Monday, November 14, 2016

The church is not dying as some hope

We have heard much in recent years about the fastest growing religious groups in America: the Nones. The Nones are those who, when asked for their religious preference on a survey, respond None. The fact that increasing numbers of people are responding that way has given rise to the belief that the church in America is dying and that Christianity is finally slowly fading away.

Unfortunately, for those who wish it was true, it's not. More recent studies have found that there is a rising number of people who identify themselves as having no religious preference, but many of these are coming out of liberal and mainline churches and denominations. At the same time, Evangelical and conservative churches are growing.

People are leaving the liberal and mainline churches because they have found there is nothing there to sustain them in their search for spiritual truth and meaning. They go there spiritually hungry and leave the same way. Since they find little there to satisfy their search for spiritual truth and meaning some decide to give up their quest. They reason that if what they have experienced is all there is to the Christian faith they don't need it.

It reminds me of the story in Jim and Casper Go to Church: Frank Conversation about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians. Casper, an atheist, agrees to attend church with Jim, a Christian, for several weeks one summer. Although an atheist, Casper admits that he is open to believing in God if he can be given enough evidence that God exists and Christianity is true. They attend some of the most-recognized churches in America. Although many of them would be considered conservative, at the end of the summer Casper remained an atheist. What he saw and heard in these churches did not convince him of the truth of Christianity. It is an interesting read as they debrief each church they visited, and Casper points out his concerns about each of them.

The churches that are growing as those that challenge people to make a decision about becoming a Christian through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. These churches have a high view of Scripture and they take the teachings found within those Scriptures seriously. They hold to a conservative theology without apology. Those on a spiritual journey are often attracted to these churches because they stand for something.

This country is more divided today than it has been since the Civil War, and this is true of the church as well. For years many churches and denominations have tried to straddle the fence on many of the social issues that have divided this nation, but they are not going to be able to do so much longer. It's time that churches take a firm stand on what they believe theologically and about the moral issues facing the nation. There have been enough "study groups" and "focus groups." It's now time to say where you are on these issues, and then let the people decide what to do.

Churches that try to be all things to all people have been slowly bleeding to death for years. It is from these churches that many of the Nones have come. These are among those who have been wounded by the church, and their wounds run so deep that they may never recover spiritually.

A couple of months ago I was called to be the Transitional Pastor of a church in my community. In my first sermon in that role I told them they deserved to know where I stood on the Scriptures. I explained that I believed the Bible to be the inspired, infallible Word of God, inerrant in its original languages, and that belief would serve as the foundation for every sermon I would preach there. This is not a church where a lot of "Amens" are heard, but there was a loud Amen from the congregation when I said that.

If you want your church to grow, if you want your church to make a difference in people's lives, if you want your church to have an impact on your community, I encourage you to take a stand for the "faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." Do so with love but without apology.

Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. Don't let anyone tell you the church is going away. When the church goes away it will be because there was a trumpet sound and the saints were gathered into heaven!

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