As 2016 moves into the final days I'm discovering I haven't posted anything here for the entire year! There's no way to go back in time and remedy that so I'll just post now knowing I didn't miss 2016 completely.
What a year this has been. There's no shortage of commentary on the horrors of this year from the number of celebrities who have died to the U.S. presidential election. But you won't hear anything from me about those topics here. This is a blog about church and 2016 wasn't so hot for churches, either.
The Christian church in the U.S. continues it's long, slow, steady decline. Fewer and fewer people are involved in church as it is traditionally understood. Giving to churches is down (but then so is giving to most charities this year). The nones and the dones have been in the press as identifiable groups that have separated from church.
Recently I had coffee with a church leader who is trying to sort out what the future looks like for his church. He's asking a lot of good questions about the purpose of church and where church fits in 2017. I'm encouraged by discussions like this and the fact people are having these discussions more often and with more urgency. Nothing spurs meaningful, soul-searching conversation quite like impending death.
In 1990, a year before his death, my father had a medical episode that nearly ended his life then. I was summoned to his bedside and spent a week working with doctors to find a way back for him. During that time we had the deepest and most honest conversations about the choices he'd made, the regrets he had, and faith. Neither of us was sure he'd make it out of that hospital room alive so there was no pretense or posturing. Just good, honest conversation.
Is it possible 2017 is the year the church in the U.S. realizes it may be on it's deathbed? Every year more than 4,000 churches close their doors while only about 1,000 new churches open. Along with that about 2.7 million churchgoers become inactive on an annual basis. All this according to the U.S. Census Bureau as reported in an article on ChurchLeadership.org. Having worked in and around churches my whole career and active in church since birth I can say with confidence churches are the slowest to change of nearly any organization in the world. The lumbering bureaucracies of government come close but I'll argue church is still king when it comes to refusing change and holding on to failed methodology until long after their futility has become obvious to everyone else.
We can all recite experiences backing this up and I could give you examples of conversations I've had in just the last month or so of churches actively chasing people off with the way they do things. In the distant past people irritated with their church just hung in there and complained a lot. Then things shifted and they would leave to find another church. Today they don't wait long and they just leave.
What if we Christians in the U.S. treated 2017 like it was our last chance to have an honest conversation with the church before it dies? What would you say to the church if you dropped all pretense and posturing? What would you say to church leaders if they came and asked you what the purpose and place of church is? And what if they actually listened?
A final note: I'm intentionally spelling church with a lower case 'c' because it's not the Church that's in trouble. The Bride of Christ is alive and well all over the world accomplishing great things. Followers of Christ are as vibrant as ever and often active and effective outside the restrictions of the church. Comment here and contribute to the deathbed conversation with the church. I'm not sure the church will listen, but that shouldn't stop us from talking.