The Future of Church

Today, I’m looking for comments. I’d like your perspective. 

First, let’s take a panoramic shot of the past two thousand years of Christianity. (Don’t expect a lot of detail here. I’m just lightly scanning the horizon of what has transpired in Christianity.)

Jesus went back to heaven. And the disciples prayed for ten days. Then the Holy Spirit came, and they baptized 3000 people in one day. Whammy. Not a bad start for a group of about 120 meeting together. The early church met at different places. They would run into each other at the Temple, they used synagogues, but mainly they would meet up in homes. Acts 2:42-47 says it like this,

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This is how the church spread. They sent out different people into different regions of the earth. Paul and Barnabas were a few. And the church continued to grow. As the church grew, it was persecuted. In 272 A.D., a man named Constantine came along who became a Christian, and he just happened to be the emperor of the Roman Empire. And he made it so that everybody had to be Christian. But forcing faith on people has an interesting effect. Everyone may wear the name, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s heart is in it. When Christianity was legalized, there were a lot of people then in the Roman Empire who were now Christians. Plus, Rome liked to make things big and beautiful as most empires do. Over time, they built a lot of cathedrals. So people started going to church.

Before this, there wasn’t really a whole lot of going. Just gathering. Because you were only Christian if you really wanted to be. But over time, church attendance became a really big deal. For quite a while, the church that everybody was a part of was the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther came along though, a monk born in the late 1400s, and he read Paul’s letter to the Romans. When he did, Luther began to learn about grace and freedom in Christ. At this time, the way people thought they got forgiveness from their sin was through buying indulgences from the church. Luther, read Romans and saw that Jesus is quite a bit different from that.

So the Reformation began. And in the Reformation were many changes. Over time, a lot of different denominations came about. Yes, this is the beginning of the Episcopalians, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodist, Lutheran, and the one I’ve had the pleasure to grow up in, the Church of Christ, which is actually an offshoot of the Presbyterian Church when the leaders wouldn’t let Alexandre Campbell take communion because of his absence from church, he got frustrated and he and his dad went to start a new church, the Church of Christ. (It was a longer process than that, but the communion deal was the inciting incident.)

What has happened over the past few hundred years in the Church is interesting, because it has looked a lot of different ways in a lot of different places. For instance, a few hundred years ago, the most influential place in culture was the courtroom. So what happened? Christians predominantly viewed God as a judge, they needed a building to convey it, and it fit their perspective. So the auditoriums started looking like courtrooms. Ever wonder where the pulpit came from? That’s where we got it. Nothing wrong with a good pulpit I might add. Apparently, some Christian preachers over time have used the pulpit to exercise their “right” (that isn’t their right) to be the judge and to say things that they shouldn’t have to people. But that was how church buildings got the pews and the pulpits.

Well, culture shifted again over time. The post-modern, technological era. The measure of success became size, big screens, and the type of worship that people could be a part of. Why is this the medium that is being valued and utilized now? We value big shows, great concerts, and excellence in media in culture today. As a whole, society has traded moral excellence for technological excellence. (Remember when Ricky and Lucy couldn’t be in the same bed together even though they were married? Yeah, me neither. Except in the reruns I saw growing up. Now, anybody sleeps with anybody on TV shows.)

So, this is where we are today. In the midst of cultural change. Every four hundred fifty years or so, there is a massive shift of mind globally. People all over the globe begin to rethink things and question the way things are. In that period, there are incredible shifts that happen within cultures. What happens in culture affects the church, because quite often, the church is shaped more by culture than the church shapes the culture. So, after a little bit of history and culture talk, here is what I want to ask today.

What do you think is the future of Church in America? Twenty-somethings are leaving the local church by the droves. The answers vary as to why twenty-somethings are leaving, but they are. And they’re not the only ones. The church in America in general is in decline. Some people say that they like the institutional church. Some people say they don’t like the institutional church. Some people say they don’t like Christ because Christians hypocrites. Some people say they love Christ because of the Christians they met. Here is what George Barna in the book  Revolution says about the future of the church.

Do you agree or disagree with Barna? Are you a part of a local church, or an alternative faith-based community like a simple church? Do you experience and express your faith primarily through a family context? Or do you see yourself drawn to be engaged through the media, arts, and culture? Or maybe all four. What do you think the future of Church in America is? What do you want to see it become?

Once again, I would love it if you left me a comment on this post, because I am interested in your vantage point. I especially want you to comment if you are in college, your twenties or thirties.

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9 comments

  1. Greg · May 24, 2012

    David – LOVED what you wrote. I’m not sure what the church is going to look like – I’m afraid if radical changes aren’t made there might not be a church. It’s funny to me that the church has let culture shape it – then becomes attached to what culture assigned it over what God called it to be. We fight, we split and even our splits have splits! No wonder people are turned off.

    What if the church started to love each other. What if we quit deciding who was in and who was out and let God be judge and we just loved the hell out of people – literally. I think of my neighbor, Chris. Went through a nasty divorce, felt like he lost his church home and swore to never darken the doors of the church again. Now, I’m trying to be his friend. For a long time he pushed away, thinking my motive was to get him into my church. Today we are friends, his two daughters come to church and Chris is asking questions. Not doctrine questions – Jesus questions! He tells me he loves Jesus, but not the church. I tell him, he can’t love the groom and hate his bride. If he treated my wife like he treats the church, said things about my wife like he says about the church, as much as I love him, our relationship would be over. I think he’s coming around.

    I think of Mike. Mike is Max’s neighbor. Max was the Army recruiting officer here in town for the last three years. He just got re-stationed in North Carolina. Mike came to our church to see Max’s daughter graduate from preschool. I didn’t meet him then. Two days later, I ran into him at the gas station. He stopped me and said, “I came this close to coming to your church, pastor.” We had a great conversation from there about how Max was not only his neighbor – they were good friends. Max came to visit our church because it’s where his daughter was going to preschool. I knew Max from the gym – we were friends. Saw him at church, visited with him, his wife and two kids before services. After church Max caught me and said, “You are the pastor here?” Hadn’t dawned on me – we’d had lots of conversations, were friends, he didn’t know what I did. That started an even closer friendship and he and his family immersed themselves in our church. Max and his wife both became Christians, and Max was telling his friend Mike about this church that changed his life. Mike told his wife, we are going to church this Sunday. She was excited about that. She thought they were going to church with her parents. Well, Sunday came and the vote was one to one – Mike lost:-) and they went to church with her family. They loved it and got plugged in to her parents church. Mike became a Christian and thanked me for my role in helping him get there – and this was the first time we met.

    Until the church starts acting like family, loving people who think and act differently than we do, and taking church to the people – we are on a collision course with disaster. It’s my prayer that – at least the little body I worship with – become so in love with Christ, it flows out of their lives and on to their neighbors and the Lord adds DAILY to our family, those that are being saved.

    • David Skidmore · May 24, 2012

      Spink!! I love what you shared bro. I agree with what you said, that love needs to be at the forefront. Beautiful!

  2. Joe · May 24, 2012

    I agree. So much of church is show, and from what I’ve observed so much of any world religion is so outward now that it’s tough to know the sincerity of faith. I believe true faith requires a lot of introspection, looking inward, and selfless care should be the chief outward expression. Good job David.

    • David Skidmore · May 24, 2012

      Thanks, Joe. So what would it look like if it weren’t as you said, “so much of church is show?” Instead of show, what would it be?

  3. Sarah Tarbell · May 24, 2012

    I have a few thoughts on the whole matter… First, in my age bracket of the 20 somethings, I see many people choose to not attend services for many reasons. Possibly separation of personal actions and church structure, or maybe the lack of conviction to the establishment, or even the troubles with society going against the teachings of christ and his apostles. Also, working with college age students and people of many different demographics, I see that they choose not to participate because of their personal actions. Their life style is not what they might have grown up with and now harbor harsh feelings toward the philosophy of established religion. I personally think that religion is necessary for salvation, but I also believe that the first principles and ordinances of God are faith and baptism. That in no way means chirch members have the right to be hurtful or judgmental to actions of others. We are all in the same boat.
    In regards to the church future, I believe it’s very subjective to the strength of morality and acceptance of differing lifestyle choices. Society is not in congruence with Religion, and trending styles aren’t being focused on God or lifetruths. This is probably why people push their faith through family actions and practices. Just my observations. I love your posts David!

  4. Leslie · May 24, 2012

    I have experienced multiple churches and college ministries and have seen so much positivity working through the people involved in them. From a personal standpoint, I think that we as ambassadors for Christ, need to let go of a lot of fear and truly open up and be honest with our brothers and sisters and those we should be ministering to. I’ve been on both ends of this: the outsider who was afraid that my ‘discovering-the-world’ decisions held me in judgement with those in the church, and therefore, held me back from diving in to the church and at times kept me from even going to church; and the one on the inside who was very involved and was one of the main leaders with my peers, but stayed in my comfort-zone, did not reach out to those that really needed it, and fell trap to judging others that were not a part of my tight-knit group. Consequently, I have probably played a part in people walking away from the church the way some have with me turning away.

    As a body of believers, I feel that we need to become boldly confident in who we really are because of God’s perfect love and grace, if we expect to reach out and spread the word! Knock the walls down, start loving in a way that is free of judgement- but cares enough to stand up for the principles that Christ lived, and go against the grain of our society to truly desire to GIVE instead of RECEIVE. I agree that we need to focus on developing REAL relationships with those in and out of the church, and start connecting with people outside of the building that we meet in on Sundays and Wednesdays.

    Christians need to be waging a war against the media and shift the worlds perspective on self-image, sexuality, what success really is, etc. The devil has has been extremely crafty in desensitizing our society. Think of how different the world would be in 10 years if the body of Christ put as much time and money into influencing the media as those with worldly standards?! I do not think we should focus solely on this, but our population is being molded too much by television, music, clothing, etc. for us to just stand by.

    Let’s get back to studying the Bible, memorizing scriptures, praying and meditating more than we are plugged into technology, and paralleling our moral standards with how Christ lived. Uniting as a body this way could turn the next ‘movement’ back to the first. I wouldn’t mind baptizing 3,000+ in one day! 🙂

    Thanks for the thoughts!!

  5. decodethem · May 29, 2012

    Read ‘The Next Christians’ by Gabe Lyons, which is basically a sequel to ‘unChristian.’ It’s about progressive restoration and was written in 2010.
    Also, the infographic and your points reinforce the reason why I want to get into multimedia ministry.

  6. Schuyler Hardin · August 7, 2015

    It is interesting that many has their thoughts but I fail to see that the Bible was their guide. Many preface their thoughts with “I THINK” and there is where the problem begains.
    I will be happy to provide scripture for any of the following comments.
    One. Train up a child in the way and when they are old they will not depart.
    Two. Study to show thyself approved of God…A WORKMAN.
    Three. Churches are striving to entertain their members instead of teaching them. Preach the word..be instant in season ..
    The apostles had no cell phone, automobiles, backup singers and etc. They continued STEDFASTLY in the apostles’ doctrine…
    Starting here we can not go wrong.
    Thanks
    Sky

    • David Skidmore · August 7, 2015

      All of that works except you left off the part that your logic begins with “I think” even if you did not overtly state it. Essentially, you said, “I think I have the right interpretation of the Bible.”
      2. …
      3. If that means churches use engaging methods to teach people through multiple learning styles, then yes. If it means churches are just trying to entertain people, I wholeheartedly disagree. Teaching the Word in a boring way does not provide good teaching. It provides a lack of knowledge and understanding for people searching, and a lack of discernment from teachers.

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