconceived notions, past experiences and evolving lifestyles and values means that existing churches simply cannot reach millions of today’s unchurched people. The rapidly swelling numbers of unchurched people may be forcing existing churches to reinvent their core spiritual practices while holding tightly to their core spiritual beliefs. It will take radically new settings and experiences to effectively introduce unchurched individuals to biblical principles and practices.”
This Sunday we finish 17 weeks in the book of Ephesians. Paul finishes this letter by challenging God-followers to pray all the time, in the Spirit, for each other and for our leadership so that the Gospel will go out with clarity and boldness. I believe today, that clarity and boldness means we must heed the findings of Barna and realize “missional” and “context” are not just the hip buzzwords of the Christian subculture, but are absolute necessities in impacting people all around us with the eternity of Jesus. That’s where our prayer will be focused this Sunday and going forward as a local church in Uptown Charlotte, I hope you’ll pray for Ephesus and pray the same for wherever you are.