It’s been around for centuries. And to be honest the church has remained largely the same for as long. We’ve held our ground and not really allowed for changes in culture or geography or schedules or pretty much anything else to change how we do church. For better or worse we’ve stayed put.
Now before I go too far I want to be clear. Consistency of message and beliefs is critical. I’m not against tradition or keeping our footing firm. However, there is a problem we do face. The way we do church is growing largely irrelevant to the culture into which we bring a very relevant message. What’s the church to do?
Culture has gone through stages in its history. In America alone we started with a predominantly pre-churched ideology. The pre-churched approach is really like that of a missionary in a new country, and that’s exactly what the church was. It was a full out mission entity. The church cared so much about the people that it went out of its way to get to know the culture. It found shared value systems and gained credibility within its cultural context. The church went to where the world was and served the world where it needed to be served.
The pre-churched era was marked by devotion to God, growth in the Bible, and intentional acts of service toward felts needs of the community and it worked! The culture started to then mirror the church. The culture started to welcome the efforts of the church and even partner with it to help local communities.
This paved the way for the next era of church that we’ll call the churched era. This era of church is drastically different than what preceded it because by this point the church has taken center stage in the life of culture. The language of the church has made its way to the community. The church primarily functions like a community center, hospital or gathering place. People just come to the church for help. They ask the pastor questions about life, marriage and parenting. The church has become the epicenter of activity in culture in a churched society.
If the church sought the world in the pre-church era, then in this stage the tables are turned and the world seeks the church. The churched era really brought the church to a place of comfortable existence. The church didn’t have to try very hard. This was the build it and they will come era of the church. When the church settled into this stage of life, it became fairly complacent, which proves very challenging for the next phase.
The final era of the church is probably the most challenging and scary. It’s scary because it’s a perfect combination of the two previous eras. The church is thinking it’s still in the churched era while the world is really moved beyond the church back to the pre-churched mindset. The church is no longer in the center of the town square being admired by anyone. No one is coming to the doors of the church asking for information or help or guidance. The church as an institution has grown largely irrelevant or out of touch with its community and the culture at large.
The church acts the world is looking for it still while the world acts like it could care less about the church and honestly doesn’t even understand its language anymore. The longer the church stays in this mode, the more dangerous it is for the church moving forward.
The world population is growing. Our communities are growing. Population density is becoming more consistent around many of our churches. Yet churches are shrinking. Churches aren’t serving their communities. We’ve started to circle our wagons at best and at worst we’ve begun grandstanding for our pet projects, platforms or political ideologies.
None of this is good. All of this is dangerous. It’s time the church circled back to the beginning, where it all started. We need to see ourselves as missionaries in a vastly uncharted new world. We need to staff for mission development. We need to set aside more funds for community outreach and mission development and less for overhead costs and bigger buildings.
The pre-church era church was very organic, less programmatic, very relational, not so much institutional. The true church – the relational, relevant, and real church needs to stand up and begin again looking at its community. Caring for its neighbors. Becoming the hub of family activity and training. Would the real church please rise and meet the challenges of our day!