Julia Duin, a religious reporter for the Washington Times, has written a book entitled Quitting Church: Why the Faithful Are Fleeing and What to Do About It. I haven’t read it. But a friend of mine recently sent me a review by the Wall Street Journal’s Terry Eastland.
According to Eastland, church-quitting in the United States is characterized by Duin in her book as “epidemic.” The problem though, in her view, is not in the souls of the church quitters but in the character of the churches they choose to leave. Relying on her own reporting and surveys, Duin lists several things that are wrong with a lot of America’s Christian Churches.
~a lack of a feeling of community among church members, inducing loneliness and boredom
~church teaching that fails to go beyond the basics of the faith
~church teaching that fails to reach members who are grappling with suffering or unanswered prayer
~pastors who are out of touch with their parishioners or themselves unhappy
~pastors who fail to shepherd their flocks or try to control the members in high-handed ways
Duin’s conclusion seems obvious, that our churches need to become places where people feel eager to be. This goes straight to the “community” aspect of what we do and why we do it. In this regard, she calls for better teaching, better preaching, and better pastors who are in touch with the lives of their worshippers. I agree. For two-thousand years we’ve called the Church a Christian community. We need to be much more intentional about cultivating that community. And while a large part of that falls to our elders and preachers and teachers, let’s not forget we are called by our God to be a Kingdom of priests. We serve each other. We sacrifice for each other. We put the needs of others ahead of our own. It’s on all of us to treat each other in ways that form and sustain community.
Two, Duin says churches hurt themselves when they view their organization or allow their own members to view the organization as primarily functioning to meet the members’ needs. (So, there is at least a little theology in the book. That’s good.) The Lord adds us to his Body of Believers in order to serve, not to be served. I had lunch last week with a couple who are considering placing their membership here with us at Legacy. And they asked me three or four times, “Allan, what can we do to serve here? Where’s a place, what’s a function, what’s a service we could really perform here that would help this church and the people?” Wow! How wonderfully refreshing!
It’s not, “What can this church do for me?” It’s always, “How can I serve in this church?”
According to Duin, churches dedicated to this kind of discipleship mindset, this sort of serving and sacrificing in the manner of Christ, will “do well in this era of dumbed-down, purpose-driven, seeker-friendly Christianity.” That means teaching and preaching beyond the five (or six. or seven. how many are there now?) steps of salvation and first principles and deeper than the Christianity-Lite we find in a lot of places.
She says churches will prosper if they concentrate on making disciples. And that’s where Eastland makes his point. Churches like this aren’t always going to prosper—if we judge prosperity by church membership alone. He says, “A church might conscientiously carry out its biblical tasks and yet, by measures of popularity, do poorly in this world. Such a church would not be doing right if it adjusted its mission for the sake of higher attendance records.”
Trunk or Treat last night here at Legacy and there’s absolutely no way in the world to know how many people came through our parking lot and building. All four of the front sections of the worship center were full as we rehearsed together the story of David and Goliath from 1 Samuel 17 as a wild west shootout movie. Wade P saved the day when he provided the whistle soundtrack from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly from his cellphone. Larry T blew it—or didn’t blow it—when I needed him most. And John W ad-libbed several lines during his evil Goliath laugh. Everybody, it seemed, had a great time with Sheriff Saul and “Ohhhh, David!” But hopefully we all left with a greater appreciation for the God of Israel, our God, who always delivers. He always wins. And those who belong to him always win. And we don’t win by sword or spear. We win by putting our faith and trust in the One who made us and promises to sustain us. David never doubted God’s deliverance. Because God always delivers. We should all feel so deeply and act so boldly.
After that, it was off to the parking lot where hundreds and hundreds of folks were already milling around the decorated cars, bounce houses, face-painters, balloon-sculptors, and food and drink booths. What a night! Cake walks and games and costume contests. Tons of people. I know we served over 1,100 hot dogs. And not everybody got one. I’ll bet 20% of the people here were not members of Legacy. It was fantastic. Truly a community event. Probably, including Give Away Day which brings in people from Fort Worth and points even further south and west, Trunk or Treat is our biggest annual event that draws the most people from our corner of Tarrant County. It’s probably time to do what we’ve done with Give Away Day the past couple of years and start concentrating on some outreach and follow up and evangelism with Trunk or Treat. Thanks to Kipi and Todd and all the dozens and dozens of volunteers!
I dressed up as Tony Romo for the Trunk or Treat, complete with the over-sized pinkie splint fashioned out of a toilet paper roll and lots of athletic tape. Instead of simply donning Valerie’s blond Hannah Montana wig, Carrie-Anne spent two-hours straightening her own hair to play Jessica Simpson. We were quite the pair.