370: No, Your Church is Not The Church
Between Twitter and Facebook, I see a lot of posts about what’s wrong with the American church.
I’m not talking about the insightful studies by the Pew Research Center or the Fuller Youth Institute. The critics are not church consultants or itinerant performers like John Crist—people who can see trends as they visit scores of assemblies across varied denominations. No, the pronouncers come from the ranks of everyday church-goers.
My internal response has continually been:
“How many churches have you visited?”
“In how many congregations have you served?”
“How do you know what’s going on at other churches?”
Those rhetorical questions are why I can’t speak to any trends, either. I’ve lived in eight states and have been a regular attendee at only ten churches over the past four decades. My wife and I have contributed to our current church for longer than a decade. In fact, she’s now on staff there. While we’ve visited dozens of churches over the years, our sample size is minuscule in light of the 350,000 congregations across the country.
The same holds true of the social media indicters; but that doesn’t stop them from making public denouncements, which fall into one of two types of posts. The first are real stories that expose political, hypocritical, or inauthentic Christians (usually high-profile leaders). While uncomfortable to read and unflattering to the church, there’s benefit in these sins being brought out into the sunlight. The second theme has been false dichotomies.
According to these judges, a church can be only on one side of a spectrum. They can practice introspective liturgy or expressive, contemporary worship. Congregations can excel at creative arts or compassion outreaches, gourmet coffee or authentic community, cultural relevance or convicting sermons. You can have YouVersion events or church discipline, smoke machines or foster parent support groups, professional-grade musicians or trained counselors. You just can’t have both.
As an example, one of my Facebook connections recently posted a blog pitting churches with coffee bars against those with homeless outreaches. He didn’t speak for my church that serves gourmet coffee from multiple countries and has opened its building during winter cold snaps to the homeless and displaced elderly.
Apparently, my church is a unicorn. But how does my social media acquaintance know that? How do I know that? We don’t.
Neither do you.
One thing we can all be a part of, though, is the remedy for whatever we feel ails our local church or even the global Church. Few of us will impact multiple churches. None of us will change the American church as we know it. We can, however, follow Mother Teresa’s call to “help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”
We can help the church we call home. We can bring it more art and more liturgy, more truth and more compassion, more relevancy and more introspection. That can be accomplished officially, working through sometimes-difficult conversations with church leadership to add or modify environments. That can happen individually, contributing to the kingdom through outreaches beyond the purview of our local congregation. That can develop relationally, building connections between churches of like beliefs but different expressions.
One benefit of this approach is that we’ll get too occupied to complain about religious trends. When we are fully engaged on behalf of the gospel, we’ll struggle with bigger questions than whether our perspective spells church with or without a capital C. When we focus on the good that unites us, we’ll be all that’s right with our global faith community.
Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.
Insert image provided with permission from Andrew Hunt of Blue Ridge Community Church.