The evidence is clear that the church in America is in spiritual, moral and numerical decline. Since the Second Great Awakening (1800-1830) we have not seen decreases like those we now see in the American Church. The church seems to have become a dysfunctional family with little or no impact. God’s solution is found in the prayer that Jesus prayed in John 17. It is that we would be united in Christ, and that thereby we would advance his mission. Christ’s call to all churches and Christians is to embrace this apologetic of love, because only by this means may people know that God the Father is real.
Please prayerfully consider what is presented in these few pages, especially in light of how God has called you to serve Him in His Kingdom.
The Root Problem: Since World War II we have witnessed the most radical transformation in cultural values in recorded history. Some believe the catalyst for this change came in the 1960’s in the Vietnam antiwar movement, the popularization of recreational drugs, the widespread introduction of birth control and the “sexual freedoms” it enabled, the liberalization of the media, and the rapid expansion and misuse of burgeoning entertainment technologies from television to the Internet. I suggest that a more profound cause for this change has been missed by most social analysts. That root cause is spiritual atrophy, a profound failure of the people of God to live as real disciples, which has in turn fostered a wider cultural drift. Christians have lost personal intimacy with our Lord and become salt without savor and light hidden under baskets. The tragic result is a crippling loss of unity among His people.
The Resulting Paradigm: Christians are living as though they aren’t. Sadly, most professing Christians have become “normal,” living lives largely indistinguishable from the world. Others have withdrawn into a cocoon of legalism, a safe haven of denominational isolation. The world watches as Christians battle each other over peripheral issues and split churches over matters of preference. Too often when we do venture into the public arena, it is to tell the truth, but without love and without the kind of meaningful engagement that serves the practical needs of those to whom we minister. This is simply not God’s will or His way. Because of this we have lost the power of our story…HIS story!
Observant believers, sensing that something is truly amiss, have embraced various forms of experimentation in search of a formula to stem the secular tide. We have created contemporary formats that attempt to make church services more understandable to the un-churched. Programs have been reengineered to more aptly address “perceived needs”—e.g. parenting, personal finances, marriage counseling, etc. Small groups have been commissioned and deployed like SWAT teams. Some have even renounced the institutional church altogether, returning to new forms of the house church, or simply dropping out in increasing numbers. While well intentioned and sometimes even laudable, something essential is missing—and the facts reflect it. Attendance declines accelerate with every passing year, but even more alarming in our churches is the measured shift away from a Biblical worldview. Fewer and fewer Christians consider their relationship to Christ to truly be the highest priority in their life.
The Real Predicament: Even these gloomy facts fall short of capturing the full impact of these last five decades of decline—the precipitous drop in believers among our children. One study shows the professing population among youth has fallen from 65% in the pre–war generation to only 4% today. It is therefore no surprise that 85% of all church giving comes from donors 55 and older. Apart from a renewing work of the Spirit of God, the spiritual landscape of America will look like more like Christian-indifferent France in the space of only a few more decades.
Few contest these facts. Some say that this is God’s judgment. Others look to His second coming to resolve the dilemma. But most appear too consumed by the busyness of life to notice that our churches have lost sight of Christ’s call to be light and salt in a dark and decaying world.
The Lord’s Solution: A lifetime of study and pastoral experience has clearly shown me that the solution is profoundly simple. We must restore unity in Christ’s mission. The church must again unite together to advance His clearly stated purpose that—we both be and make real disciples. I call this solution missional-ecumenism. These two words put together describe God’s plan for the healing of His church. This term expresses the deep longing in many hearts and in thousands of today’s younger leaders—to see a new day dawn of equipping new leaders and of being steadfast in prayer for the renewing winds of the Holy Spirit to blow across our churches.
Tomorrow: How ACT 3 will respond to this present crisis in the church in North America.