Is Going to Church Out of Style?

Church membership and attendance is on the decline.

It has been for several decades. Is attending church out of fashion for the online generations? Have we overbooked and overworked everyone, with no clear 9-5 boundary anymore? Weekends (including Sundays) have turned into safety zones for family and retreat?

Our world will never cease to change as technology evolves, social life fractures and capitalism dominates more of our choices. So, is the future of the church in jeopardy?

The church, the Body of Christ, is not going to become a fashion victim. The ways that we carry out its functions probably will. As people and the way we live change, so too will our methods of ministry. But church isn’t going out of business because it has an eternal purpose.

Here’s what Anglican Bishop and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright believes about the church:

“The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world … The church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is all part of what is known loosely as fellowship.” ― N.T. Wright

There aren’t any other social organizations fulfilling these essential tasks. Here’s my list I’d like to add to answer the question, Why Do We Need The Church?

  1. It is a place to become yourself
    We become more and more real as we experience transformation. The church is the one place where we can see who we really are and be changed. It’s a gathering of those who are living out a brand new life because of following Christ – as disciples. Our true self is emerging when we are a part of God’s church. Your local church is a place that challenges you and allows you to experience transformation in all areas of your new life.
  2. It is a place to suffer
    When we do suffer, and all of us surely will, we need others with us as we navigate those treacherous waters. Christians find eternal meaning in the suffering they experience. A large part of this meaning is experienced together as the Church when others help to share our burdens of fear, worry and pain. God cares for our every need through the actions of the church.  We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.” – 2 Corinthians 1:7
  3. It is a place to make sacrifices
    Once you’re a part of a church you quickly learn that it’s not really about you anymore. A church is a place where people come together and make sacrifices of their resources, time, efforts and even their will. It’s not what I want or what I think is best, but what others need. The sacrifice of your will is going to be the most difficult you will make. It takes much practice.“Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
  4. It is a place to grow up
    Literally and figuratively we mature in this body of faith. The church has a schedule filled with activities for every age group. It is an essential “agent of socialization” into the Christian faith. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” (1 Corinthians 13:11-12)
  5. It is a place to become more and more like Christ
    This is the direction we head as we die to ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. When John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to his own followers he said, “He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:30). The church is the gathering of people who will love us in our successes and failures as we journey toward Christlikeness. This is where we come to learn, to grow and to see firsthand the great mission we are called to follow.
  6. It is a place to worship, pray, serve and give, together
    When we come to church we do something different. We are challenged to act, think and to imagine a different way of living. The world outside we’ve made for ourselves is increasingly oriented toward the individual, helping to make us successful and less obligated to others. Our life within the church contradicts this alien culture with practices and beliefs that bind us together and challenges our selfish inclinations.
  7. It is a place that’s not really a place
    Usually the word “church” makes us think about a building, a location or even the distant memory of place. On my way home each day I drive past churches in traditional looking buildings with steeples, with big signs in strip shopping centers and even one located in an industrial workshop. In America, churches are located in all sorts of places.But we all know that the church isn’t really a location, it’s really a group of Christ followers. The church is bigger than a building, it’s all those people who love you no matter what. The church takes care of family, friends and strangers. It embodies love as it shares an eternal message of hope. It’s a group of people who try as hard as they can to pull away from this world and live as if there’s something bigger and better that’s eternal and means more than this life can give.

“The world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians, and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes- a time for men and women to be heroic in their faith and in spiritual character and power. The greatest danger to the Christian church today is that of pitching its message too low.” ― Dallas Willard

 

The Reconciliation

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“Go where your best prayers take you.” ― Frederick Buechner

I think what we call faith, what is our own,  is a reconciliation of two essential dimensions of our life; our lived experience and our internalized beliefs.

Our faith isn’t really a noun, it’s a verb. It’s a life-long construction process.  We fit together all that is handed down to us with the bits and pieces of our own lived experience. This faith shields us from a cruel world and an enemy out to destroy us. It makes us feel safe. It really keeps us safe.

Our lives are filled with experiences like coins in a jar. We gather formal knowledge from intentional learning (going to school, reading, watching someone else, etc.). But don’t discount the informal knowledge we gain from everyday interactions and living in the real world:

  • What about that whole menagerie of characters that we have lived and worked with during our life?
  • After those years in school and having a few jobs we start to stockpile all kinds of information about other people and about yourself.
  • Each one of us practices all those lessons and stories about God and how Christianity is supposed to be lived.

We also have beliefs that are internalized into our hearts. Beliefs about other people and the world in which we live. Some of these are from personal experiences (like the list above) but most come from our shared culture:

  • Two wrongs don’t make a right
  • When the going gets tough, the tough get going
  • Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

And of course there are our beliefs about God.

Mostly we don’t think too much about our everyday beliefs. Usually they don’t get challenged that often. Every now and then a tragedy might hit and we come face to face with taken-for-granted beliefs about “the way things are” and we see how much of a hurricane they can withstand.

As we mature and reflect, our understanding of our own experiences changes and can deepen. Our beliefs get tested and we discard those that don’t hold enough water. We cling to those that stand up over time. As time goes on and we put together more and more of our life we begin to weave a faith.

I think that’s what walking by faith means. It’s finding your way through what life hands you, your own rebellion, all the everyday experiences and building something meaningful to hang on to.

Faith is also a gift from God.

Our faith is not ours alone but great parts of it are passed on to us by significant others in our lives. Our experiences and beliefs are handed to us by others, intentionally and unintentionally. Our faith is borne up and supported during difficult times by the faith of others who come alongside us and help us travel the dark roads home.

Faith is what grows in a life that is being transformed by the work of God’s Spirit. There is a great reconciliation between our hopes and our hikes. The interaction of experience and belief brings it about. Ultimately we must walk through our faith or it’s not much use.

Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.  – Colossians 2:7