“The high tide of church attendance in the United States happened in the 1950’s.
A majority of us were not born yet when churches experienced the zenith of their effect on American culture. With the exception of an uptick in the 1970’s and 80’s, the overall trajectory of church attendance has been downward.”
That acknowledgement was how a recent webinar I attended began. Almost sounds defeating to begin a class on ‘Thriving Ministry in the Next Chapter’ with a comment like that!
But, as Jim Collins reminded us in his classic text, Good to Great, ‘The first responsibility of a leader is to confront the brutal facts.’ And of those companies that Jim studied, the ‘good-to-great companies continually refined the path to greatness with the brutal facts of reality.’ pg. 71
The facts are simple. 2020 and 2021 have disrupted the church as we’ve always known it. And that downward trajectory has only been accelerated. The rate of change has flung us forward nearly ten years in the course of less than two. As one author phrased it, it leaves you feeling Rumpelstiltskin-like.
You might be asking yourself about now, ‘Are you trying to discourage us?’
No, not discourage you, but to remind you that we are resurrection people!
Resurrection people are hopeful!
And, resurrection people believe that if Jesus could predict his own death and resurrection, then pull it off, then there isn’t anything impossible!
In the days following the resurrection, I imagine that the disciples of Jesus had more questions than they did answers. Jesus didn’t leave them with a lot of instructions. All he really said was, ‘Go, make disciples.’ Matthew 28:19
We have a lot of those today!
While our mission is still the same, to make disciples; how we do that in a changing culture is why we need to confront the brutal facts and keep asking questions.
I also believe that they were afraid. These were primarily fishermen by trade. They were simple people. How were they going to make disciples to ‘the ends of the earth.’ (Most of them probably never traveled more than 60 miles from home- and that by foot!)
We also have a lot of that today.
As I recently read, ‘fear closes hearts and shuts down brain capacity.’ (Beth Ann Estock)
Fear drives us to play things safe. And in the church world, playing it safe is always about reverting back to what we’ve always done.
But if you remember where this all started, what we know is that what we’ve been doing wasn’t actually working. And the last two years are revealing that more and more.
So, what are we going to do?
We’re going to keep asking questions. Questions about how we navigate an uncertain culture in which the church plays an increasingly ineffective role. Making disciples in this post-Christian culture will require new methods and tools. But most importantly, it will require us asking questions of those outside the church, then listening deeply to their responses.
We’re also going to confront our fears so that we don’t close our hearts and shut down our brains! It would be easy to let fear drive us back into the safety of the known. It would also be easier to not think creatively about how we engage the time before us! And it would be unChrist-like to close our hearts to people that God loves.
When we do these two things, I believe that days of thriving ministry are ahead!
That ministry may not look like the 1950’s, or the 1970’s, or even the 2010’s. But the church of Jesus Christ has never been about looking backward.
If I can reframe that earlier quote from Jim Collins, ‘great churches continually refine the path to thriving ministry with questions and faith!’
I’m excited about the ‘next chapter’ of ministry at Linglestown Life!