28 April 2010

Saving the Local Church

My local church leadership is in a bit of a quandry right now- they are aware of the changes in demographics in the community and aware of the drop in numbers over the last few years at the church.  The question then is, "What do we do about it?"

Even asking the question is full of pitfalls.  When we talk about the culture and the church, and how they do/should intermingle, we bring multiple perspectives into play, and many time folks end up arguing points without having any agreement on what terms mean or where the focus should be in making changes.

Our church does not seem to have any agreement on some basic building blocks from which to create a plan for dealing with the negative changes.  For example, do we believe in a regenerate worship, or an evangelical worship?  It seems that we need to establish that fact before we start talking about how to engage our local community.  And, where do we believe the emphasis comes from in moving the lost toward the cross...is it from common grace that God gives all to be able to come to Christ, or is it from saving grace God gives to the elect that brings them to Christ?  I don't see how we can come up with a plan to evangelize our city until we agree (at least in principle) on that belief.

These are hard questions.  There are sincere believers on both sides of the above arguments, and getting all these to an accord on these important questions is daunting.  I was speaking to the pastor this past Sunday about one parallel issue, age-segregation.  It seems, based on comments in the meetings we've had, that one of the few things almost everybody agrees on  is that we want age-segregation to stop in our church.  Yet, the solution to that is seemingly unobtainable.  We have two vastly different worship styles in our two main services (contemporary and traditional), and the median ages in the two services are probably close to 40 years (an entire generation) apart.  We have age-graded Sunday School, separate worship services for our children and college students, separate ministers dedicated to age-delimited groups (youth, college, senior adults), and so on.  In other words, the entire church is built around age-segregation.  It would appear we need to dismantle most of the church's structure to get away from age-segregation.  That's not an easy task.

My point of emphasis that I've tried to say in multiple ways through this process is, we need to change the methods to reach our culture, but we cannot change the message of the gospel.  The gospel itself is our true relevance to the culture around us, not our ability to look like the culture around us, or relate to its participants.  This is one facet that I hope we have enough wisdom to cement into place as we look for ways to reach our culture for Christ.

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