Friday, September 29, 2006


A recent denominational publication carried the annual statistical report. Just like every year for more than a decade, more like two or three, the numbers show declining membership. That's over twenty years of continuous, steady decline. This issue of the newspaper also reported the steady drop in contributions to the denominational church body. In urgent response I'm sure they'll commission another study and redouble their efforts to keep doing what hasn't worked for over twenty years.

There's a word people in recovery from addiction use for doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Insanity. If this is accurate...and I believe it is...most major Christian denominations in the United States today are insane. Of course, if the goal is something other than growth, if they're not interested in adding to the number of people who know and follow Christ, then they should keep doing exactly what they're doing. It's apparently working! But, if stagnation and decline are acceptable, then why count? Some of the staunchest defenders of decline (they'll say they are protecting doctrinal purity, theological accuracy and the traditions of the denomination) will tell you that it's not about the numbers. These were the people in the 1980's and '90's who opposed the "Church Growth Movement", a radical attempt by some churches in the denomination to find out what might work to attract new people to Jesus Christ. If numbers aren't important and being attractive to those who don't know Christ so that you might welcome them into the family doesn't matter, I ask again, why count?

In business ignoring twenty years of steady decline is tantamount to signing your own death warrant. It's a tacit acceptance that your business is a failure and, if you don't make radical changes, it will cease to exist. The same is true for the church. Let's stop spiritualizing failure and start asking the really, really hard questions like, "why are we so completely ineffective in areas that really matter?" When we find answers, and we can find answers, the response cannot be doing more of the same.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Second Pull

In my new bathroom (we just moved into our new house) the drawers in the vanity are fake. In the house we rented for a year there really were drawers in the bathroom vanity. We've been in the new house about a month and yesterday I pulled the fake handle on the fake drawer...again...twice. It didn't budge on the first pull but I still gave it a second tug before my brain kicked-in reminding me that I'm in a new place that doesn't have drawers, even though it looks like it does. I was in the bathroom all by myself, but I still felt a little foolish. Why does it take two pulls for me to remember I'm in a new place? Then I thought of the church.

Churches have mastered the second pull. Truth be told, many churches stand at the drawer that isn't really there and pull and pull and pull and pull, pull, pull. It still looks like a drawer so why won't it open? While I hope, eventually, there'll come a time when I'll never even take the first tug on that fake drawer, I'm frustrated with churches that never stop long enough to realize the futility of their pulling. There is a world of people right outside our doors dying to know Jesus. People who need the love, compassion, hope, healing, grace and forgiveness that is found in relationship with him.

Let's admit that there's no longer anything where our drawers used to be. I guess it's okay to fondly remember where the drawers were and even leave the fake fronts and pretty handles. But, for the love of God, let's stop pulling on them as if they were real. Let's go find where the stuff that used to be in the drawers is now!

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Loss of Discipline

It's been over two months since I posted on this blog! I can't believe how quickly time passes. I know that sounds trite and cliche, but it's true. Have you ever been caught unaware of time passing? You know how it happens. You get caught up in one thing or another and, before you know it, weeks or months...even years...have passed. Along with the time you recognize lost opportunities. Big and little chances you missed to contribute, comment, impact or be involved. Up until the summer came I was really enjoying my regular posts to this blog. It was part of a discipline I had developed to get up early, share some thoughts, exercise, journal and get ready for a full day of work. These were good disciplines that were very healthy for me.

The reasons for losing these disciplines are all legitimate. My work gets very busy during the summer and, this past summer, included tons of travel all over the United States. My father-in-law died in the middle of summer with a trip to Chicago for the funeral. Once I got home from all my trips my wife and I closed on our new house and moved in. Three days after that my mother-in-law came to visit and stayed for over two weeks! Do you recognize those as compelling reasons for losing track of disciplines that were so helpful?

Here are some things that are also true. While on the road I always had my laptop with me and often had wireless internet access. When I was home my work day never started before 8 a.m. so I still had this early morning window available to me. Other than the few days when we were moving from our rental into our new home I didn't stay up any later than normal. While it would have taken more work to maintain my discipline of early rising, blogging, exercise and journaling, I could have done it. Is it really discipline if, at the first sign of difficulty, you stop doing it? Once you lose track of doing the right thing it's very hard to get back to it. That's what's happened to so many churches in this country.

I'm certain that nearly every church out there started with lots of energy, enthusiasm and discipline to do the right thing. The founders were bent on sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and having a profound impact on the communities they served. Today, whether it's been fifteen years or one hundred fifty years, many of those churches have lost the discipline it takes to be healthy members of the body of Christ. All for legitimate reasons, on the face of it. The founding pastor died suddenly; they built beautiful buildings for ministry then were overwhelmed by the day-to-day operations; they grew too fast and didn't manage the growth well; they got burned helping people outside the church and began making policies that were exclusive and protectionist, not all at once, but little by little. Eventually almost every church comes to a place of rest from which they look back and see how much time has passed and how much they've lost. In these moments there is a choice. A church can admit the loss of discipline and do the hard work of reclaiming the passion that was theirs at the beginning or they can cling to all the legitimate reasons why they've come to where they are and remain ineffective, undisciplined and dying.

I'm choosing to get back to my blogging, exercise, journaling and discipline. I may lose it again and have to start back at the beginning. It's hard work, but for me, it's worth it. I'm hoping that every church that find's itself at a time of self-awareness and decision will do the hard work it takes to become truly effective for the sake of Christ...again.