Maybe the Titanic isn’t the best name to use; the ship is – after all – known best not for floating but for sinking. This is, however, what people would tell you is quickly happening to the Christian Church in the United States.
I beg to differ. If the Christian Church appears to be sinking, it is only because it is not the Christian Church. For almost two thousand years, the Christian Church has survived and even thrived through extreme persecution and even war. The overall Church has only grown – even as individual congregations in individual places have come and gone – and as the living, breathing, spiritual body of Jesus Christ, it will continue to do so.
Here are 5 reasons I believe the Church is primed for growth (yes, even in the United States) in 2019:
- The neutral zone has been dissolved. There used to be a cultural expectation that you would be a Christian; there was a shame involved in not being a churchgoer, wearing your Sunday best and attending your local place of worship on a Sunday morning (visions of the Andy Griffith Show). Beyond that, though, there is now very little neutral ground in matters of morality and other life issues; agendas on each side have made sure of that. With tax code changes, even giving is now motivated less by itemized deductions and more by the condition of the heart. If you’re an active, committed part of a Christian Church in 2019, it’s only because you genuinely want to be.
- Mission is trumping maintenance (it always has). Good luck motivating an inspired group of believers to pay an electric bill (which are considerable in our state). People will give their time and support to things that they see as bigger than themselves, and accomplishing a higher purpose. [Fun story: at the first church where I was a pastor, we ended a fiscal year with a surplus. A few of us made a motion to pass the surplus on to support missionaries around the world, with whom our church had a relationship. There was a fair amount of hand-wringing about keeping financial cushions, saving for a rainy day, etc., before the church finally voted on the matter. Overwhelmingly, they voted to use the money for missionary support. Here’s the fun part: The next month the giving was so incredible it surpassed the entire amount we gave away – in one month! I was SO proud of the church when it happened! Sometimes God just shows off that way, and we learned a valuable lesson in the process.]
- Bread and meat still matter. The message of the Church does not need to be watered down, nor do we need to apologize for the truths God speaks to us. I’ve heard the (false) message peddled that people are only capable of sound bytes and short bursts of attention. Yet, people can spend hours at a time on screens, and huge volumes of information are consumed through the medium of podcasts. People want substance, not fluff, and they’ll consume great quantities of the right content. Not only that, but people are starving for absolute truth and certainty in 2019. There is no better truth and certainty than a message centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
- Genuine relationships matter more than ever. The more we try to replace face time with Facetime, friendship with follows, and real life with livestreams (see what I did there?), the more we crave the real things. There is certainly a place for all these tools, especially online engagement as the front door of the Church. But there is no replacement for the multi-sensory experience that is real life in the real world in God’s real creation. Don’t believe me? Try to capture a breathtaking sunset with the camera on your phone; does it do it justice? Now project that across all your social interactions, as well.
- The Church is still where hope and love live. Why? Because the Church – the gathered assembly of those who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – is where Jesus promises to be present among us. The message we receive from Jesus is unequivocally one of a love that overcomes hate, a hope that overcomes despair, and a life that conquers death. More and more every year, my interactions with even God’s people show a desperate need for us to instill hope into the lives of the hopeless, love for the unloved, and life for those whose spirits are dead.
Sometimes ships take a while to turn around, but it also happens all the time. When churches start to turn around, there is quickly a great deal of positive momentum. I’ve experienced it, and it’s fantastic. Who, after all, doesn’t want to be on a ship headed the right direction, toward an exciting destination?
Just make sure you’re on the right ship.