Regaining Lost Ground (Image Vol 12 No 4 – July/Aug 1996)

By Matt Dabbs

By Carson Reed
Indianapolis, Indiana

On March 18-21, about 150 ministers and leader from a variety of church traditions gathered in Colorado to listen and dialogue about the trends in the church and in contemporary culture. Among the major presenters were Russell Chandler, journalist and author who writes about trends in America, and George Barna, president of Barna Research Group and prolific author of books from The Frog in the Kettle to Generation Next.

Major Shifts Are Occurring in Our Culture

Of course, much of what was said can be readily observed. American culture is fast-paced, overloaded, and stress-filled. Sexual upheaval and violence mar the landscape, and the definition of family is being radically redefined.

Perhaps less observable is that nearly 50 percent of Americans over eighteen years old are unmarried, and a growing number of suburban parents are shunning public schools and utilizing private or home schooling options. In fact, home schooling continues to grow at 15 to 20 percent a year, and most of that growth is among non-Christians concerned about academics and safety.

George Barna’s recent research on teenagers offers startling insights into the viewpoints. Current teens take the world quite seriously and experience significant stress. this stress is a result, in part, of distrust of older people and institutions and discouragement concerning their diminished prospects for success in the world. Believing themselves to be abandoned by society, today’s teens have adopted a “look out for yourself” philosophy of life. This resulting sense of self-reliance gives way to a growing openness to spirituality, but a spirituality that is indiscriminate in choosing its source. Hungry for relationships, current teens strive ot learn how to relate tho their peers, but often shy away from older generations, because, in the teens’ eyes, they lack credibility.

The Church is Losing Ground

The church is losing ground in American culture today. Though approximately one million people embraced Christianity last year, these new Christian’s merely replaced the one million Christians who died. Additionally, Barna notes that within the past year an exodus of boomer males and boomer leaders depleted many evangelical churches.

Not only does the church wrestle with declining numbers, it also wrestles with change. Currently, American culture changes completely every five years. Contrast that time frame with the average forty years that it takes churches to adapt to new models. This disparity alone is enough to convince Christian believers that they need to act.

Christians do need to act, but actions must be based on prayer and wise strategies. In contemporary culture, Christianity is no longer the main game in town. In fact, it is often misunderstood and misapplied. For example, 12 percent of Americans today believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Even within the church, biblical illiteracy is rampant. Nearly 80 percent of American Christians are unable to identify the Great Commission. Just giving Bibles out is not enough, either. According to a recent government survey, 49 percent of all American’s are functionally illiterate.

What Can the Church Do?

So what is the church’s response? In a culture where competing worldviews clamor for attention and acceptance, what is the church to do? I would suggest four things.

The church must relearn the nature of the Christian faith. The Christian faith is more of a pilgrimage or journey than our staid American experience has led us to believe. The church is not an institution or organization, but the people of God. Renewed focus on the disciplines of prayer, fasting, meditation, and Bible study will bring us closer to mature faith. To sit back in our Lazy-Boy recliners and think we have arrived opens us up to the judgment of the prophets.

We must learn how to communicate our faith to others. According to Barna’s research, less than 10 percent of those who profess Christianity can identify key elements of the faith. If Christians cannot articulate their belief system, then how can they provide hope and guidance to others? Or to consider another angle, if Christians cannot tell the story, what good is lifestyle evangelism? The foundations of our belief must be taught and modeled in our churches.

We must unleash the leaders and visionaries in our churches to dream and to lead. The primary hindrance to the growth and health of churches today is their reluctance to allow God to accomplish his divine purpose thorough gifted men and women. We must identify , support, and equip godly leaders and let them lead us into the new millennium. Elders and ministers serve as “power switches” for leadership in their churches. Either they will allow the power of God to flow, inspiring and leading the church forward or they will shut off the flow. Appointed leaders must grow past issues of control and turf and learn to empower people for leadership and service.

The models of ministry must change. Much talk and action has taken place in recent years about worship. I affirm the need for worship renewal and believe that such renewal will help us meet this fourth challenge. But not only does our understanding of worship change as clear views of God emerge, but our view of church structure and ministry changes as we come to grips with God’s heart and the condition of the world we are called to save.

The coming millennium brings unprecedented opportunities for the church. But in order to take advantage of these opportunities, we must replace some old habits with some new directives. We must replace traditional structures with the opportunity to be salt and light to a decaying and darkened world. We must replace our comfortable inactivity with witnessing to our neighbors or swinging a hammer for Habitat for Humanity. We must replace “doing church” as we have known it with “being church” as God defines. The present is no time for a congregation and church leaders to bury their heads or hearts in the sane. Let’s go on the offensive and regain what Satan has stolen.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1594 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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