Last Friday I mentioned I was re-reading The Intentional Church: Moving From Church Success to Community Transformation by Randy Pope. He shared an example of what happens when a church becomes irrelevant to its culture. He writes
"Imagine with me that the most progressively and contemporary church you know was miraculously and entirely transplanted to Mongolia. Assume the people were supernaturally given the language of the Mongolian people, yet the music, programs, dress, and customs of the congregation remained unchanged. What would we expect to find fifty years later? We would probably find a tiny remnant group waiting to die off. We see the same condition in many churches in America today - churches that are out of touch with their culture and totally ineffective as a mission. Even their role as healthy, nurturing spiritual homes has been gradually replaced by a nostalgic repetition of old formulas that no longer affect the daily lives of the few who do attend." (Page 153)
I don't think it can be stated any better than that. We do not need to wonder why younger generations are ignoring the church today as so many do. We should not be surprised that many of our churches are growing older and smaller and that a significant number of them close their doors every week. Rip van Winkle could have walked out of many of our churches, fallen asleep, and woke up 20 years later to return to the church and find everything was the same as before.
In 1981 I began a 20 year pastorate in a small church in the community in which I live. From 2001 until 2015 I served in a judicatory role from which I retired. About three months ago I began serving as the Transitional Pastor of another church in the same community as my previous pastorate. Although it is the same community, the ministry needs are much different now than when I left the pastorate 15 years ago.
Churches are not called to minister in ways with which they are familiar or in ways they may prefer. The church is challenged to understand the culture of the community it is serving and develop ministries that address the needs of that culture. To do less is to become irrelevant to that culture. Too many churches are trying to answer questions no one is asking today and ignoring the real needs that exist around them.
It's time we stopped being satisfied with being a church and begin to see ourselves as mission stations placed in a culture that I sometimes refer to as a "rapidly emerging pagan culture." Most people today, even many within the church, do not share the same Christian values many of us were raised to believe. To assume they do is to, again, become irrelevant.
The Gospel is as relevant today as it was in the first century. The church is as needed today as it has ever been, but only if it is going to minister to people in a way that addresses real needs. The Great Commission remains binding upon the church, but it cannot fulfill that task if it is not speaking to people where they live.
Just as it is important to properly exegete the Scriptures, it is important to properly exegete our society if we wish to minister to it. Let's make 2017 the year we do that.