Christians of a Dying Breed

August 6, 2010

Some of you Christians may be a dying breed.

I’ve predicted to myself that traditional denominations are on their way out.  A few days ago I was given some proof that I am indeed right, as is usually the case.  As of today, 6 to 12 million people attend house churches.  As a house church pastor, I find that really interesting and pretty cool.  On the other hand, just 1 percent of Americans call themselves Presbyterians, which makes their numbers around 3 1/2 million.  In short, the Presbyterian churches are having their butts handed to them.

With few exceptions, it seems like the long standing denominations continue to be on the outs, while new forms of church are way in, and it got me thinking about a few things.

This Isn’t a Defeat or a Victory.

While the news interests me, and I’m happy that people are trying out house churches, it doesn’t make me pump my fist or shoot a gun in the air in victory because the Presbyterians are dying off.  I’m not in competition with them.  Sadly, a bunch of house churches make their outreach all about how traditional church bites, therefore you should try a church that bites on a much smaller scale.  That’s the wrong angle, and it makes them really annoying one trick ponies.  What it tells me, and should tell you is that there are so many possible churches to choose from, be they house churches or something else, for people who don’t think they fit in at church.

What Christians need to realize is that a closed down church building is not the worst thing in the world.  Every good thing ends sometime.  A closed church doesn’t mean defeat or failure.  It just means that a good thing came to the end of its life cycle.  Eventually, all of our sweet, amazing mega churches with their giant screens will be full of old blue hairs.  The pastors will all have extremely white false teeth.  And the teenagers will cringe whenver Steve Fee’s dusty old worship music is played way too loud, so we can hear it after we all go deaf from Steve Fee’s music being played way too loud.

Can Denominations Get a Makeover?

About twenty years ago, I think the Methodists tried to stop looking all stuffy and get a PR makeover.  I think it was something about a “nicer, gentler Methodist church.”  Or maybe that was the IRS.  Maybe the IRS could help churches with their image problems.  I think they changed the logo for a while too, because that old logo surely had to be their biggest problem.  The new x-treme cross and flames and radical Jesus with flaming skateboard giving a thumbs up logo was short lived.

These days, the Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians don’t seem to have a whole lot of faces left to lift or things that can be made over.  Their idea of being “relevant” seems to be electing gay pastors.  Which is ironic, since the average member of those churches doesn’t support that move.  In a time when they can least afford it, the denominations are making controversial political statements, and their people are leaving because of that.  So…I guess they’re hoping to build churches full of gays, since there won’t be any straight Christians left in their churches soon.

Remember, There’s Nothing New Under the Sun.

I think it’s great and inspiring that the church continues to be reinvented.  But before we go thinking that we have it all together, remember that people aren’t all that creative.  We don’t come up with new ideas all that often.  Something will replace denominations.  Non-denominational churches eventually turn into denominations. 

Here’s a hypothetical: You have an average Christian at a Methodist church, and she doesn’t really like the direction the central leadership is going.  Does she have a say?  Is the central leadership even accessible?  Chances are, she doesn’t even know where to find the Methodist tribal council to voice her concerns, and even if she did, who is she to tell the church what it should be doing?

So she heads over to a new church where a thousand people attend, which she finds is one of about five or six “satellite campuses” run by a single “central” church in town.  That’s a pretty revolutionary and fresh sounding way to run a church, and it looks nothing like her dusty old church with the badger at the pulpit.  But has her situation changed?  Has her access to church leadership become any easier?  If her church is actually run by people at a different church, she finds herself again in a mini-denomination.  Once an organization is that big, chances are she’s just a face in the crowd.  I’m not saying it’s a rule.  I’m saying that it’s a likely scenario that needs to be accounted for if churches are really going to try to be something “new.”

I don’t like bringing that up because obviously multi-site churches are popular, and you don’t make yourself popular by critiquing popular things. (Though calling a church a “campus” is something that personally grinds my gears like nothing else.)  We just can’t be so bold to think that all our ideas are fresh or will work and be different just because we are the ones doing it this time.  Let’s try to actually learn from the past and maybe not repeat mistakes this time.

What about you?  Are you a part of a denominational or non-denominational church?  Do you feel you have access to church leadership, or is it remote and far away?  Are we doing anything new, or are we just repeating history?

41 responses to Christians of a Dying Breed

  1. I’ll take a stab at it. When denominations began to put their individual agendas ahead of Christ, they started biting the dust. Gay pastors isn’t the problem, I assure you the mainline had a great deal of problems before the gay question entered the picture. In my humble opinion, people need to ask themselves a simple question: is my faith in God, or is my faith in a denomination? Unless the answer is God, things are going to go bad.

    You see, filling pews isn’t the reason we go to church, or run a church. And, you are right, everything ends. In the Roman Catholic Church many orders that once taught schools and ran hospitals, can no longer afford the insurance need to run a health care facility, and that was long before the priest sex-abuse scandal. The world changes, and the church must continue to answer the needs of the world, even the gay members. The mainline hung to to “our way or the highway” too long.

  2. What about you? Are you a part of a denominational or non-denominational church? Do you feel you have access to church leadership, or is it remote and far away? Are we doing anything new, or are we just repeating history?

    I now attend the Baptist Church I grew up in for 27 years. We moved, attended an IBC for a year and now we’re back to my home church. Do I feel that I have access to church leadership? Actually I do. The group of friends I grew up with are really close friends with the youth ministry there, so if I wanted to get involved in that, I could be a leader. As far as the pastor and that kind of leadership? Not. A. Chance.

    I believe we are just repeating history. In fact, we’re doing the same thing the early church did, met in houses. History repeats itself and yes, there is nothing new under the sun. Yesterday was the old hymns, today is Chris Tomlin, tomorrow it will be back to the old hymns. I guarantee that my grand children or great grand children will bring back the old hymns. And that church will be back in buildings. It’s just the way things go.

    But you’re right, all the house churches starting up and people attending them, does not mean defeat at all. It’s just a change in how church is done(or met?)

    I have a couple of questions for you Matt. What bothers you about the word “campus” in lieu of “Church?”

    And secondly, this may sound like a dumb question, but what do house churches do with all the tithes? Do they divide it up and help people who need a new timing belt on their car? Or what? Just wondering.

    nicodemusatnite.blogspot.com

    • Ha, I wondered if someone would ask me that. I don’t know if I really have a concrete reason for disliking the term “campus.” Of all the complications that multi-site ministry creates, the word just bugs me because it’s just a word thought up to sound cooler than “church.”

      The only thing that’s consistent with house churches is that they’re all different. I meet up every few months with other house church leaders from around the city. Some of them collect tithes. Others don’t. Others are having trouble getting their people to give to them and not to a “real” church. As for our church, we sent my dad on a mission to Africa, and now we’re considering giving an interest free loan to an inner city ministry. That’s what we’ve done with our money this year. We live in a middle class area where most people don’t have major financial needs, (like timing belts, as you mentioned), so we go outside our area to find a need. With very little overhead, we’re able to be very flexible with our cash, and God has given us some very faithful givers.

      • @Matt: None of my business, but; are you receiving some sort of compensation as the pastor? I think you should be.

        We had teething issues in our home fellowship. There was some shock when we passed the basket. People get religious about all sorts of stuff.

        Tithes and offerings are supposed to advance the Kingdom of God (as you are doing), not be relegated to a building fund or some how not applicable.

  3. I’m a Southern Baptist, and while I am not a fan of the Southern Baptist Convention and clearly don’t have any access to the people running the show there, because Baptist churches are autonomous, that doesn’t really matter. I absolutely have access to my own church leadership. My church is a downtown church with a stuffy image in the past, and that has changed because of our leadership.

    We have just recently become to get involved in starting satellite campuses (locations? mini-churches?) and the advantage is that we can reach people in that setting that we will never reach in a “First Baptist” setting. Part of that is the people who feel called to lead those campuses, people who have a clear understanding of what it is to minister to individuals rather than just run a church.

    As for house churches, I love the idea, even though it’s not something I feel called to. House churches attract higher percentages of both men and single adults in a way that my church never will. That’s an incredible advantage when the goal is leading people to Christ, and expanding the Kingdom of God.

    And that’s really the goal of having different styles of worship, and different kinds of churches. Something for everyone sounds like a bad idea until you realize we’re not competing against one another – we’re competing against the world, and we’re competing for eternal consequences. The more options people have, the more likely they are to find one that meets their needs, not for the earthly value, but for the eternal.

  4. As already noted, it is NOT about nickels and noses. The “church” is all about making disciples, not converts.

    A month or so ago, I started a discussion on the “Christian Edification Forum” on LinkedIn (join it if you like). I posed the question as to why the church was shrinking in the US. After about 100 comments folks blamed: sin, being lukewarm, progressive agendas including woman and gays, lack of prayer, lack of love, poor teaching, denominationalism, being “relative” or “seeker friendly” as compromise and a few other things. Virtually NO ONE offered any solutions.

    Well, I have one. Ephesians 4 tells us how to construct the leadership of a church, and when that is in place, how it will bring unity. 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14 offer a lot of truth on how to participate in the body, and Galatians 5 gives us a list of what it should look like if we are doing it correctly. Denominations simply have camped out on their portion of the truth; sometimes giving little regard to the “full gospel.”

    You are right, there is nothing new, yet we try to reinvent church all the time. Acts 2 is pretty clear what a church is supposed to do. Get saved, get baptized, be filled with the Holy Spirit, continue in teaching, prayer, communion and fellowship.

    If we look deeper in Acts, we can see that what was going on in the church of Antioch was the norm.

    The Bible is pretty clear that where the Spirit of God is, there is freedom. If you are feeling on bondage to religion, or that it is empty, it is time to find a church or home church where the Spirit is.

    I have been in the church for 30+ years and survived all kinds of stupidity and religious foolishness. And I have been hurt by controlling leaders, not to mention stunned by biblical gymnastics wrapped in “scholarship.”

    Today I attend a non-denominational church of about 150 with home groups. The pastor comes early to give out hugs and check in with his flock. His elders do the same. They are relational. They have a 24/7 worship in their prayer room, and they are big on inner healing, wholeness, and discipleship. You never know what you’ll get on Sunday – some days it is a music, sermon and ministry time – and some days it is just worship. Other days it is corporate prayer, and some times the pastor will randomly call someone from the congregation to share a message, a word from the Lord, or pray for the sick. They have training for all kinds of things from evangelism to prophecy to prayer. They encourage mentoring. Their building is paid for. And the men’s group plays Airsoft once a week!

    I can’t tell you what its like to be with a church that values everyone, and encourages them in their destiny. And no, they are not perfect, but their hearts are in the right place.

    • Sounds like something I’d really be interested in David.

      nicodemusatnite.blogspot.com

      • @JCC – I’ll send you a link for the live webcast. Hey, you might even catch yours truly giving an impromptu word or two.

        I am really excited about Jesus – and now I finally feel like I am attend a church I would actually invite someone to.

  5. I think that house churches will only grow in popularity and eventually as a result of necessity. Not to be a total downer, but the church will have no option left than to go underground once persecution comes. The church will have no other alternative than to go underground. Huge buildings and “campuses” will be monuments to liberty and freedom. Stay faithful, my friends.

  6. I am a Presbyterian Pastor who has struggled over the years with do I stay in my denomination. There are things I dislike about my denomination, but there are times that I am quite proud of who I am and what we do.

    Theologically I am often not in agreement with the leadership at the denominational level. At times I wish they would do some things differently, but I still see the value of the denomination. I think we are repeating history; but that isn’t always a bad thing. Society is often cyclical.

    • Sure, history repeats itself, but there is benefit to people working together. I’m not saying denominations or associations shouldn’t exist. I just think all good things have a life cycle that begins and ends.

      • At the moment, I have to admit that I am struggling with the existence of my denomination. You are so right that all good things have a life cycle and sometimes it is hard for us to recognize the end of a life cycle. We have a hard time with a death and an end.

        I think that we like to think we are in a different time because of all our technology, but in reality we are repeating and could learn a lot from the past if we were open to the idea.

  7. Matt: this is a well-written post…in the “prophetic” sort of way. You have hit the nail on the head with a sledge hammer. The church body (denomination) I have been a part of for close to “a lot of years” has always said, “We are not a denomination.” Aaahhh yeah right. So you don’t have a headquarters. So you don’t have a hierarchy. But for so long you believed you were the only ones who were right. “If you are not baptized for (reason) then it wasn’t valid.” I tired of that legalism years ago and decided that I was going to preach the message of Jesus filled with grace. I can’t honestly say where the Christian Church/Church of Christ has grown or not. I pay not attention to numbers or political games. I can say that my heart has grown in understanding and acceptance of those who may not see all things as I do. I actually want to practice the “in opinions liberty but in all things love” motto we used to brag about. Okay off soapbox. As for me…I hope that I am accessible to the people. I pray I am not seen as one who stands or sits in an ivory tower pontificating about truth and never to be questioned. I do think that denominational hierarchy is detrimental to the life of many churches and vehemently disagree with the “gay thing” that has so enraptured them. Thanks again for your insightful post.

  8. Besides the points you made, people are leaving churches because it doesn’t feel like a church, it feels more like a social club. There comes a point when you get tired of sweet tea and softball. There must be something more.

    Once you feel that hunger for Jesus, then you start looking around and seeing who else is awake. Can you tell this to your leaders? And like you mentioned earlier, in most cases you don’t even have access to them. But if you did, would they even listen?

    A house or a million-dollar building does not make a church the Church. To borrow a phrase from the founding fathers, what makes a church the Church is “we the people.”

  9. I’ve so much to say on this issue i might as well direct you to my blog.

    I visited the most famous Mega-Church in So Cal a few years ago. I had a roommate who was curious & so i went with her. We got to their campus & found that they park folks just like they do at Disneyland & use trams as well. I kept walking around saying, “This is just like Disneyland! This is just like Disneyland!” We didn’t return.

    I grew up in numerous churches but mostly an independent Baptist that was very unhealthy. In college i found the Episcopal Church & loved it. I was much healed there. I found the ritual “safe” & soothing. I was married in that church 14 years later in 2004, the same year (that specific) church separated from the Episcopal denomination. (Not because of the gay issue exclusively, but because the bishops voted that the Bible is a good suggestion & might not really be relevant to us today.) It is now merely “Anglican,” & i still attend there when i can, & they still consider us partial members.

    But in 2007 we moved to a resort community where the Episcopal Church is not an option for us. (However there are 25+ churches in this small community.)

    We joined a Lutheran Church without really understanding what we were doing. We thought it would be so that we could work in the church. Things started going off for us after about a year, but we continued to soldier on, believing that we could make a difference. But the pastor seemed to be going off the deep end (paranoid & depressed) & no one was interested in holding him accountable. (“He is so smart & so educated, he must know what he’s talking about.”) We began visiting other churches because he was preaching they all were in error, no longer honoring Jesus, taking down their crosses & not following the Bible – we had to check that out. We did not find his accusations to be true in the conservative churches we visited. He also that his church was the only one “doing it right.” (We only came up against that quote in one other church we visited. Most other churches seem to accept that the other churches may have a different form, but are still honoring God.)

    When the pastor learned that we’d been visiting other churches he came down like a ton of bricks, citing “close communion” – which the church did NOT practice – as a reason for excommunicating us. In the meantime, the last 2 sermons he preached had crossed into un-Biblical teaching. We tried to bring this up to the elders but we were told that it was between us & the Pastor, they wouldn’t get involved. (There was MUCH good in that church however, i don’t want to be entirely negative.) So three years after joining we sent an official letter to request our names be removed from the membership list.

    I started looking more deeply into the doctrine & dogma of that church & was frankly appalled. I know i’m not very comfortable with Baptist doctrine either. I find that right now i’m uncomfortable with aligning myself with any church doctrine & feel rather burned on the whole church issue. We are quite content with church-hopping (NOT shopping) for now. We’ve visited many churches that are preaching the Gospel. But having come out of the liturgical format, we find that most of the other churches have a form that is not very comfortable for us. Not that they are wrong, but that we aren’t that comfortable.

    I think we will probably continue hopping for some time, but we do hope to get into a small group or house church before long. I believe, as i have for a long time, that “the church” is simply the people of God & that encompasses most all churches out there. Even when i belong to a denomination i don’t believe that “all the others are wrong” (although that’s essentially what my mother taught me as a child).

    I’ve one other thing to say as a result of this church hopping experience. I’ve run into one or two people who are excited, enthusiastic, almost lyrical about their churches. And that is great. But some of the churches almost seem like a “Christian club” & when new folks go in there is very little to make them feel welcome, ’cause all the folks are visiting with their friends. (In one church – a church that does preach the Gospel – we experienced where no one came within 10 feet of us, & i ran into someone else later who had the same experience.) In one case particularly an acquaintance who didn’t have much to say suddenly was all excited & telling me about how wonderful her church is when she learned i’d visited there.

    I’ve decided that i’m uncomfortable when folks are more excited about their church than their God. I thought we were suppose to have that enthusiasm about Jesus.

    Sorry this is so long.

  10. What about you? Are you a part of a denominational or non-denominational church?
    I am Roman Catholic.

    Do you feel you have access to church leadership, or is it remote and far away?
    Interesting question. Without a doubt, I have access to my pastor. He has access to the bishop, who has access to the archbishop, who has access to the Pope in Rome. In theory, it is possible to make an appointment with the bishop (in theory, it is even possible to get an audience with the Pope), but I would hesitate to go over my pastor’s head and go straight to the bishop.

    Are we doing anything new, or are we just repeating history?
    I can’t say. I think the important question is whether each is following the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

  11. I think “non-denominational” has become a denomination in this country. Sure, there’s no home office or national convention, but those have been replaced with “conferences” and “networks” where the little guys get to bask in the awesomeness of the big guys. Then the little guys (and by little guys, I mean the mega-churches with 3,000 people and not 15,000) go home and try to do everything the big guys do.

    It’s one huge mega-denomination … a MEGANATION (sounds like a Transformer, which is awesome, so it applies). Not formally a denomination, and yet everyone acts like they’re in a denomination. The difference is that in a denomination, the home office tells you what to do. In the meganation, everyone is a copycat. Once you get 20,000 people with a parking ministry that’s bigger than most churches’ attendance, you’re part of the leadership structure, because now everyone is copying you.

    Not that all of this is bad. I think the sharing of ideas and experiences will help us get better. The problem is, most churches no longer ask, “What can we do to advance the kingdom in our communities using the resources God has blessed us with?” Now they ask, “How can we do things like the big successful churches, whether we have the resources or not?” The assumption is that if we do things like the big churches, we’ll advance the Kingdom. The problem is the focus is taken off the Kingdom, and instead being like the big church.

  12. I’m trying to imagine 40 years from now — old blue hairs (or no hairs) with earrings and tattoos rocking out on the worship stage.

    One thing for sure — something major is underway in the church in North America. The ground feels like it’s shifting. The old mainline churches are withering, house churches are growing, everyone is questioning the “mega-churches” and the churches still trying to be “mega-churches.” It seems like God is up to something

  13. I’m probably alone here, but I think mainline church governing bodies choosing to ordain gay clergy and bishops are doing it because they believe it is what is right, not because it is popular (which, as you said, it’s not).

    Yes, the official positions of churches like the UMC and maybe ELCA and PCUSA are more liberal than most of the people in the pews, and maybe that’s why people are leaving, but church is not about giving people what they want to hear.

  14. For a number of reasons, our family left our mid-sized church of ten years and landed at our local mega-church. It was exciting at first–the concert-style worship, the laid-back atmosphere, even popcorn to munch on during Saturday night services. So cool. But after three years, we still felt like we knew no one outside of our small group, which met at a house twice a month. So really, the small group WAS our church. Now we are searching for a new congregation. I would love something small and personal, like a house church, where everyone knows everyone, and we can focus more on building authentic relationships and serving God together, and less on superstar worship leaders and financing multi-million dollar facilities.

  15. I grew up in a non-denominational church, but now am part of both a Mennonite church and an Anglican one. I can only speak for what I’ve seen, but up in Canada, as well as elsewhere in the world, mainstream denominations that are sticking to the gospel are growing by leaps and bounds. In my city the Anglican churches who are known to be evangelical are all bursting at the seams. I get the feeling that Christians here are ready for a new-old spirituality: one that sticks with the basics, without the gimmicks.

  16. I’m not a big fan of the mega-church or multi-campus church thing. Heck I’m not even a fan of 100 person churches. If you aren’t experiencing friendships and brotherhood then it can easily just become a show.

    The bigger the church gets the more inwardly focused it becomes (as a general trend) and it becomes more about managing the Sunday morning experience.

  17. At first I read your title and thought, “Oh, come on! Let’s stop attacking from the inside and start uniting as bible believing Christians.” Then, I read your article. I really shouldn’t judge a blog by its title. LOL.

    Churches do need to change, but not if it compromises the Bible. I am a Christian first, Baptist second. Music, worship style…not a big deal. Whatever. It’s a matter of taste.

    I do agree with you on mega churches. Since I’ve only attended one twice I can’t speak from a real long experience, but from what I’ve seen I can’t see how they are reaching people. How can you reach a hurting person who came to church to find something? We’ve got to first get out of our pews/chairs and reach out while worshipping together and give a hand in friendship even if we never see them again. We’ve got to get beyond the, “How are you?” and actually care about how they are…we just sort of get into our ruts and forget it’s not all about us. Not to say we don’t try in our own ways, but we just forget.

    • Interesting – but the mega-church gets a bad rap. Sunday morning is a celebration. “Church” is meant to happen in home/cell/small groups. The small groups are meant to divide once they get larger than something like 12 members. Folks are supposed to get to know each other, be accountable, try out their spiritual gifts, and work on getting others to join the small group experience. “Zone pastors” are meant to keep in touch with about 12-20 small group leaders, and report in to the senior pastor.

      I have belonged to a couple of large churches – over 750. The small group experiences were basically wonderful.

      The problem is pastor, big name, and worship model idolatry.

      Bill Hybels at Willow Creek recently admitted their programs did not create Christians that could feed themselves. They thousands of folks, but discipled few.

      I have been ignored in some small churches – it come from leadership.

  18. A lively, thinking, group here. I like it. I like anywhere there are people who care about Christ and the life we are called to life.

  19. As a pastor in a conservative branch of Presbyterians (PCA/Presbyterian Church in America), we’ve been experiencing plenty of growth up to the last 5 years; now we’ve tapered off. We are seeing some churches close and merge with other PCA churches or other conservative Reformed churches.

    Our problem in Florida (generally) was/is we often combined the Gospel with a very thick layer of anglo/Republican values. So the growth of new communities of Hispanics and other “minorities”, plus a love affair with Republican politics (on the decline) isolated our churches and congregations from their communities.

    We were/are also (generally) complicated, program-driven. It’s hard to shrink and grow in response to changes when all your money is going into salaries of endless staff. Most churches of 300 have 5 full time staff–pastor, associate, secretary, youth, music. The overhead is very high, and if you fire the youth guy in a program driven church, you loose all your families–they go to another church with a “youth dude.” It’s just not possible to flex and change in a situation like that.

    I can easily throw stones at Pastor Martha and say that her denomination suffers because they are liberal. But that doesn’t explain the complicated reasons why churches shrink.

    And house churches, while a growing trend that I applaud, is not the “answer.” Will churches let the teachings of Scripture influence their way of doing “business”? Down to their core? Will they humble themselves and have bivocational staff (as I am) in order to respond to the financial challenges?

    Allowing the Scriptures to speak to our very core, and the Spirit to creatively apply, with power, to our souls–this is at the heart of the matter.

  20. I am reminded of Revelation where Jesus threatened to shut down a few churches and take away their “candlesticks” if they didn’t repent. I believe that Jesus is in the business of shutting down churches that have left Him.

  21. I’m part of a non-denominational “house” church. I put house in parenthesis because on Sundays, we meet at a school. However, throughout the week we meet in homes.

    The MAIN part of the church is the “Homegroups”. The Sunday part is just to fellowship with some of the other groups (so you’re not stuck in your bubble of 20 or so) and to celebrate/worship together. There is the typical sermon as well, but I think the most benefit comes from small groups/homegroups – where you can really discuss the Bible, life, God, etc.

    I know who the leadership are and they are very accessible. They know me by name as well. :)

  22. I’ve been attending various Southern Baptist churches since I was six days old (and a member since 8). Ironically, my “Southern Baptist Identity” was pretty much done away with when I was overseas as a SB “worker.”

    I like the SB lack of an official hierarchy. Yes, the politics of the denominational meetings set the “Baptist Faith and Message,” but individual churches are given autonomy. Granted, I have no idea why a church would affiliate itself with the SBC if they didn’t agree with the BF&M, but we are given the freedom to if we like. (I firmly believe that this “democratic” style of a denomination came about purely because the “Baptist” faith in America appeared approximately the same time as the American Revolution.)

    Because of who I am (outspoken, involved in high-profile ministries, daughter of a former minister at my current church, friend of and well-known to the pastors, and respected for my knowledge of Scripture (however unfounded that belief may be)), I _do_ have access to our church’s leadership. There have been several occasions when I’ll make a comment to our (wannabe trendy worship leader) about something (e.g., changing “He Hideth My Soul” to “He Hides My Soul” to make the hymn more “relevant”) and after a time for thought (and face-saving), he’ll relent.

    But I’ve had no way to affect the leadership’s love for all things Saddleback. It’s pretty ridiculous at times. They’re in the process of changing it now (thank goodness), but for a while our “vision” statement was that by 2012, we wanted to be the “most spiritually-impacting body of believers” in our area. I know that by the corporate model, vision statements are supposed to be measurable, but really? Were we really going to go around to all the other churches in our area and decide that we were more “spiritually-impacting” than them? And how exactly were we going to measure “spiritual impact?” Really what they were saying was that they wanted to be the _biggest_ church in our area.

    And it’s not working. I missed it, but apparently the senior pastor said a few weeks ago that if giving didn’t increase, they’d have to let an associate pastor go. Apparently the connection has not been made that people are leaving, not because they just don’t feel like getting up on Sundays, but because they don’t agree with the direction the church is heading.

    But it’s getting to a point that _I’m_ about ready to leave this church that has been my home and family since I was 6 (sometimes for good, sometimes for not-so-good). And it’s sad. And I don’t know how to get the ear of the leadership about this. They’re trying so hard to be “relevant” and Saddleback that they’ve taken their eyes off of the true focal point. But is leaving the answer? Will that fix the problem or contribute to it?

    I don’t know. I don’t know what the answers are. I just hope we find them soon, because I’d hate for my church to have to go bankrupt to get them to hear what people are actually saying.

    • Great comments – people are looking for life and significance – that will never change.

      Some of the mega-church models are starting to like the Tower of Babel, where folks are tryig to make a name for themselves.

  23. I don’t attend a church and I have visited a few in my lifetime. Anyways…I have always wondered why people spend years sitting on a pew every Sunday. Isn’t there a time when you have to move off that pew and get outside of the church where real people are hurting? How much education do you need to reach out to those who are hurting? Or how long do you sit on a pew before you realize that there is a ministry outside that church door, or maybe in your own neighborhood? If the church leaders are supposed to be making disciples to go out into the world…then why are those people still sitting on the pews years later?
    I hope you don’t mind all my questions. These are just things I think about.

  24. I almost LOL’d at the question “how accessible is your church leadership.” Mine is in the “Catholic Oz” aka Vatican City. I’m in Georgia. So there you go. The latest news from over yonder is that whoever is in charge of such things is meeting to decide which minute details of the Mass should be changed so that the words are a more literal translation of the original Latin. Thank goodness, now I can finally sleep well at night.

    Really??? Ugh.

    I loved my Catholic church at home, but the church I went to during undergrad was only surpassed in dryness by the Catholic churches I went to while visiting Ireland (yikes), so I started going to a Baptist church. But honestly, that pastor knew he was ministering to like 400 college students from every denomination or non-denomination under the sun, so it was a pretty non-denominational atmosphere in my opinion.

    I NEVER thought I would be part of the non-denominational crowd. (Although I will definitely never go to a non-denom mega church…the Catholic in me will always love sanctuaries. No warehouses please.) Honestly, I’ll always identify as Catholic if anyone asks, but that isn’t going to dictate where I go to church. I just moved for grad school, and am currently church hopping yet again. We’ll see what happens this time around.

  25. Matt,
    Our church used to be part of the United Church of Christ, but when they became a bunch of bleeding heart liberals, we pulled out of the denomination and became non-denominational. Then about 8 years ago, we merged our assets with a multi-site church. Technically, we have access to church leadership, but I think they’re like a bunch of bobblehead dolls that just nod to make you feel like they’re listening, and then they’ll go back to the lead pastor and just rubberstamp anything he recommends – there is no real accountability to the church body. At this point, I’d love to be part of a house church and highly recommend you relocate to the Chicagoland area.

  26. I agree that denominations are constantly shooting themselves in the foot. I left them a long ways back and started a house church.

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