I heard a statistic a few weeks ago that I cannot get out of my head. A friend told me that 85% of the growth of any new church could be accounted for by people leaving one church and moving to another. I do not know his source for this number, but it sounds about right doesn’t it?
Here is why it bothered me:
It doesn’t bother me that Christians move from one church to another - that is going to happen.
It doesn’t bother me that churches would look at that kind of movement as “growth” - it is always hard for a pastor to know how to gage a win. Numbers are the most obvious way to measure.
What bothers me is how few NEW BELIEVERS there are. Where are the converts? Where are those being drawn to Christ? There has been much made of the whole “people love Jesus but hate the church” idea. I think the real problem is that the Church and the world do not understand one another. Much of the church is busy trying to look, sound, and act like the world. Much of the World is trying to stay away from people that make them feel guilty about themselves. As I think about who the church is supposed to be and what we are supposed to do I arrive at three realities that only the church can give, and that the world desperately desires.
- Acceptance - People want to feel like a part of a community. All people want to belong. Identity comes from acceptance. I have seen teenagers completely change everything about themselves from the clothes they wear, the hairstyles, the music they listen to, you name it and all out of an (often unconscious) effort to belong to a group. In most cases the acceptance comes first and the change comes later. Once they feel a part they begin to conform. It is the acceptance that gives them an inner identity that is then manifested in outward behaviors. Those behaviors by the way are never REQUIRED by the group and most aren’t taught or talked about. The behaviors that mark any particular group are CAUGHT, assumed, and acknowledged.
Is the church ready to operate this way? To accept people BEFORE they change? Isn’t that what Jesus did for us? To put our arms around someone without that, “I love you but…” shoe about to drop?
- Wisdom - We live in a generation that is tired of morality. We have no use for “right and wrong”. This is patently obvious in every manifestation of our culture. Our super heroes are fighting each other, our super villains are, all of a sudden, the good guys. This age is not interested in cut and dry black and white understandings of what a person should or should not do. I know a lot of pastors mourn this fact but I don’t find that helpful whatsoever. Every generation has its nuances this is just one of ours. The question is HOW TO SPEAK TRUTH in a generation who “doesn’t believe in truth”.
I believe the answer is to talk about what WORKS. This generation may not believe in “truth” per se, but they LOVE an article on “tips on how to do ____” they talk endlessly about efficiency and "life hacking". The Bible has a word for that stuff. It’s called WISDOM. People may not want to hear what you have to say about what is right or wrong, but the desire for wisdom is persistent and pervasive. This generation desires a righteousness that is about doing things that work. Thankfully God’s wisdom for the human life works REALLY well. When we can talk to people about how to succeed at friendship, marriage, parenthood, and yes even WORK all directly out of God’s word they will listen even if they do not know the source.
- Hope - This is the most crucial one. When I talk to people who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ one of the first things I realize is how hopeless they are. They have deep desires, unexplainable longings, and an unshakable sense that they are living a life without purpose and that there is nothing they can do about it. They go long seasons where they are able to drown out, numb, or deny that feeling, but it never really goes away and they know it. They go to incredible lengths and pay incredible costs just to feel OK. Fear, anger, and anxiety are the real epidemics of this age.
We have honest to goodness HOPE to offer. Not the empty promises of a crooked politician or the slick enticements of the ubiquitous advertisers. This is real hope. Hope that life can be different than it is now. Hope that human existence is not meaningless or coincidence. Hope that someone is listening when we cry out. Hope that we are NOT ALONE. Hope that even death itself is not something to be afraid of. This hope does not dismiss or downplay the real suffering and difficulty
As I write these paragraphs I am beginning to think that the church needs these three things as much as the world. We need acceptance, we desire wisdom and we have to be a people of hope....
Here’s radical idea. Why don’t we let the world, and our fellow Christ followers for that matter, know the truth. We aren’t getting it right either. We are hurting. We feel alone. We despair sometimes. Jesus is the only thing that is helping us, and we think maybe He can help you too. Maybe that’s what the lost are waiting to hear. “Let’s go to Jesus and get better together."