Journeyman Project Dispatches from the Life of Patrick Fowler: Christianity Explored


Failing at the Way We “Do” Church

Something that constantly rests on my mind is the major trend in the most churched countries in our world. The nations that have led the way in Christian movement for the past century are diminishing. Some of it is inevitable, as people reject Christianity they begin to learn how to run it out of their families, towns, and states. Some of it is due to the way God chooses to work, and is evidence of the fact that He is doing something different in those places. But from my perspective, a significant part of it has to do with the fact that we are simply doing church poorly. We have added so much baggage to what it really is, that the Christian life and the Christian message are muffled.

I hate statistics, especially all the ridiculous stats that I hear from the Barna group week after week. But this one from Willow Creek is pretty challenging, and fairly true.

In the United States, with more than 162 million self-professed Christians, the news is sobering. Each year, between three to five thousand churches in the United States hold their last service, close their doors, and put up the “for sale” sign. Statistics indicate that from 1999 to 2009 the combined membership of the major Protestant denominations declined 6 percent, while the national population has increased 12 percent. The proportion of Americans who claim to have “no religion” has increased to 15 percent, up from 8.2 percent in 1990.

We need to do church differently...very differently. And although I have some ideas, I want to spark your thoughts more than I want to hand you answers. My main exhortations to you are these...

1. Evaluate the church based on the need of the world, not on what feels good. Ask, how can my church preach to and disciple 1 million people? Not 10, not 100, 1 million. Use a big goal, not a simple one. The world is a big place, it needs churches with BIG goals.

2. Look at the churches that are growing rapidly outside the U.S. and ask yourself, should church look more like that? Why is that working?

3. Make sure your church model can be reproduced. Church is about multiplication. Can my church model be used to start 100 other churches? Why or why not?

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