I grew up very deeply immersed in Christian subculture. I was that girl in youth group.
It was shocking for me to watch the attrition as I came out of high school. Barna estimates that 80% of the kids who are reared in church will be disengaged from the local church by the time they're 29.
Respondents citing "no religion" were the only group that grew in every state. 73% of the "nones" grew up in religious homes.
The church is losing 50,000 people/month.
I believe that primarily what we are seeing in explosive church growth is 1) babies are born or 2) transfer growth. We're not adding to the Kingdom, just reshuffling the deck.
Half of all evangelical churches in America reported not adding a single person through conversion.
It appears the church is not making disciples.
We need to move from attraction to deployment.
I'm not going to talk philosophy of attractional vs. missional today.
If we pop out of our little, tiny Christian bubble, attractional just isn't a wise approach to building the church anymore. We are in a culture that is declaring they are clearly not going to come to church anymore. Building a church around an attractional model just isn't practical anymore.
An attractional church is just going to attract Christians. Here's the problem. Without any new buyin from the next two generations, the American church is going to be dead.
Besides all of that, Jesus actually never told us to start a church. He told us to become and make disciples. Church is actually just the outcome of a bunch of believers living on mission together. Incarnational living creates disciples, and disciples together create the church.
So if our primary goal is just to attract people to church first, we might end up with a full sanctuary and no discipleship. Discipleship isn't attractive at first blush.
Isaiah 53:1-3 Jesus wasn't fancy or beautiful. He never faked anyone out with flash but no substance. Jesus was familiar with pain, which means that Jesus was familiar to people in pain.
I often try to imagine Jesus walking through some of our sanctuaries designed to attract and impress, and I just can't get my head around it.
Who can believe our message of this poor, humble servant leader who saved our world by dying for it? A bit too much of it screams, "We're cool. We're edgy."
A national worship leader friend of mine was saying we've gone to the limits of what is new or cool. We've reached our attractional threshold, and it's still not holding.
Young adults said community was the top thing that would attract them to or keep them in the Church. Number two was social justice. Number three was depth. Number four was mentorship.
It's interesting what this tells us. It tells us that at least the next generation is malnourished from spiritual soda pop, and what they actually want is wine.
I'm afraid that in this attempt to attract with all of this cultural relevance, we've become irrelevant. It's like when your parents try to be cool. We don't actually want our parents to be cool. We want them to be parents. We don't want them to shift around with every little thing. We want them to be there when everything stops being alternative and emergent and awesome. Parents aren't always trying to coddle us and make us feel good. They tell us to get our butts out of bed and do our chores.
Parents are preparing us to become adults.
Rather than imagining the church as a landing zone, perhaps we should see it as a launching pad. We're not here to build a big church but to make a bunch of disciples who grow up and become adults.
Who cares what our churches look like? Who cares if the pastor wears pleated dockers. I don't care if you wore a banana clip on purpose. These are last place details.
Here's the question. Are people's lives being transformed? That's it.
Here's how you answer that: Are they living on mission in their real lives?
20-45% of Americans actually attend church ever on a given weekend, and only 6% of churches grew last year. What they tell us is that the way to reach our communities is our people, living on mission, deployed. That's the way we are going to reconnect with our communities and our cities.
Practically, people aren't going to come to us, but Biblically, even if they did, disciples go where they are sent.
We say one thing, but we structure around our true values. Shifting from attracting to deploying may require some deep changes.
We're going to have to endorse some new norms and change our definition of success. Whatever we think is success is the way we are going to be leading our people.
So when folks stop living off the church campus but on mission in fuzzy ways: dinner with their neighbors, poker nights, book clubs, these start feeling a little nebulous to church leaders. These things are the engine of incarnational living.
When we moved into our neighborhood several years ago, we set out on neighborhood domination. We moved in with our friends and said, "We are going to love these people so hard. They're not going to know what hit them." So we just started having our neighbors in. In the driveway. Brandon started a card night with the guys.
One of my neighbors I really liked. It was like the early stages of dating. She had been in my house a few times. When this happens, I tend to hold back my Christian card because I know people have spiritual baggage. But I had a friend with me who knew me well and she outed me.
And so my friend, her face fell. And I just asked her how she felt. And she told me, "I feel unsafe with you now."
I think about the way we have invited people into our lives for a long time. I grew up in a paradigm that was worth based. First of all, you need to believe... like I do. We need to get that piece grounded. Then you can belong with us. Then it moves over into this toxic community, into the maintenance phase. Behave. Don't get weird. Don't go off the rails.
I wonder what would happen if we started putting new language in front of our community. What if we communicated that people belong, in our homes, where we are, in our homes, in our schools. We say, "I love you. You're not my project. There are no strings attached."
What happens is that if you create this space of safety for long enough, people will believe. There are a thousand conversations between. They will believe because we have shown them Jesus.
And if I can add this on just because I never did like the maintenance phase of believe. So I wonder if collectively we stopped saying, "We're going to behave." And started saying, "We're going to become like Jesus."
The number 1 reason people stopped coming to church was life change. Schedules got busy. They had kids, whatever.
What if we created margin for busyness and taught people that the 1000 small things that people do to connect with folks, that's important. That three hours invested in a family in the community is no less valuable than the three hours on Sunday.
The reason our people cannot live on mission is perhaps not because they don't want to but because they don't have time.
It is very, very difficult to live incarnationally and not make disciples, but it is shockingly easy to do church and not make disciples.
Sacrificial service, especially to the poor, is central to discipleship. Nothing our church has ever done has transformed our people more than serving the poor.
How can we possibly lead a movement to the margins when our business model holds church attendance as the bullseye. If we're not moving people out into prophetic living, our model is unbiblical.
Serving the poor draws the unchurched. We have people serve with us 10 times before they ever come to church. We can invite people into justice more easily than into the inner workings of our family. It's the foundation of Christian obedience.
I'm pretty much the only one of the four kids in our family who is still deeply connected to the church. I asked my sister not too long ago, what was it for you that you finally just kinda walked. She said, "You know, Jen. I just couldn't play the game anymore."
And what I want to tell you leaders, "Nor should we." With so many of our people under our leadership playing church, let me tell you, it's not our responsibility to babysit spoiled, entitled Christians. The more attractional you are, the more you'll have to do that. We don't have time to mess around. This is it. The earth is dying, people are suffering, and people are lonely
This is urgent mission. We are here to make disciples who will make disciples, because everything else is a waste of time. I believe that you will get more done with a small number of committed disciples than a stadium full of indugled, first world Christians.
If our goal is to raise disciples up and send them out, then leaders, let us please stop disparaging those who actually leave. If we are doing our jobs, then people are going to go further and further and further, because that is how God expands the Kingdom.
So if our folks leave us to plant another church or live missionally somewhere or start some sort of faith community then what we should do is anoint them with oil and send them out with our highest blessings.
We get confused about this in American Christianity. This is not about our little micro-kingdoms. If people launch out, that should be a thrill and joy to us. We've got to resist that impulse to feel left behind, and nothing could validate our ministries more than that.
With 40% of the dechurched stating mistrust and lack of faith in their pastors, I'm not saying it's earned, but it's their perception, so it's their reality. I wonder if churches built on a powerful personality will struggle to reach the cynical.
You don't have to be the main attraction. This is a wonderful time to start sharing teaching responsibilities. Decentralize a bit, things that make us uncomfortable as leaders. We don't have to attract people with a charming personality or outrageous charisma. That feels disingenous and scares people.
The more vulnerable and simple and approachable as a leader, the more you are living in your own skin, the more you are being honest about your own life, struggles and questions, the more likely you are to raise up disciples who are like that.
That is the sort of community that can change an entire city.
You string enough of those communities together, and we can change the entire world.
I'm proud of you for leading the church. It's a hard job, and there are a lot of days I want to walk away from it, just like you do. But I'm just not okay with being a part of a generation where the Church died on my watch.
So may you and I as leaders be simple, ordinary Christ followers, not fixated on building awesome churches but on building disciples who are ready to say, "Here I am, send me."