My first car was a 1966 Mustang with a standard transmission and a floor shifter. I loved to listen to that little sporty car roar as I ran it through the gears to impress my friends and enjoy that awesome surge of power. Just as if you play guitar, you hear chord changes without anyone telling you that you need to play a new chord, when your drive a car with a standard transmission, you can hear when it’s time to shift gears. When those RPM’s get up to a certain level, you hear that whine of the engine and transmission that lets you know it time to shift to the next gear.
The church has wrung every last bit of usefulness out of its methodologies and folk ways, not unlike a car that’s still in first when there should have been a shift into second a long time ago. As the whine reaches a higher and higher pitch, it reaches the danger zone for the transmission and engine. The church is in the danger zone with decreasing attendance, an aging constituency, shrinking revenues, diminished influence, and whole generations feeling disenfranchised. Spiritually inclined people are leaving or never darkening its doors as they seek other ways to express their faith and droves of people consider it totally irrelevant.
If you think the church has made a lot of changes in recent years, you’re right, but they have been tweaks when an extreme makeover is what is needed. We have replaced the piano and organ with rock bands. We traded the expository sermon for the topical, practical, application-oriented talk about marriage, finances, and other issues in life. We have satellite churches, electronic fund transfers for online donations, downloadable sermons, and huge projection and sound systems.
Inside the church, we think of the tweaks as great advances, but the perspective of those looking in from the outside is very different. As a matter of fact, twenty-five percent of outsiders believe the church has gotten worse.
They think the church has run off the rails and our current expressions of Christianity seem disconnected with Jesus and what the church ought to be and certainly irrelevant to their daily lives.
That helps explain the mass exodus from church.
People are avoiding the church and turning away from it in droves.
“Fifty-one percent left the religion of their youth because their spiritual needs were not being met. Today there are 31 percent fewer young people who are regular churchgoers than in the heat of the cultural revolution of the 1970’s.” (Gabe Lyons, The Next Christians, pages 22-23)
I find it interesting that this decline in church attendance is happening when people are spiritually inquisitive and are searching for some sense of transcendent meaning and spiritual expression.
The church no longer has a corner on the market for spiritual expression.
“(By 2025) I expect that only one-third of the population will rely on a local congregation as the primary or exclusive means for experiencing or expressing their faith; one-third will do so through alternate forms of a faith-based community; one-third will realize their faith through the media, the arts, and other cultural institutions.”(George Barna, Revolution, page 49)
My message to church leaders is, “Wake up! Hear the whine”! Think about the people who feel disenfranchised by what is supposed to be a grace-oriented community! There is something more important than keeping the sheep happy who are already in the fold, re-teaching the people who should already know better, following the latest mega-church trend, and protecting your own job. It is aligning the church with its roots and with Jesus in a way that connects with people in your place and time. It’s time to shift gears!
(This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, An Irreligious Faith.)