Crossroads.

We all encounter them along life’s way on any number of platforms:  business; marriage; education.  If we’re alive it means we’ll arrive at crossroads, and then choose which way to turn.

Actor Matthew Perry recently offered this assessment of reaching a crossroad in his life.  He said, “There are two ways to go when you hit that crossroads in your life: There is the bad way, when you sort of give up, and then there is the really hard way, when you fight back. I went the hard way and came out of it okay. Now, I’m sitting here and doing great.”

Last year, Conference Minister, Franz Riegert told us that the church is again at a once-in-every-500-year crossroads during which the church—with an assist from the Holy Spirit—refashions itself in ways that require the faithful to think differently about being Christ’s body in the world.  The question is, are we going to “sort of give up,” or will we take the difficult path that requires us to fight for Christ and his cause in the world?

In order to figure out how to move forward and fight the good fight of faith, let’s consider what’s besieging the church and impacting its life and ministry.

Church attendance is down across the board.  People just don’t attend like they used to.  And if people aren’t attending, how can community be built and the Gospel proclaimed?  Is there a way that churches can “pack ‘em in” like they did back in the 1950’s and 60’s?  Perhaps, if we could turn back the hands of time, but our world is different than it was 60-70 years ago.

Author David Murrow writes about these differences in a posting on the 6 Seeds website in an article entitled, “Why is Church Attendance Declining–Even Among Committed Christians.  He offers the following reasons:

Social expectation and pressures have lightened. People used to live their lives according to social convention. Those who strayed from accepted norms were ostracized and shamed. Churches used this power to “guilt” people into a variety of behaviors, including weekly church attendance. Obviously this doesn’t work anymore.

 “Church is no longer the best show in town. For centuries, Sunday morning was an entertainment desert. Shops were closed. Sports commenced at noon. There was no cable TV or video games. Church was literally the only thing happening on Sunday morning – so people went. Sunday now presents lots of attractive options and everyone – including Christians – is taking advantage.

 “Increased mobility. People travel as never before, so more and more churchgoers find themselves out of town on Sunday. Relatively few see the need to visit a nearby church.

 “Weekend work. Blue laws used to keep businesses shuttered on Sunday. Now many people work on the Sabbath, which makes attendance difficult or impossible.

 “People need a day of rest. For stressed-out couples Sunday may be the only pajama morning of the week. Can we blame families for wanting a little downtime with each other? After all, aren’t we supposed to take a Sabbath?

 “The rise of do-it-yourself Christianity. The Internet and various media offerings allow believers to tailor a spiritual life to their own liking. They get Christianity without the challenge of having to interact with other Christians.

 “The expectation of choice. Modern Americans are used to getting exactly what they want. Amazon.com offers more than 200 million items. Petco sells more than 100 varieties of dog food. Christians shop for pastors they connect with. Megachurch attenders often have favorite teaching pastors – and will skip a Sunday if “the other guy” is preaching.

 “The most faithful saints are burning out. I know a number of very committed Christians who no longer attend – or do so sporadically – because their churches worked them so hard in the past.

 “Churches increasingly model individuality in weekly worship and teaching. We’ve trained people to pursue Christ on their own – so that’s what they’re doing.”

Furthermore, mid-sized churches with memberships between 100 and 299, have seen members move on to other, larger congregations.  The Northbrooks and Kettlebrooks are congregations that are built around small group ministries, so people can find more variety in worship, study, service and fellowship while still knowing others in the congregation—and knowing them well.

Many folks are attracted to these larger churches and their many ministry offerings because the congregation’s culture matches the society’s consumer culture—where the expectation is that there will be all kinds of ministry “products” from which to choose.

Mid-sized churches, like congregations across the board, have also seen a decline in membership and attendance of Millennials, those who’ve become adults around 2000, or those born between 1982 and 2004.  So many have fled the church, there’s conversation, across denomination lines, about this generation being lost to the church and the faith.

So what’s a local congregation like Faith to do to “fight back” at this crossroads?  Please let me offer a few thoughts for your consideration and prayer:

  • We “fight forward” into God’s future. The rules for “being church” cannot be the same as they were 50 or more years ago.  Sure it’s frightening to consider or envision what God is calling the church to be, because it’s God’s future, and it’s unfamiliar—or unknown–to us.  Loosening the grip on some traditions may be necessary while we hold tight to the foundations of the faith.  Standing on the rock-solid foundation of Christ our Lord, God our Creator, will always be our best bet.  Relying on the Holy Spirit will reveal God’s direction and call.
  • Learn more about those who don’t know Christ or have rejected Christ and the church. Understanding their desires, hopes, and dreams will allow the church to minister to and with them.  To understand more about Millennials, I invite you to read the article, 12 Reasons Millennials are OVER Church, which is included in this newsletter.  It’s written by a church-going millennial who identifies challenges and opportunities for ministry.
  • Regain the evangelistic, outreach, focus that has, through the centuries, brought people to Christ. President of the Bridgeleader Network and senior pastor and founder of Bridgeway Community Church, Columbia, MD, David Anderson, says the mid-sized church needs to drop the “club mentality” it has developed over the years, and meet people where they are, establishing relationships, working to serve them and meeting their needs, so they might see Christ through the efforts of those already in the fold.

In these crossroads days at Faith, may we all join in fighting forward, first by praying for God’s direction, and then by answering God’s specific call to each of us, so Christ’s kingdom may be built and others might come to know the joy of living in relationship with Christ.