There are numerous statistics that express a decline in the state of the church in America. This includes things like attendance, doctrinal literacy, giving, etc. A Barna report says the number of “post-Christian” individuals has increased to 44% (as of 2015; most current/relevant article can be found here: https://www.barna.com/research/post-christian-cities-america-2017/). Why is this important?
It depends on your context. If you are worried about the survival of an institution, then these statistics should be alarming. If you are concerned with the Gospel setting captives free to make disciples and follow the Holy Spirit, these statistics take on a more nuanced nature.
One of the sources of this “decline” is the confusion of purpose and function.
What is purpose? It is your vision. It is your reason for existing. It is your motivation. What is function? It is what you do. It is what your purpose drives you to do. It will guide your tasks and how you perform them.
If we get purpose and function backwards, then we are never going to achieve what God has designed us to do. Many churches function in a way to sustain themselves – their salaries, mortgages, programs, etc. Many people function in survival mode. And you don’t have to go to the inner cities to find people living this way. Functioning by self-preservation does not lead to the healthiest decisions. When we function out of survival mode, we won’t live by God’s design – we are merely trying to stay alive. Our options appear to be (and often are) limited. This is the stronghold of poverty – having limited options because of a concern with resources and survival. Your power to choose has been enslaved to your wants and needs.
We should discover our God-given purpose and allow it to define our function.
You and your church
When you communicate about your church, what do you mention first? Attendance, programs, preaching, music, serving opportunities? What Gospel do you preach? Does it matter how you preach the Gospel? Must you obey the Gospel you preach? Are you adding to or removing from the Gospel and leading people into bondage or hypocrisy?
The church is becoming obsolete in the culture. We have neglected the fulness of the Gospel and the desolation in our midst, so that our doctrine becomes separate from our works, and our works appear small and our doctrine becomes meaningless. The church, historically, was a massive force to bring value to human life. It shaped culture because people lived differently. Because they were obedient to God. Now there is a glut of answers and solutions to all of life’s ills. There are groups, politicians, and celebrities “doing something” about issues, and the church looks irrelevant in comparison, even though we all know that “Jesus is the answer.” If that is true, then He has to truly be the answer, and we have to be willing to be His body, His hands and feet, to answer the call. Jesus did not look at us in our need and say, “You don’t deserve it! I’m going to keep what’s mine.” He responded with grace.
The church has been taken captive by the natural realm. The primary nature of the Church should be spiritual. The very souls of the poor, foreign, undesirable, are invisible, eternal, spiritual things. This makes them vitally important in the Kingdom. The natural things associated with the church (buildings, programs, money, etc) are all temporary and are burned up in the end.
Fruit comes from the Spirit! It is not created by physical things.
Friendship evangelism is a bait-and-switch. It has so infiltrated many modern views of ministry and evangelism. This blurs our vision as we face a dark world in need of a Savior and His devoted followers. It taints our definition of the Gospel. It defined our churches in every way from architecture to graphic design to service schedules. It causes us to judge others for how they minister. It paralyzes people when facing their lost friends, family, and neighbors.
Who builds the Church? Christ builds His body, His spiritual temple. We get to partner merely as servants of the Holy Spirit. However, the church tries to build itself using physical tools and ways. Only the interaction with the Gospel and the Holy Spirit can add people to the spiritual Body of Christ. Our tools, no matter how impressive they are, are completely useless if they don’t accomplish what we need, if they are functioning separate from the Holy Spirit. Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.
What is the Church supposed to be? Let’s look at the “real deal”.
- It is universal – everyone added to the Book of Life. Only Jesus can open that book.
- The Local Church – the only division the Bible recognizes for the church is regional. And they were still interconnected. Denominations are wrong. They are borne out of divisions caused by the works of man.
- The Body of Christ – a supernature being filled with the Holy Spirit
- The Bride of Christ – Pure and devoted to their Lord
This is the podcast episode Jason referenced
and this is the paper that they referenced
This episode originally broadcast live on September 11, 2015 on KXEN 1010AM in St. Louis, MO