What is Happening to the Church?
|What is Happening to the Church (Photo credit*)|
Recently, I’ve been observing two contrasting realities:
First, I’ve been reminded of Christian history of past centuries.
My daughter has been watching Torchlighters Videos on Redeem TV. These animated videos tell the Saint and Missionary stories - many of which I grew up hearing. People like Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, who were martyred for their faith. People like Mary Slessor, Gladys Aylward and Adoniram Judson, who abandoned everything, risking life and limb, to share the Gospel with those who didn’t know Christ in foreign nations.
I’ve also been reading A Ready Defense by Josh McDowell, and hearing about those whose lives were changed by popular events of the late 20th century like the Jesus Movement, Campus Crusade for Christ, Billy Graham Crusades, and Evangelism Explosion. I’m reminded of concepts like “Personal Evangelism” and “Bring a friend to Church Day”
I remember in my youth, hearing about heroic missionaries, and knowing many young people and adults who dreamed of influencing their world for Christ by traveling to a foreign country, and reaching those who had never heard of Him.
As an Orthodox Christian, I've been teaching my Sunday School students about those heroes who spread the Faith without regard for their own lives, people like St. Photini, Equal to the Apostles; St. Nicholas of Japan, St. Patrick Patron of Ireland; Sts. Cyrill and Methodius, Enlighteners of the Slavs & St. Nina Patroness of Georgia.
In contrast, I’ve also been witnessing a steady stream of disheartening news and commentary about our world, and the prevalence of Faith among Americans. The Gallup organization recently notified the world that American “Church Membership” has fallen below 50% for the first time in American history – for a current count of 47%
Even more alarming – the Gallup poll counts Synagogue and Mosque
members as “Church Members” in their article (!) – so rather than 47% as
reported, actual Church membership must be even lower. Not to mention, that even those counted at "Church Members" may not be devout.
When I travel around our country, and observe multiple states
and religious denominations, I see things that concern me even more. I’m not talking
here about one Parish or one town, or one denomination – I see this nationwide,
across all denominations and Christian groups - even on the internet where people gather from all creeds and places.
In the Churches, I see fewer and fewer children or young adults. I see empty pews, and sparsely attended Bible Studies.
Clergy tell me that their members with advanced degrees in secular subjects don’t know even the most common Bible stories. If they wish to make a point in a sermon about the Parable of the Prodigal Son, for example, they have to tell the entire story, even to highly educated members. Even people with MDs, PhDs, and Masters Degrees don’t know the most frequently repeated Bible stories.
I see more and more "nominal Christians" - people who use the label "Christian" but do not ascribe to the essential teachings of Christ and His Church.
When I hear Christians – even Clergy – discuss the current
state of American Christianity, they often appear to be waving a white flag of
surrender – using terms like “Post Christian,” and sharing gloomy predictions
of future persecution. They talk about Churches closing, going bankrupt, or
being forced by the government to violate their beliefs.All of these things are a definite possibility - IF we Christians do not pray, and obey God! But, they're not at all a foregone conclusion!
In the Early Church, when Christians were less than 10% of the Roman Empire, that small minority had a Faith in God that changed the world!
Now, we’re over 40 percent, and announcing His defeat!
Jesus said that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church , so this declaration of defeat is, of course, inaccurate.
But, there is a sad modern reality.
Almost no one talks about how to love the more than 50 percent of Americans who are living lives without God and His Church. Those who could have a hope of Heaven and Eternity with God, but don’t. There is a lot of discussion about how bad this current trend reported by Gallup is for Christians, but very little discussion of its effect where it truly matters. What does this trend mean for those NON Christians and non-observant nominal Christians in our culture?
Meanwhile, our Churches have become experts in fundraisers & entertainment. Driving through town one day, I see an ad for a Church Barbecue. Another day I see an Easter Egg Hunt or movie night. On social media I see Baklava Sales, Festivals, Stage Plays, and Rummage Sales in various Churches all across the country. But, our actual attendance for services is getting smaller and smaller – and not just since the pandemic hit. Our fundraisers and entertainment events are full, but our pews are nearly empty!
Sadly, it has been years – maybe decades – since I heard
anyone talk about reaching the lost outside their own congregation for Christ. And,
I very rarely hear anyone discuss true Christian Education of Children – not
entertainment or babysitting while Church is going on, or a little fun club for
kids, but a true teaching of the Faith.
I know almost no one who shares the Gospel with friend, neighbor, or colleague. Bringing a friend home to talk about the God Whom you love over coffee, or inviting a neighbor to experience a Church service with you is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
I know LOTS of people who pick fights with those same people over politics, economics, or parenting methods! So, it’s not that we don’t talk – we just don’t talk about the ONLY thing that really matters!
The fact is that human beings NEED God. Without Him, we are empty, hopeless and without a future. Without HIM, we are not living our only possible true purpose in life. As Blaise Pascal is quoted to have said,
“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”
If we fail to let others know about the Love of Christ – we are not “being polite” and “respecting their opinions,” any more than we’re being polite to the homeless person when we don’t share our food or money with them.
What if we stopped looking at our secular neighbors as “the enemy” and started thinking of them as our “mission field?” What if we reached out to them?
We assume that Americans who are not Christians have
rejected the Gospel message, but the reality is that many Americans, having
grown up in a secular public school and in less religious families, have simply
never truly heard the Gospel or truly encountered Jesus Christ & His Church. In too many
cases, they have only rejected an inaccurate portrayal of Christianity in
T.V. shows, movies and news. Or perhaps they
have rejected the witness of those people who loudly proclaim to be Christians, while not
living a life pleasing to God.
We used to dream of “going to the mission field” Now, the “mission field” has come to us!
Christ’s Great Commission has not changed.
Matthew 28:19, 20
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
What are we going to do about it?
We don’t need to travel to some foreign country to tell
people about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – the mission field has arrived
in our home town.We just need to step out our front door!
Think about this for a minute: If every Church-going Christian in America befriended one secular or non-Christian neighbor, and drew that ONE other person into the fold of the Church – in ONE year, we could become a country that was almost 100% Christian!
A few suggestions:
- Make sure YOU are in Church whenever the doors are open – or
as close to it as you can. The Bible is very clear that a branch that is not
connected to the Vine cannot bear fruit!
- Read your Bible, pray every day, as the children’s song goes. If you have Children, make them a part of this activity! If you don't already have a Bible Reading plan, check out these.
- Invite a friend over for coffee or for lunch and have a pleasant conversation – and mention how knowing God has blessed your life.
- Invite a friend who doesn’t go to ANY Church to come with you some time.
- Offer to share a resource that might answer some of their questions about the Faith, and draw them closer to God. Here are some that I like:
- A movie like The Case for Christ or
- A book like MereChristianity by C.S. Lewis, or
- A show like The Perfect Stranger , Another Perfect Stranger or something else from Redeem TV that you find to be helpful.
- A movie about the life of Jesus like The Jesus Film for adults (available in almost every known language at this link), the Jesus Movie (2012) for Kids, or even an entire Gospel, like Matthew dramatized for those who are more interested.
If they’re not interested right now– don’t push- God has His perfect timing, and they have freedom.
*Photograph Credit:"mar16" by amboo who? is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
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