This is the final post in a three-part series on why congregational leaders might choose to change how they have been doing church. No one likes change forced upon them. Even those of us who enjoy novelty prefer getting to choose our own fresh options. In this third post, we look at receiving the amazing opportunity Christ has laid before us.
Part I addressed times when leaders recognize that Jesus is calling us to more than we are currently serving. Our mission has drifted off course. We hear the voice of our Lord calling us to join him in Kingdom mission fulfilling the great commission and the great commandment. We recognize that this is a higher, grander purpose than we are currently pursuing as a congregation. Out of faithfulness and obedience and a desire to be part of what God is doing in the world, we choose to change.
Part II addressed those times when leaders recognize that how we have been doing church just isn’t working as well as it once did. Redoing the past better won’t help today. We face an adaptive challenge. We must learn to be the church in an increasingly different world. We must distinguish between the new wine and the old wine skins, between what’s essential and what’s expendable -- and then experiment to discover how to be both faithful and fruitful in our day.
This final post offers yet another reason why congregational leaders might choose willingly to change how we have been doing church: we have a compelling opportunity before us. Let’s consider how people outside the church consider the following: God, Jesus, spirituality and the church.
According to pollsters, the vast majority of Americans say that they believe in God. Now, the God they believe in is often not the God of Judeo-Christian faith. They may have a polytheistic, syncretistic sense of the divine. But they say they believe in God.
What’s more, most people are positive about Jesus. If asked to name who they feel are the three most influential individuals in history, almost surely Jesus is among those named. Many outside the church are open to hearing and learning about Jesus.
We also live in an age when people are searching spiritually. They seem to know that there is something more to life than the everyday rat race to buy more stuff and to pay for the stuff they already have. They want to connect with something larger, more significant, and more sustaining. As St. Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." In our secular age, however, the search for a deeper spirituality plays out in increasingly bizarre and profane ways. People are tasting dross because they are seeking to satisfy their spiritual hunger.
So generally, unchurched people in our communities believe in God, have a positive view of Jesus and are spiritually hungry. And how do they feel about the local church? Well, 60% of Floridians have no significant relationship with a local church. (My friends down in South Florida tell me that in their communities it’s more like 80%. My friends up in North Florida tell me that in their communities it’s more like 40%.) On any given weekend, less than 17.5% of Americans attend church. People are searching, but they don’t believe that they will find answers in the church.
David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, in their book, Unchristian, share research about what unchurched 16-29 years-olds think about Christians. 87% see Christians as judgmental. 85% as hypocritical. 78% as old-fashioned. 72% as out of touch with reality. 70% as insensitive to others. On the one hand, we have a significant problem.
But on the other hand, we have an amazing opportunity. People do believe in God. People do like Jesus. And they are spiritually searching. What do we have to do to help them know who we know?
I recently heard Alan Hirsch say that in 100 AD there were as few as 25,000 Christians. In 310, just before Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, there were as many as 20,000,000 Christians – approximately one third of the population. This explosive growth over 200 years was when being a Christian could get you martyred; there were no church buildings, no ordained clergy, no institutions, no seminaries, and no Bibles. Yet, faith in Christ exploded like a contagious virus moving from person to person, family to family. People encountered the love of God reaching out to them through Jesus’ disciples. They heard Jesus calling them to reorient every dimension of their life in loyalty to him and to join him in mission to others. They saw the difference that Christ made in people’s lives. They saw brokenness healed, hard-heartedness softened, enemies turned into friends, prejudices put aside, and selfishness turned into selfless sacrificial service – by those who said, “Jesus is Lord!” No wonder this faith spread like wild fire.
If this faith is alive in us, then we have all that we need to take advantage of the amazing opportunity God has set before us. People all around us are searching for Him whose disciples turned the world upside down. Could his disciples today, empowered by the Holy Spirit, not spread his faith?
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Transformation