Sunday, March 24, 2019 -
You cannot argue with statistics – at least when they’re accurate. I read one the other day about church growth in the United States, which is very shocking. 96% of church growth is due to “transfer growth” – taking people from other churches! What this means is that the churches, or rather the people within our churches, are nowadays failing to reach out into the community and neighborhoods, leading people to Christ, and discipling them. The article, entitled, “An Obituary for the American Church” in Missions Frontiers, cites three temptations of Satan the American church has fallen for, which are similar to the temptations Satan dangles in front of Christ. Mike Breen, the author, coined them as “Affirmation, Appetite, and Ambition.”
And it is these three things which have assimilated themselves into the American church in the form of a culture of celebrity, of consumerism, and of competition.
The goal of most churches and their leaders is to grow to the point of celebrity status. Rather than making disciples who will make disciples, bringing unbelievers into the church, people are drawn from other churches because of the celebrity status of the preacher. Marketing programs are embraced to grow the church, with top-notch worship services, children’s programs, etc. “Most of our churches are built around feeding consumers. I’d argue 90% of the church’s time, energy, and resources are linked to this.” Breen says, “The problem is, at the end of the day, the only thing that Jesus is counting is disciples. That’s it. He doesn’t care too much about converts, attendance, budgets, or buildings. It’s about disciples. And by nature, disciples are producers, not consumers.” And hence, the church in America is growing very little, “If you use consumerism to attract them to your church, it often means you must continue using it to keep them…or else they will find another church that will meet their ‘needs.’ And yet, that consumer mentality is antithetical to the gospel and to the call of discipleship.” And so, since we already live in such a competitive society, much of the American church finds itself competing with the church down the road.
Francis Chan recently wrote a superb book about this problem, called Letters to the Church, explaining why he walked away from his mega-church and how God showed him to go back to the New Testament model for the church. He’s since begun a house church movement with the goal being to make new disciples and to multiply themselves over and over again, just like what happened in Acts.
I would take this tragedy of the American church a step further. I believe to a great extent this lack of making new disciples is a significant cause for the decline in terms of Christian influence on American society. And hence we have an increasingly secular culture that is becoming more and more hostile to Christianity. In fact, it is embracing sin as normal. Where evil is called good and good is called evil. Only if we return to the point where our churches are making new disciples will we be able to recapture our society. Otherwise, political endeavors will be futile and any successes in that regard will be temporary.
There is a very good chance unless churches begin once again to play the role God intends in Scripture, our nation as we know it, or knew it, will completely cease to exist.
And next will come a wave of persecution of believers in this country our parents would have never thought fathomable.
On a positive note, the man in our unit we all thought had died last week from a heart attack did not. He was back here for the weekend and moved to a downstairs cell. Praise the Lord. I spoke to him tonight briefly, telling him I’d been praying for him, and asking if he had died if he’d known where he was going. He assured me he did, and hopefully, I’ll have another opportunity to speak with him in more depth.