The church The Burner attends was down to 10 people in the 1980s. The average age was “old.” The church was ineffective, and the church was dying.
Now, the church has four services and a vibrant community service ministry. How did this happen?
They let go. They admitted failure–but only as in, ‘the way it’s always been done isn’t producing fruit anymore.’
The original remnant of the congregation, the Greatest Generation, knew that they would have to let go of their long-held notions of what the church should be and bring in a new pastor with a new direction.
The Church in America is now what TB’s church was 30 years ago.
From this article in the Atlantic:
First, partisan religion is killing American Christianity. The American church is declining by nearly every data point. Christians are exerting less influence over the culture than even a few years ago, organized religion no longer garners the respect of the masses, and two in three young non-Christians claim they perceive the Christian church as “too political.” Church attendance is declining, and the percentage of Americans claiming no religious affiliation is rising.
As sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell argue, the church’s partisan political alignment is at least partly to blame. In a recent article in Foreign Affairs they write, “In effect, Americans (especially young Americans) who might otherwise attend religious services are saying, ‘Well, if religion is just about conservative politics, then I’m outta here.’”
The question we must now answer is not, “Can we save this nation?” but “Can we save our faith?” And the only way it seems we will be able to do the latter is through abandoning the partisan, divisive strategies adopted by the Christian right and begin engaging the public again in more prudent ways.
Second, we learned that partisan Christianity cannot effectively change our culture. When the religious right formed, conservative Christians were energized around restricting abortion and same-sex marriage, reducing the size of government, and protecting religious freedom. More than a quarter-century later, these same debates innervate the movement. Little progress has been made despite their best efforts, and an increasing number of individuals now recognize the religious right strategy has largely been a failure. The irony of this turn of events is that Christians above all others know that true change must occur in hearts — not just the halls of power.
More than a decade after my first meeting with Jerry Falwell, I realize that the preacher was and is not alone in his approach to faith, politics, and culture. Many Christians believe our country is at a critical point in its history, and the responsibility to act rests on the religious community. So strong are these feelings that Christians have devoted a considerable amount of time and ministry resources to fighting the culture wars. This effort has failed to achieve the goals it set out to accomplish and has repelled an entire generation in the process.
It’s time for the Church in America to admit failure, hang our heads in humility, and start again on a new track.
Let’s let go.