Is There A Problem with American Christianity?

OK- So let’s be honest: Cultural morality continues on its downward slide.  Sex outside of marriage is normal, same sex relationships are celebrated and a federal judge just struck down Utah’s ban on polygamous marriages. I recently saw where public schools considered allowing sex offenders to work in the school system. Live ins are up and church attendance is down. As usual, preachers rail against these things and tell us how bad our culture is. No real believer denies these things are an issue. But is that the real problem?

Consider this: 

  • Every year, 3500-4000 churches close their doors and less than 2000 are started to take their place.(1)
  • The number of new churches has increased by 50% in the last century but the population has increased by 300%.(2)
  • In 1920, 27 churches existed for every 10,000 Americans.  In 1950, 17 churches existed for every 10,000 Americans.              In 1996, 11 churches existed for every 10,000 Americans.(3)
  • 80% of churches in America are plateaued or declining and half of all churches will not add one member through conversion growth.(4)
  • In his Book, Think Like Jesus, George Barna surveyed American Christians and discovered only 9% actually have a biblical world view.(5) 

I would suggest the problem is not secular culture but a church culture that has lost touch with the mission of Jesus and the real reason we are called as Christians. Some will think I am bashing the church. Not at all. In spite of our issues, I love the church and am very much a part of and committed to the institution established by Jesus. But telling the world how bad they are and hiding behind our 4 walls each week is not going to fix the problem.  Our greatest threat is not a declining moral culture, dishonest government, radical Islam or an economic collapse. Our greatest peril is a nominal Christianity that has no power to impact the world.  Peter, in his epistle said that “it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household (1 Peter 4:17).”(6) We must first look inside if we are to have any effective influence.

Let me suggest 4 ways that we can do this and make a real difference:

  1. We must become Christ centered, not consumer centered. Many church goers have the mindset “what’s in it for me?” We shop churches like they are buffets and eat the latest serving: If that’s what our spiritual pallet is craving that week. Christians complain about not being fed but fail to realize mature Christianity has the ability to feed itself beyond Sunday morning. A selfish believer will never be able to impact society because they only have eyes on themselves and can’t see beyond their personal comfort. A Christ centered church cry’s for the outsider, does not see race, income, language or status as a prerequisite to be part of the club. They have left the confines of the spiritually dead, have experienced the resurrected Jesus and are no longer interested in the safe ground of a comfortable pew. They see the opportunities of being Spirit led risk takers and will do what is necessary to exalt Jesus, no matter what the consequences. Placing Jesus back at the center of His church will get the attention of a world that desperately needs to feel and see the genuine love of a God who is the only one who can make the difference for life change.
  2.   We must return to intimacy with Christ through prayer and worship. Prayer is one of the  most talked about, preached about, taught about, written about subject in Christianity and the least practiced. Believers who depend on self are traitors to the cause.  Leonard Ravenhill referred to Christians who play but don’t pray. (7) Prayer is the enforcer of the will of God and He has given us the privilege of calling on His name so the will of God, that is always done in heaven, is accomplished here on earth. Worship must be seen as more than 4 songs on a Sunday and be practiced as a lifestyle that honors God. In prayer one evening before planting this church, the Holy Spirit made it clear that if anything of consequence were to happen in this church, it would not be because of me but in spite of me. That’s not false humility as some have suggested but a fact.  Unfortunately, much of what goes on in the church could continue, even if Jesus were not present. Our marketing skills are evident, our lighting and sound is the best, our oratorical skills have been refined, but people drive by our churches by the thousands every day and ignore what is going on inside. The miraculous is absent and we are no different than another social gathering. We need to remember without Him we can do nothing but with Him we can do all things! All of our abilities are wasted unless Jesus touches the work of our hands. Prayer and worship connects us with the resources of heaven so that a skeptical culture can experience the power and presence of a living Jesus.
  3. We must make an intentional investment in the next generation. We can no longer pay lip service to our kids, teens and young adults. Just because we have these ministries in our churches does not mean we are effectively reaching them.  I have a question to ask church leaders: Is your worship designed for those 50 and older or are you intentionally remembering there is a group of people in your church who are not the church of tomorrow but the church of today? Just because they don’t give the bulk of the money doesn’t mean they should be ignored. By the time we turn forty, church should not be about us anymore. If we will just look over our shoulder, we will see there is a younger crowd following us. Mom and dad: Does your life at home show your kids who Jesus is? Are we going to be so selfish that our personal preferences in music, dress, creativity, style, organization and our own sustainability for the future, take precedence over reaching the youngest among us? God is raising up and calling a generation of passionate, Spirit filled young men and women in this final hour of time and we must not drop the ball and potentially miss the greatest opportunity to impact our culture. 

       4.       We must remember why we do, what we do. Jesus said He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).  We don’t exist to perpetuate our own existence. We exist to honor Him and introduce people to the Kingdom of God. Evangelism, missions and church planting must not be relegated to committees and church programs. They are not events on church calendars but individual responsibilities.  Ed Setzer, in his book “Planting New Churches in a Post Modern Age, said,  “There exists a flawed understanding that the United States and Canada are already evangelized. While there is abundant access to Christian information, many unchurched persons in North America are amazingly untouched by the evangelical subculture because the Christian subculture is largely incapable of providing a culturally relevant gospel witness.”  We must be willing to get messy,  get our hands in the dirt and be friends with the sinner, do life with people, fail,  admit to our failures, and love extravagantly. Without this prime mission, the church becomes a one, winged, self-righteous entity that cannot fly. Each of us has a story of Christ to tell and that story must be told. 

Remember, in spite of our challenges, the church is still the only organization or I should say, the only living organism that has the spiritual resources to make a difference in every culture around the world. Christ’s church, in its purest form is the hope to transform what is broken and reveal a real Jesus to real people who need real life. That’s the real church.

 

  1. Win Arn, The Pastor’s Manual for Effective Ministry (Monrovia, CA: Church Growth, 1988), page 41.
  2. Bill Easum, “The Easum Report,” March 2003; available from Easum, Bandy and Associates Church Planting
  3. om Clegg and Tim Bird, Lost in America (Loveland, CA: Group Publishing, 2001), page 30.
  4. Ron Sylvia, High Definition Church Planting (Ocala, FL: High Definition Resources, 2004), 27.
  5. Think Like Jesus, George Barna, THOMAS NELSON / 2005
  6. Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®. All rights reserved worldwide.
  7. Why Revival Tarries, Leonard Ravenhill, Bethany House Publishers – reprint, 2004
  8. Ed Stetzer, Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003), page 9.
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