What does a new generation desire from the church?
This subject is addressed in Rachel Held Evans’ new book, “Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church,” which a group at my congregation is studying on Wednesday evenings.
It’s a remarkable book that speaks to an institution that is truly struggling at present.
Recently, Bill Wilson from the Center for Healthy Churches emailed Mike Massar, my co-pastor at University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Wilson included this fact: Any church that was born before 1970 and has less than 1,000 regular attendees is in serious struggle or decline.
I do not personally believe there is any truth in the cries we hear that “the church is dying.” I think that is poor faith and even poorer theology.
Scripture itself makes one thing very clear: God does not view death the way we do. Consider a few examples:
- The demon-possessed boy the crowd quickly labels dead and Jesus lifts up from the ground and heals (Mark 9:14-29)
- The little girl they are already mourning when Jesus utters, “Talitha Cum” (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43)
- The story of Lazarus who is in the grave when Jesus unbinds him (John 11)
- Even Jesus, himself, who is resurrected following his crucifixion
God seems to define death in a bigger way than we do. The Bible emphasizes that God is stronger and bigger than death and that what God wants alive will be alive.
What I do believe, though, is that the church is changing. And I believe that the church should be changing. To be living is to be changing. Change is really the only stability we have at present.
One of the comments from Evans’ book that has stayed with me is this: “As nearly every denomination in the United States is facing declining membership and waning influence, Christians may need to get used to the idea of measuring our significance by something other than money, fame or power.”
So, the obvious question for our Wednesday gathering was, how do we measure our significance? And please note the word to focus on is significance, not success.
One wise person quickly stated that we should all note that nowhere in the Bible did Jesus or the early church ever measure something by money, fame or power. Another simply said, “What we do, we can’t measure.”
I continued to struggle with how to assess our ministries. I don’t know that I am a person who can just give up some sort of measurement or evaluation.
Recently, in another book I’m reading on creativity, I found the answer to the question: “You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your success or failures.”
The true measure of the church has nothing to do with numbers, money, fame or any of the systems with which we are used to measuring. The true measure of the church is if we are being faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And that is a much tougher calling than just increasing the numbers.
As one of my favorite leadership teachers, Ed Catmull of Pixar Studios, wisely stated: “Measure what you can, evaluate what you measure, and appreciate that you cannot measure the vast majority of what you do.”
So, the question we should be asking as individual Christians and as communities of faith is: “Are we being faithful to the call of Jesus Christ and how are we helping our church to be faithful to our call?”