Recent Pew Research studies strongly suggest a full out exodus of millennials and others from traditional church-going, and it’s no wonder why. The weekly ritual of worship, greeting, sermon and benediction is archaic in today’s world, treated as an obligation by many, simply endured by others. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, except that there’s no interaction other than perhaps, shaking hands and “greeting” people you see every week. We get it. To be sure, some folks take great comfort in the sameness, the ritual, the safety of the sanctuary. They are content, but Christ was not.
For most, church is nothing more than 45 minutes of being talked to, and no matter how charismatic or enthusiastic the pastor might be, it’s a one-way street, and these days, that simply doesn’t cut it for many. This is not news. Church goers have long wanted a way to participate and are frustrated by simply sitting in a pew or folding chair for an hour, and then being asked to help pay to sustain the farce. For those who are familiar with their bible, being talked to about it may offer a different perspective or a fleshed out concept, but the basics are always the same – love your neighbor as yourself, and love God. You’ve read the Sermon on the Mount? You have been educated as a Christian. So, what else is there?
In many cases, nothing. Just a weekly routine, one mirroring the next in content and structure, with no opportunity to contribute, short of ushering, greeting, or serving coffee… sustaining the grist mill. People today clamor to be a part of the experience; they want to make a difference. I can’t remember how many times I’ve offered my expertise in meaningful ways, only to be ignored, smiled at and then ignored, or simply had my input cast aside by church leadership. Don’t mess with their territory is the message.
Oh, you’ll be encouraged to be a disciple in your workplace or in the public, and sometimes that opportunity presents itself, but more often than not, it doesn’t. Failing to actually help in this regard, churches offer precious little training on how to be effective at it. Something as simple as practice sessions with other members could make a world of difference.
Repudiate the far-right crazies such as those at the Westboro Baptist Church, and others who cling to arcane, Old Testament laws to justify their prejudices and phobias. Don’t let some radical on TBN speak for you (and then ask for your money) when you know perfectly well that Jesus himself would not tolerate it. The silence of Christ-followers in the face of oppressive, verse-picking bible thumpers is as bad as any intolerance justified through other religions found elsewhere in the world. Don’t do it.
Disassemble the existing structure. Get out in the public. That’s where the needs are. Go meet in a field or a public park – regularly. Put your faith, not your religion, on display. Carve out a section of beach and offer free soft drinks and water to anyone who comes by. Offer to do water baptisms on the spot. Meet in the round, not in a lectern-faces-audience setting. Encourage attendees to ask questions in a give and take discussion, rather than listen to a contrived sermon.
Do crowd funding to save a family from homelessness. Organize a fund-raising, 6 mile walk to simulate the distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Forgive a prostitute, help heal someone in need, consort with criminals and offer them God’s love instead of what brought them to their current state. Do something to engage your members and spread awareness, or take photos to remember them by when they leave. Do Something Different! Not simply to be different, but to serve God for his glory. That’s what you want, right? That’s what you tell us! So, do it!
Get out of the comfort zone and into a challenge zone. If the main idea is to bring Christ to those who’ve never experienced Him or who are desperate for hope, it cannot possibly happen inside the walls of a church full of people who already get it. It has to happen on the street, in the neighborhood, at the grocery store, at a rock concert. Jesus didn’t preach within four walls; He went from town to town, he spoke standing on a hill, he demonstrated God’s love in unique and undeniable ways. He had a great vision, calming stormy seas, walking on water, showing love, not simply talking about it. The Pharisees are the ones who stuck to tradition, who ignored the Messiah at their doorstep. Church leaders today are the Pharisees of yesterday, preferring doctrine over imagination.
Preachers often talk this talk, but they don’t walk it. They’re too busy planning the next sermon, attending conferences that spur ideas that will never be acted upon, being comfortable in the lifestyle they have, and being so sure that they’re doing God’s will. They’re not. Not when people are leaving church by the thousands, in a world that needs true faith and a real relationship with God more than ever. It’s a failing model, we know it’s a failing model, and it needs to be fixed, fast. Will your church do it? Or will it join the dinosaurs?