Did We Miss the Point?

Now, do not misunderstand me. I am all for open and honest dialogue. One of the reasons why I blog and read blogs is because of the wonderful opportunity they provide for just that.

And wow, ever since the Christian Chronicle reported on the decline in Church of Christ membership based upon the stats of a national directory of the Churches of Christ, the blogs- including mine- have been buzzing.

Much of the buzz has been about the exclusion in this directory of Churches of Christ now using instrumental music in a worship assembly. Much has been written about the intent of the Chronicle in their reporting or the directory in their choosing to exclude these churches. Discussions about all of this have led to other discussions about many things Church of Christ. Some have used this dialogue to even bash the church.

But I am asking, did we miss the point?

The report of declining membership is still the real issue to me- and an urgent wake-up call.

Hey, how about let’s all commit to get busy trying to win as many as possible! Maybe then we can reverse this disturbing trend.

Here are some posts dealing with this topic:

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32 Responses to Did We Miss the Point?

  1. J D says:

    Yes, we have missed the point and have been missing the point for a long time. Though it is not far away… we just … looked away.

  2. K. Rex Butts says:

    Right here is my prayer for the week. I serve in a small (50 member) congregation in Minnesota. There are numerous challenges we face to becoming a missional driven church. Two months ago, we baptized a mother who has struggled with health issues and is trying to find God in all of the carnage called life. Her husband, who has been at best reluctant to be open to the gospel, has said he would like to attend worship with his wife.

    I will not be there because I will be taking four teenage boys, three of whom have yet to committ their lives to Jesus Christ, to the Northland Spiritfest in Duluth, MN. I am praying that these four boys will leave with a bigger hunger for God than they can even imagine. One of these boys is the son of the mother who was recently baptized into Christ. Another boy is just a friend of one of the boys from church.

    But I am not prayerfully excited just in hopes that our congregation will grow. My hope is that they will come to know the Lord better than any of us know him. This is what gets me up in the morning excited about the mission of God.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  3. Karol says:

    Danny,

    We seem to have missed the point, but with awareness, we can turn our attention to this issue of the loss of our youth. Now is the time to help our children find Jesus, not just through the written word, but through relevant service. These young people are looking for authentic worship and they look to us, the older Christians need to be the example of a servant.

    We have started a program for the 3rd-6th graders, called the Cross-Trainers. We are working with these children and attempting to meet them where they are. We have issues with bullying in school, so we are addressing this issue in these classes. This program also offers service opportunities for the children to look beyond their own needs and see the importance of serving others. We are prayerful that the attention we give to meet the needs of these children will help them to discover that Jesus is real and working in their lives.

    It was good to be able to worship with ya’ll and we look forward to coming home again sometime soon. Keep up the good work. Karol

  4. dannydodd says:

    Amen to both JD and Rex.

    Thanks for your input Karol. It was great seeing you and your family back at the Gate. We miss you much.

  5. Dave Brumley says:

    We have missed the point. As I have read the comments to this point I can know that your congregations are better for it. You are seeing the problem, addressing it through Christ, changing lives, including your own through the gospel call. K Rex and Karol, you both deserve to be commended.
    Forthrigth magazine sent out this article in their newsletter today. I think a read and a sincere look at the scriptures studied in writing this would do us all some good. Here’s the link:
    http://www.forthright.net/living_the_faith/where_do_progressives_want_to_take_the_church_3.html

  6. queueball says:

    qb’s just curious to know why, per se, “declining membership in the churches of Christ” is an “urgent wake-up call” and a “disturbing trend.”

    Per se, that is.

    qb

  7. dannydodd says:

    I would be interested qb, as to why you would think any church losing membersing would not be a disturbing trend- for those within that fellowship.

  8. yes! missing the point once again. More concerned with fighting with each other over who is in or out of a book instead of talking about the tough, tough conversation of what is required to change things. Of course I can still hear in my head “that if people don’t like the way we do things then they will just have to stay lost”. Actually heard that from a pulpit.

  9. K. Rex Butts says:

    I am generally not in favor of leaving one congregation for another but for me to be a member of a local church it has to be a place that I feel confident would help lead a non-believer into faith and help nuture that person into a faithfully mature disciple of Jesus. If I heard it being said from a pulpit “that if people don’t like the way we do things then they will just have to stay lost”, I might then need to consider being a member of another congregation.

    -Rex

  10. dannydodd says:

    Rex, no doubt about it.

  11. Jim Sexton says:

    Seems to me that all of the in-fighting just makes it harder to be witnesses anywhere. Isn’t that the battle ground, out there in the world where the lost are residing?

    We spend so much time, energy, and resources getting it ‘right’ for an hour or two, one day a week… and spend virtually no time, energy, and resources on bringing the lost to Christ. Many fully expect ‘them’ to come to ‘us’… are we not supposed to be going out into the world and bringing Jesus to the lost?

    They are not going to stumble in through our doors, we need to focus, plan a course of action, and revive a passion to go out there and get the word out. The only word leaking out of too many congregations is strife, division, and internal fighting.

    We think that the mission field is ‘out there, over there, anywhere but here’ and that thinking results in fields white for the harvest standing at hand and rotting in the sun. If you cannot be missional, cannot evangelize, will not so much as cross the street to teach Jesus to the ones you see every day, who thinks we can do so across the sea?

    Has the neighborhood around you changed? Maybe it is now a low income minority (black perhaps) group that lives all around you. Has it become populated with Hispanic speakers (for example)? Have you worked to bring in someone who can work together with them and you? I know of churches that are dying in neighborhoods that have changed in these ways. Why? Not because the harvest isn’t there in front of them. No, it is largely because the unspoken thought is, “they are not of us, like us, and frankly not welcome with us.”

    Stop the fighting behind closed doors, open the doors up and go to work where Jesus did… among those of the world who hungered for what he had to offer.

    Jimbo

  12. queueball says:

    DD, you’ve reversed the question on me. You’ve assumed that declining membership is an urgent problem; why?

    On second thought, rather than keep you in suspense, I’ll go ahead and tip my hand.

    But if I were running a church that specialized in emphasizing things of relatively minor importance to the gospel that Jesus preached, it’s at least conceivable that (a) leaking membership would mean the folks were maturing in their walk (and hence dissatisfied with my church’s emphasis) and (b) I might be stimulated to re-examine the operational assumptions at my church.

    In both cases, the result would be, all things considered, salutary – with respect to Kingdom purposes, if not institutional ones.

    qb

  13. Matthew says:

    This is a good point, once again we are arguing instead of growing. Good thought on this.

    http://www.matthewmorine.com

  14. SteveLavin says:

    OK, I will probably get flamed for this comment but I kind of agree with qb. And I will admit that a few years ago I would probably have been in a panic over this trend … but now … not so much. I guess I would have to say, as my identity as a Christian increases, my fear of knowing there are fewer ‘church of Christer’s’ lessons.

    To me, the question is not, ‘Are we alarmed yet?’ but rather, ‘Why are we allowing the Ship of Christianity to sail without us?’ Church of Christer’s are squabbling over lifeboat seating and rations while the Ship of Christianity sails out of sight! Don’t get me wrong. I am part of a wonderful CofC family. But the attitude, and atmosphere, there is one of ‘mission’ and not constantly trying to define ourselves by who we are not. The elders have done a wonderful job of conveying to the body who we are and what we believe. They establish these things in one simple orientation class – before anyone even becomes a member. Those who can accept this become part of the work there and those who are more interested in pursuing a divisive agenda generally find another place of worship. (FYI, the Lost don’t bring divisive agendas!) I can’t begin to explain how this helps facilitate an atmosphere of seeking the lost! Energies end up going where they are supposed to go and, more importantly, where they are needed.

    The battles, comments, and defections I have read about the past couple of days in this blog seem as a distant memory to me. It has been more than a couple of years since I was exposed to those attitudes. Can’t say I miss that. But I am very thankful that I can still worship with members of the CofC … but without all the drama!

    This I believe: The church of Christ did not come into existence with the restoration movement and it will not cease to exist with the demise of the CofC.

  15. dannydodd says:

    Putting away all things Church of Christ for a moment. Let’s try to get a little bigger picture.

    According to the latest stats in the US Religious Landscape report that came out in 2008- all churches of any stripe (with a couple of exceptions) are leaking membership in America.

    So what we have here is not just a CoC problem.

    To me, because I want to see Churches of Christ be healthier (this is my tribe after all), and because I also want to see the growth in the broader kingdom of God- it is a concern.

  16. dannydodd says:

    To follow up- this entire trend of American churches losing membership can be seen in one of two ways:

    First, it could be seen as a result of the failures of the institutional church and a natural and even God-driven evolution away from that- back to the NT pattern of house churches and smaller groups. If this is true, then the kingdom will remain visible and relevent in our culture, but just in a different (and some would argue better) form than we have now.

    Second, it could be seen as the message of Christ losing its sway among all the other voices in our culture such as secularsim, mysticism, materialism, etc. Some point to the growing intolerence and hositility towards Christian values and teachings as proof of just this. Some also say this is a natural progression which will ultimately take us back to NT times- as in persecution- which in turn will refine us and make our commitment to the message even stronger and in the long run- rebirth a Christian revival.

    I dunno. I am a simple guy. I like to see churches excited about the message, growing and compassionately reaching those who need Christ.

  17. K. Rex Butts says:

    With some exceptions, Christianity as a whole in North America (not just Churches of Christ or the larger Restoration Movement) is on the same trajectory that Western Europe and Australia have been on. We are just lagging behind the other two continents in the decline. The problem is not just a lack of church participation. The problem is a worldview that is becoming thoroughly secular and pagan, abandoning any sense of a Christian worldview. The problem with church is that most churches (regardless of denomination/fellowship) have an ecclesiology that is more defined by christendom (including the CoC) rather than one shaped by the kingdom of God (the good news Jesus preached).

    The jury is still out on what is the precise solution. It is more complicated than just saying lets get back to the Bible, because every Protestant denomination/fellowship (including our own) has claimed to do just that and somehow we are failing now. This does not mean the church (body of Christ) is failing, because Christ’s church is thriving in other regions of the world. I am interested in the solution but it is hard to pursue that when so many within our fellowship are still convinced that whatever problems exist amount to nothing more than a little scrath that a quick band-aide will fix.

    I have found “The Shaping of Things to Come” by Alan Hircsh and Michael Frost to be really helpful. The authors are both experienced missionaries and professors of missiology. They are not interested in summerizing the latest church growth fad into a neat little one, two formula that every other church can reproduce with sucsess (because they do not believe this is possible). Their interests lies in approaching our own back yards with the same missional mind-set and principles that we would use in a place like Uganda, Brazil, or India.

    I am recommending this book not because it will offer the final solution but because I believe it will get us to start thinking in the right direction. Though the book may appear a little academic, the authors take time to explain all terms and concepts so that a reader new to the field of missions can read along.

    Reading this book helped me to see that since few non-believers our visiting our congregation, it would be pointless to have a “Friends Day” (which still operates under the christedom model of getting them to come to us rather than the missional model of going to them) and instead think about trying to get the church to cancel worship and potluck at the building, go to a local park in a local neighborhood and have our worship/fellowship their — and of course bring a lot of extra food so that we can go into the neighborhood and invite others to join us. Would this result in ministry and evangelism? Maybe so and maybe not but I believe it would give us a greater opportunity to minister and evangelize the non-believers in the local neighborhood.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  18. xybatt says:

    Let’s see…..a fellowship that preaches “grace is overrated”, “we don’t celebrate Christmas”, “I’m right, you are wrong so you are going to hell”, “scriptural divorce”, etc.
    We are losing people because we don’t CONNECT with them!
    I have watched leaders and church members leave for something DEEPER for the last ten years.
    It’s about two relationships 1) Love GOD 2) Love your neighbor

  19. SteveLavin says:

    I agree with Rex but he is obviously more knowledgeable about the topic. I do see the decline of Christianity in America as part of a larger cultural issue and as such I don’t know if the trend is reversible. Unlike my generation, and the generations before it, we now see the younger generations questioning everything. They question all authority and don’t seem to be interested in becoming a part of anything that doesn’t place them at the ‘center’ of its purpose. Maybe I am generalizing too much but unlike previous generations, where the authority figures (God, parents, teachers, etc, etc, etc…) were to be respected the new generation is all about demanding ‘their’ respect. Children used to work and aid parents once they reached a certain age. Now parents build their priorities and schedules around the activities of the children. I believe some of the result has been to produce a generation of young adults that consider themselves the ‘center’ of importance. I am not condemning parents for exposing their children to a variety of activities in life. As a parent I constantly struggle with the same issue myself. Of course, all of this is just my opinion but I believe this cultural mindset affects young people’s attitudes in being receptive to accepting Christianity where Jesus is Lord and Master.

    Having said that, I also believe nothing is as effective as friends evangelizing friends. I do believe young people can still be reached by their peers. This is one reason I believe having worship services that are relevant to young people is so important. But I absolutely agree with an earlier point Danny made. We must teach young people that church, worship and their purpose in life cannot be centered on them. The challenge of course, is that older generations took this for granted and the younger generations will struggle with this concept.

  20. K. Rex Butts says:

    Xbatt,

    I understand some of the preaching you are describing because I grew up in a church like that. However, neither the church I grew up in or any other Church of Christ that I am familiar with really fits this description anymore. I know there are some Churches of Christ who would still fit that description but unless my perception is way off, those churches are becoming less and less.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  21. lesjr says:

    Steve, I am 46 and i came out of a generation that also questioned–religion just wasn’t the normal culprit but instead it was the “establishment” or the “man” or the “power”. Mine was a generation that was concerned about finding ourselves–spirituality wasn’t much a part of that equation. It is now. Our young people today are vastly more spiritual beings–and if we don’t give them spiritual relevancy, they will seek it elsewhere…

  22. SteveLavin says:

    Lesjr, I suppose you are correct but I still perceive a difference. Our generation (I’m 49) seemed to go through a ‘rebelious’ period … usually in our very late teens or in college. To me, it seemed to be more of a phase we went through. The attitude of today’s generation seems to be more of a cultural mindset that is established very early and not just a passing phase.

    Also, my impression is, as you sey, that young people are very spiritual but, again, they seem to be at the center of this spirituality and it is completely relative in the sense that they seem to believe all paths are equal. I just believe it requires a different approach to evangelism than generations past.

  23. dannydodd says:

    I am with Steve on this one. All the research revealing the loss of our youth in our churches indicate- that unlike previous generations who rebelled against “the establishment” and left the church- these kids today are not coming back.

    As a group they seem to lack the same kind of foundation and roots that served- for the most part- to anchor us (our generation) and bring us back.

    One word I keep running across is being used to describe them- and it is not a good one- amoral.

    I will share this link with you to illustrate what that means and what the youth culture is like at large. WARNING- the article discusses sexaul situations frankly (but without vulgarities) and contains racy (but not nude) photos and links. It is from a UK site and is not written from a Christian perspective, but does recognize the dangers of rearing a generation of amoral youth.

    While- to us- this may seem extreme, it is closer to home than we realize.

    And it reveals- again- how widely we have missed the point when our young people deal with this while we spend our time arguing about IM and other CoC issues and words.

    Here is the link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1129978/How-faceless-amoral-world-cyberspace-created-deeply-disturbing–generation-SEX.html

  24. Dave Brumley says:

    I find it ironic that some of you point to the youth of today as the ones who we need to worry about when many of you are the parents and teachers of the very youth we describe as the future problem. Who have they been emulating? You of course. Then you guys have the audacity to ask “duh, what’s wrong?”. Typical unrepentant “Christians” who want to now try and work their way back into God’s favor. The problem is no one has pointed this out to you because they see how weak many of you are but are afraid to point it out because they KNOW you will run away because someone stopped bowing to your feelings. How do we expect our youth to distinguish right from wrong when none of you have the backbone to do it. Need I remind you that the seperation of the whaet and tares that Jesus discusses in His parable is a seperation that will occur in the kingdom (the church). I can’t help but wonder if that is not what we are witnessing here.

  25. K. Rex Butts says:

    Dave Brumley says,
    “…Typical unrepentant ‘Christians’ who want to not try and work their way back into God’s favor. The promblem in no one has pointed this out to you…”

    Perhaps we/they have not pointed it out because we/they are all busy trying to get the logs out of our eyes before we try and point out the specs in everyone elses eyes. But I suppose some have already removed the log in their own eyes, so they are now free to point out the specs in our eyes.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  26. K. Rex Butts says:

    My quote of Dave Brumley should read “now” rather than “not”.

    -Rex

  27. SteveLavin says:

    Dave, thanks for taking a general discussion of our cultural concerns and turning it into a personal attack. Did I not already mention that parental choices might be a significant contributing factor to this cultural shift? But, as the one who introduced the subject of ‘this generation’ in the decline of the church, I can only say you don’t have a clue about me, how I have raised my children, or if they believe in, or reflect, the cultural mindset we are discussing. In other words, you have no idea of my, or my children’s, character. On the other hand, I believe yours has been sufficiently revealed.

  28. Karol says:

    If we take a look at the changes that have taken place in our society we might not be so quick to blame. I’m not clear of the exact years, but in the 50s and 60s, married women with families were known as housewives. There role was to care for the home and it seemed to be established as wife before mother. These children knew there place in the pecking order. At some point times changed and women were going to work. We also had psychiatrists and Dr. Spears come out and say we need to do better by our children. They changed the phrase from “housewives” to “stay at home moms”. Although it sounds like a small change it has had a big impact. With that change came a new family dynamic that put the children in the spotlight.

    I’ll share my personal experience with having children. My husband is in the Air Force and we were stationed in Washington state. In WA there are very liberal laws that are in place. The schools would tell children that it’s illegal for parents to spank. Now, I was stationed miles away from my family, who live in GA and without the help of grandparents to offer advice, we were going it alone and looking to doctors and books for help. Since that time I have been an advocate for older women in the church mentoring these younger women, especially the ones with no family of there own around. It continues to be a challenge as we still move every 3 years. My son is in middle school now and we find ourselves fighting the school system to protect him from a serious bully situation.

    I take seriously my role as a mother and have fallen short, but before anyone casts any stones, first walk
    a mile in his or her shoes. If the older generation is going to blame the younger, instead of pointing a finger down, how about lend a hand to help pull this generation up.

  29. SteveLavin says:

    Danny, revealing article (no pun intended). And as you said, ‘closer to home than we realize!’ My oldest daughter (23) works with, and mentors, young girls at our church. Although she shares no details, or who is even involved, she has told her mother and I that some of the stories these young girls are sharing with her are absolutely shocking. Shocking to the point that she now makes it a practice to sit next to the girls as they confess their stories just so the shock on her face isn’t apparent to the girls. She also tells me that the girls generally come from good families who have no idea what is happening in their lives.

  30. SteveLavin says:

    Karol, I can certainly relate to your situation. I believe anyone who has children younger than about 30 years of age has faced similar situations to yours. You are correct in that the laws used to support parents but now they often seem to undermine parental efforts. Parents today also face challenges that our parents never faced while raising us. The internet, cell phones, TV and movies that are far from family friendly, the music they listen to, etc, etc, etc. Parents literally have to make a daily effort to de-program the garbage, and cultural mindset, our kids are exposed to each and every day!

    My comments were not meant as an indictment of parents but rather speak to the almost overwhelming pressures and challenges that today parents face. If we don’t find the answers the future of the church, and our children, are at stake. This is one reason my daughter mentors younger girls. She relates to them in ways that their parents can not. They will also open up to her in ways they will not with their parents. Again, my points through this blog has been the power I see in young people reaching other young people for Christ. This is where the church can help society, and parents, just like you and me.

  31. Lance says:

    Interesting comments everyone. I have led a college small group every Sunday night for the past 1 1/2 years and it has been eye opening to say the least. Of the ten students who generally come, eight were born and raised in the Church of Christ. We discussed immorality a few months back and I was shocked to find out that 8 out of 10 of them plan to live with their fiance’ before marriage. When I asked them why they responded with “why not”? “Everyone is doing it”.

    Since that small group session, I have increased my prayers for this generation and led them back into God’s word to see WHAT it says about issues their (and our) generation faces and WHY it says what it does. This has led to some great discussion and some growth on all of our parts.

    What I found is that our college students believed the Bible was not relevant to their lives. They never read it or even considered it. (This example was set by many of their parents but not all of their parents) They knew what it said but had never been told why it said it so it wasn’t relevant to them. Now they are starting to see what God wants to do with their lives through His word and some heart changes are slowly taking place.

    God’s word is all-powerful but it has to be made relevant to our youth or they will not accept it, as sad and disturbing at that may be to us.

  32. dannydodd says:

    Good comments everyone.

    Lance your thoughts- considering your ministry- are most insightful.

    The direction of the discussion of this post is worthy of its own thread, me thinks.

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