I think the Christian church in America is in trouble.
While statistics always have variants, many show that some denominations are in dramatic decline while others, at best, are stagnant.
The reality is we may never know exactly why this is the case. If we don’t make any changes, however, I fear that in another generation or two Christianity in America could become a cultural relic of the past that holds very little significance in the present.
One of the problems I believe we are dealing with is that over the course of time, some lies have crept into our faith. Slowly, subtly, we grow to accept and believe them as if they are Gospel-truth. Give it enough time, and the entire group treats them as if they are Gospel-truth.
I believe these lies are part of what is killing the church.
While there are probably far more lies than I could ever imagine or identify, I’m going to be blogging my way through lies that I think are killing the church today. Here is the first, and perhaps one of the most deadly lies so much of the church believes:
LIE: Church is something you do on Sundays.
That thing you attend on Sundays? That’s not church– that’s a corporate worship service, and they are not the same thing. It is part of the thing, but not the thing itself.
Church wasn’t originally about corporate worship as much as it was about doing life together. It’s about community. Helping one another. Walking together through all of life’s ups and downs. In fact, the early church was so dedicated to this that they practically met daily– they needed each other.
They shared meals together. They prayed together. They talked about their days, celebrated in the beautiful moments, and uplifted one another during the hard moments. They were inseparable friends, because Church was designed to be a committed community.
In this way, “church” has nothing to do with a building, very little to do with a worship service on Sundays, but is actually more about having a circle of committed friends who are dedicated to walking through life, together. It’s about having a group of people in your life who you know will never leave you stranded and alone, no matter how hard life gets, or how badly you screw up.
But that’s not what we see in American culture today– at least, that is not the typical expression of church in America.
America today is an individualistic culture. We pride ourselves on individualism and self-reliance. We live lives that are very isolated from one another.
That is the opposite of church. Many Christians, dare I say most Christians in America, have bought into the cultural value of individualism and thus have no perceived need to be church or to do church, beyond something we do on Sundays.
For those of us who actually do crave church, we often struggle to find a circle of committed friends who are willing to commit to walking through life together and never leaving us stranded when life gets hard.
Occasionally we get a taste of this– we find groups that at least seem like they want to be community and do life together– but then find ourselves pushed out, left behind, emotionally abandoned, or sometimes outright shunned.
And truthfully? That’s more traumatic than never finding community in the first place.
In my case, it’s usually been because of Guns n’ Gays (shunning one but welcoming the other), but the reality is, many communities are formed around a commitment to shared belief and ideological purity, instead of a commitment to relationship. When the beliefs begin to shift or come into doubt, the commitment to actually being church ends and the relationships are severed.
If the church in America is to survive, we must repent of the lie that church is something that you do on Sundays.
That’s not church at all.
Church is having a group of committed friends who do life with you and won’t walk out on you when the going gets tough, or when you begin to ask questions about what you believe and why.
I pray, from the deepest parts of my heart, that true Church will come to America.
I desire this for so many reasons, form the theological to the practical.
But mostly, I pray for the Church to come to America because I ache for it and would really like to experience it.
Two thumbs up.
We need to focus on learning how to live with those who are different from us in the “church” rather than focusing on the differences themselves. For real “church” to happen not only do we need more genuine community, but we also need more unity beyond propositional truth claims that only, ultimately, make us more and more tribal — more sectarian.
Question; can you have a community of people – family and friends – that give you that sort of support, that share your life, that help you with life’s bumps and that you help when they are down, but not share belief? Can we agree to disagree on some things and still be a close community? Can we accept in community people who believe differently?
I’m working on this. I don’t know yet. I imagine sharing belief helps, but it seems to be a two-edged sword. Belief draws people closer, but if someone changes their beliefs, it shatters the bond. Likewise, groups focused on belief seem to narrow, demanding more and more conformity over time.
I guess I really hope people can form what Dr. Corey calls church without uniformity of belief – since I very much doubt I’ll ever find a group that shares my beliefs totally. I’m sort of a sect of one….
The answers to your questions is Yes. Love and caring is always love and caring and will produce the same result regardless the community. No doctrine or theology can change that fact. If anything, doctrine and theology are often impediments to the practice of love and caring in a community.
I like the idea, but when a core belief is that only your core beliefs are correct and relevant, the answer is unfortunately that we cannot we accept in community people who believe differently. I do not mean to say that you believe this way, but in general that is what isolated the church (and of course denominations of the church)
I’m curious to why you think that is?
Absolutely you can, our group does it every week. There are a wide variety of beliefs and backgrounds amongst us.
Our Sunday morning worship group (no building, no budget, no paid staff) came up with this, adapted from Michael Morwood:
We open our minds and hearts to the present-ness of God-in-us,
the Source and Sustainer of all that exists.
We value each other and seek to be an inclusive community
in which every member is given full justice, dignity, and respect.
We give thanks for the insights we gain from people of
various times, places, cultures and religions whose lives have been characterized by gratitude, compassion, generosity and forgiveness.
We seek to be sensitive to the lure of God in all aspects of our personal life, and open to discovering new hopes and dreams for our lives together.
We will do this in solidarity with one another, through our communal worship,
through our spiritual journey, through faithful action in our community
and in honest fellowship with each other.
Thus we commit ourselves to deepen our experience of God’s
present-ness within and around us.
Therefore we commit ourselves to the Gathering House,
for we believe it is with and through each other
that we have been called to serve.
May God-in-us find generous and courageous expression
in our words and actions as we undertake to make
the reign of God evident in our world.
Rollie, so, you do know the presence of the Spirit of truth after all?
As an atheist this strikes me on how broad and inclusive this statement is. I attend an atheist meetup group that kind of acts like this — so, I attend church now? The last time I’ve actually been to a church was to attend my grandfather’s funeral.
Not that I’m claiming creating this community is a bad idea (quite the opposite, actually), but I’d object to calling it a church.
The church, Biblically, is the body of Christ. It’s the whole group of believers on earth. It is also referred to as the specific groups of believers in certain areas (like the church at Philippi).
And sometimes I object to calling the meetup of my mystic friends on Sunday ‘church’.
I’m pretty sure Mr. Corey is referring to a group of committed Christian friends. I think he’s assuming his readers know he’s talking about Christians, because he’s a Christian and writes about Christianity.
But you can’t really kill the church, can you? Your really talking about the reduction of the weekly church attendance or those who identify as Christian. There are many issues contributing to this, which sounds like what you are addressing. But overall for the life of the Church, this may be a good thing. Perhaps a refining is taking place, though the process is difficult and ugly. I would rather have a smaller, more pure church than a large hypocritical one.
I agree, the church is much more the community of believers than it is the building or meeting on Sunday.
I would clarify that, though, that what you call “ideological purity” has been part of the real church since the times of the apostles. There are multiple passages about putting out false teachers and being careful to stick to the teachings given to the church.
The churches shrinking the most are those which have tried to adapt to the culture around us, the progressive mainline churches.
The right has to examine their thought process of a “literal” reading of the Bible while the left needs to examine their practice of sometimes adapting too much to the surrounding culture (although I would also argue that the right often looks like the culture too, albeit in a different way).
There are problems on both sides, yet they both need each other I think in order to get a better picture of the overall truth.
Of course we have ideological purity…..
That’s why we have 5734589034785095813683419068534950 denominations……
Those churches which are growing have nothing to do with theology but everything to do with a rock concert.
The Protestant Reformation was an effort to get the Christian church back on track as far as its mission and teachings of the Bible. The Roman Catholic church had over the centuries became a heavy laden, bureaucratic, cruel organization that was far from the original church of Acts. Martin Luther (“Sola Scriptura“), John Calvin, and King Henry the VIII (“Defender of the Faith”) were the giants of Protestantism and worked to restore the church to the right path. They were committed to the church when it came to God’s word and Biblical authority.
In each church are the members, the priesthood of believers, “little priests” as Luther called them.
Today’s mainline denominations have similarly fallen away from the church’s mission. They have embraced cultural popularity and modern psychology. Most of the denominations today are in a total state of collapse. Look at the web pages of the NCC (National Council of Churches in Christ). Most of it is politics instead of the Gospel. Now the NCC is involved in some worthy Christian causes. But the main focus and task of the NCC, Christian denominations, bishops, pastors elders, deacons, and all church members is the spread of the Gospel: bringing people to Jesus.
Okay, but a Christian community is still Christian… what happens if someone becomes an atheist or converts to another religion? Now they’re in trouble because either (1) they have to leave this close-knit community they’ve been a part of or (2) the community has to be open to letting non-Christians be a part which is difficult if the main gatherings are centered around the Bible and singing songs that non-Christians no longer believe or (3) the non-Christian has to hide or downplay their change in beliefs.
This is why I don’t think Christianity can work in the long term. Because in spite of trying to be inclusive, they’re still exclusive by definition.
But trying to find a close knit community (of any sort) is difficult in an individualistic America. In theory, a group that was committed to shared values is much more stable. But even values can change. So I’m not really sure what the answer is.
Perhaps a basic commitment of some sort to try to live according to reality (what is) and try to minimize harm and increase flourishing in the world (what ought to be). I don’t know if that’s enough.
“what happens if someone becomes an atheist or converts to another religion?” 1. 2. 3…
I’m not sure 1, 2, 3, are in play if the beginning premise is openness to start with. Our group has Christians, Buddhists, Druids, Native American Spirituality, agnostics, anyone and everyone is welcomed ,loved, and supported. We find amazing commonality through the Creator/God/YHWH/Ground of Being/etc. Twelve to 20 people in a circle on Sunday morning. Led by a retired pastor, seminary professor, and writer. It is a wonderful experience.
I’m not sure why you think that Christianity can’t work in the long term, though I guess it depends on what you mean by “work.” Obviously, any group organized around specific tenets or shared interests is going to feel exclusive to people who don’t share those tenets or interests. I wouldn’t feel comfortable joining a NY Yankees fan club as I’m not a fan of the Yankees (or feel comfortable remaining in the group if I realized I just don’t care that much about the Yankees). That doesn’t mean the fan club isn’t working though, or won’t work long-term.
Yes! Yes!! Yes!!! This is why I am part of my church.
Christ spoke with a seeming pride of belonging as the Son of Man. How many Christians today speak with a seeming pride of belonging as the child of Man, before claiming to be a child of God, as Jesus did?
If we do because we value our self, our family, our “church”, and/or our nation more than our whole specie, which we believe was made in the image of God, how can we insist that we are congregating together in the image of Jesus?
Jesus historically went to many different communities to sit, eat, play and sleep with any who, in obvious respect for His presentation of Man, were not Jewish; His church of membership. Jesus was, by all available records, more disagreeable to His church family than His family of Man.
1 John 4:19-21 (NIV2011)
We must be able to love all our sisters and brothers of the family of Man (all born of the water from their mother’s womb) who we can see as us, one mankind, before we can love all our sisters and brothers of God (all born of the Spirit) who we can see only in the Spirit as us, one God.
I have read through the previous comments to know that there are those of us here who are in the Spirit, like was Christ. Some here I have argued with as did Jesus and His disciples on the path to realizing their love of Man and God as one a finite family body united and the other an infinite body united. We cannot permanently unite as one body by the bond of logical contract but we can unite by the bond of emotional love so strong that we would die for each body to live.
Scribes have changed the wording, intentionally or unintentionally, of the Bible throughout its history from its very beginning. Jesus was a functionally illiterate Jewish carpenter. Jesus is the Rabbi of the truth that exceeds all languages dependent upon words. The word of God can always be recognized be each member of Man by the sharing in the value of love for an other. The word of God can never acceptable to all if left to the interpretation of a nation’s language of words. Each differing Christian sect (corporate church) throughout the world today will die on the words defining their religious beliefs. Jesus’ church will survive and prosper for all of Man who value all of Man more than self.
For those who claim Christianity as their special church this can be summed up today in:
Matthew 10:39 (NIV2011)
I found my life in the Spirit of Christ before I lost my physical life. The life I lost was the life which had valued any of Man as more important to God than all of Man. We who only know earth while in the Spirit have only two distinct families to love with our all as does Jesus in heaven; our finite family of Man with our infinite family of God.
Go out to meet, bound in love and faith in our Father, with all of Man who invites us to share in work, study, play, meals, and rest; then we can consider that we are growing more Christlike. If bound by any written charter of doctrine that considers ourselves a family separate from our sisters and brothers of mankind then we are bound to wither on our separate vine from the Spirit of Christ Jesus.
So true. So many of us think of church as a building we meet in once a week. Thanks for pointing out that it is so much more. Church is a community of people living daily through the Spirit and caring for one another. It is so sad that true community is so hard to find, especially here in the USA.
You want a community then go and stay at a monastery or convent for a while, anything from a few days to several months. I worship daily at a monastery and have seen how many come here (Ireland) to spend the summer, go home, sell everything up and return for good. My local monastery is growing faster than they can house the novices. This year they even have a 17 year old (with parental permission) who has promised to do at least a year at university before returning. He will return, there are 2 more here for summer this year that I suspect will stay on when autumn arrives, both from overseas. Ages range from 17 to 68 years amongst the possible postulants. Many of the novices (now numbering 10) are in their late 20s and early 30s and they all say the same thing. They have found the missing part of their lives. No matter if you are catholic or not (and I wasn’t) visit a convent or monastery (there are quite a few in the US) for a stay, usually you pay what you can afford and expect to help out around the grounds or building to help pay your way. You will discover the sense of community you are seeking. This is how the church started, groups of like-minded people living together. That is how St. Benedict started out, read his rule. You may be surprised at what you find, equally you might hate it and return to your daily Sunday ‘worship’ with relief.
Church on Sundays? Look at the person; what they do, who they support, how they live and their relationships with others. That is their Church. It is what they believe and what they give their focus to, not the get-together on Sunday. That’s just a social event.
Great points. Going to worship on Sundays is something a church congregation does, but it can’t be the only time that members of that community come together (and adding a mid-week Bible study isn’t enough).
I read somewhere, years ago, that we need the kind of community we had with our dope smoking friends. I get it. I look forward to this series. I’ve struggled with being church and going to church. We need a hybrid.