Will the Real Church Please Stand Up? (Part 1)

March 28, 2012 — 22 Comments

I am afraid we have missed the boat on a lot of key things and as a result, our young people (teens and twenty-somethings) have become disenchanted with organized religion. Keep in mind that this is not indicative of every church context (I know…your church is always the exception right?) but ever since I became a member of the Church of Christ I have seen some growing tension between organized church activities (including worship) and participation from younger generations. I do not have any hard data to prove this within the Churches of Christ (if there is such please comment below) nor do I think there is any specific causative reasons but what I do find fascinating is that there seems to be this trend among other Christian wings like the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me shows the trend of younger generations who are leaving organized religion. They are not leaving the faith as they still hold a high value on personal spirituality but they simply do not accept many of the different things their organized church stood for (Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus but not the Church is important here). But I wish there were data for the Churches of Christ to show the downward trending as all I have is experience which is limited in geography, theological leaning and other factors. 

So what I say cannot be authoritative because the Churches of Christ have no headquarters unless you count the various universities and preaching schools as different headquarters for different theological leanings (I digress).  I wonder what twenty-somethings long for in a church? Whatever it is I am not sure we are offering that to them. We think that we can have announcements, a few songs, a prayer, a quiet Lord’s Supper where nobody talks, a sermon, an invitation and a closing prayer and somehow that is supposed to spiritually feed them. Well you say, “Robbie, it is not our job to feed them as they are supposed to grow spiritually themselves.” That’s my issue!!! I think where we are failing can be summed-up in a few words: LACK OF INTIMACY.  

Somehow we feel that the teenagers and twenty-somethings are just supposed to “get it” by listening to sermons, attending a bible class and maybe the odd retreat thrown in there. Listen carefully: we need to get away from thinking that spiritual formation happens, or is even formed, from the church building. I have spent almost 8 years in youth ministry and the twenty somethings who were in my youth group would quickly tell you that they serve God not because of an event, sermon or bible class that happened inside the church building but it was the intentional, intimate relationships geared towards accountability, service and discipleship OUTSIDE OF THE BUILDING that changed their lives. 

That does not mean they are anti-church services or anti-preaching but it does mean that we have become too personal-salvation oriented to the neglect of inviting others to join in the conversation of spiritual formation. To illustrate this I wonder how many of your churches have poor, broken, drug and alcohol addicted people in your midst. Now church is not all about reaching poor people or those in the inner-city but nor does it mean churches are all about middle to upper-class people either. Why can’t we have both in the same building (some do…I know…but not many)? I think the issue is a lack of intimacy. We do not want to share their brokenness with them because it is ugly. Instead, we offer them to come to the building, hear a sermon, walk down forward and confess their sins and then we will pray for them. Good intentions but not enough. 

So here it is. Me and some friends of mine got together a few weekends ago to talk about this generation and what the church needs to do and what we came up with was nothing short of the Holy Spirit. We all admitted that we have failed to be intimate. Our marriages, our relationships with other men and women, our discipleship, our evangelism, our worship and our service. 

Here’s the problem…I don’t know how to solve it. How do you ask a church to become more intimate and change the way they do church in order to reach this generation? Also, how do you reach a church with intimacy issues who are in denial and say that they are ok? 

I don’t know but I am going to blog about it. These blogs are pro-Church and they are pro-Jesus (as if the two can be separated). I think we are just missing the boat somewhere and people are leaving and going elsewhere. So will the real church please stand up?    

***If you are from another denomination feel free to comment as I think the experience is normative across the evangelical board. 

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22 responses to Will the Real Church Please Stand Up? (Part 1)

  1. 

    “Also, how do you reach a church with intimacy issues who are in denial and say that they are ok?”

    That’s the part I’m dealing with. Any time I bring up a way we can improve I either get a lecture on how we don’t need to improve in that specific area, or I get agreement followed by justification: “I know we’re not perfect, but at least…” I’ll be following closely/participating in this discussion and hoping I learn something.

    • 
      Robbie Mackenzie March 28, 2012 at 9:06 am

      Thanks Joseph. I hope to invite other people to blog about this.

    • 

      I honestly think that the best way to approach things is to start afresh. You can change the culture of a congregation but you must be willing to be able to last and to be in for the long haul. I worked with a church for 8 years and thought we had turned a corner towards some really great things and lo and behold legalism reared its head and I found out the root was still there. I was not able to outlast the disappointment and set back and the church reverted to its former state and ended up going backwards. What took 8 years to double managed to reduce itself back down to below the starting point in four years

  2. 

    Real words man. God longs for our intimacy and despises our faulty religion. Your comment about being intentional is where I feel we all need to start. To earnestly seek God inside and outside the church. Being a recent graduate of the youth group, I struggled first hand with honestly experiencing God within the church building. I admit that a lot of that reflected my own issues with Him, but there is an issue that runs deeper than the surface. Deeper than organized worship issues. Deeper than broken doctrine. It’s scary, but I think most of the time, it returns to my deep intimacy with God (or lack there of.) Who he is and how all these surface, visual issues reflect the problems within that relationship. When a church will not admit the brokeness they are experiencing, then I would argue wholeheartedly that they aren’t truly intimate with God on a genuine level. And that’s what scares me: the underlying issue with us and God. He pleads in Isaiah for Israel get past their religious practices and truly experience the holy God. It’s time for the church of christ to set aside our issues that lie on the surface and get into a dirty wrestling match with God. To allow him to dislocate our hip and forever change our name to his glory. It’s time to really get to know the God who is not held in a Bible or a convenient hour-sized box of organized comfortable worship. When his people were in exile, God spoke through Jeremiah giving them assurance that he listens to their intimate pleading. Chpt 9 v 13-14, “‘If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,’ says the Lord. ‘I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.'” It’s time for us to seek him. To call on him to deliver us from the captivity we have placed ourselves in through religion and our own brokeness. Thank you for your honesty, Robbie. To God be the glory.

    • 
      Robbie Mackenzie March 28, 2012 at 9:07 am

      Awesome Ryan. This hit home: “Who he is and how all these surface, visual issues reflect the problems within that relationship. When a church will not admit the brokeness they are experiencing, then I would argue wholeheartedly that they aren’t truly intimate with God on a genuine level.”

      Thank you for this.

  3. 

    I know that a lot of people have problems with doing small group studies. One thing I have heard is that they don’t want the studies to turn into social gatherings. But honestly, is that so bad?

    This past sunday, I went to a small group study at a couple’s house from the congregation I have been meeting with, where we were continuing our study of the 5 love languages. They asked me to bring my guitar, because they knew I wrote and played music.
    After the study, they asked me, and another member who I have become good friends with, to play some songs on our guitars. The guy I was playing with is trained on classical guitar, so he knew how to follow along with just about any progression pretty easily, so I told them I was going to play one of my original songs. That ended up being one of the most honest performances of any song that I have given, because I knew that the people there genuinely wanted to listen, even if it was only about 12 people.

    I totally agree that a lack of intimacy is one of the biggest issues.

  4. 

    Amen and amen Robbie! I have been wrestling with this as well. Having finished “Forgotten God” by Frances Chan about two weeks ago I have been reading the Bible noticing especially how the Holy Spirit worked in the New Testament I have finished Mark and Acts. It is amazing what the scriptures have to say about this and how we have ignored the Spirits role in the church today. The intimacy we are lacking in the Lord’s church is staggering and must be addressed both publicly and privately.

    I look forward to your thoughts and others about this vital to our survival topic.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. 

    Amen, Amen, Amen… I completely agree that a lack of intimacy is the biggest issue. We have gotten so tied up in what we should and shouldn’t do that we forget it is ALL about Jesus. He is the reason that we can have a relationship with God… What an amazing thing. God desires us to love him intimately, and he desires our whole lives. The Creator of the Universe desires us!!! When we love Him intimately, we are going to want to please Him. My heart breaks when I hear friends say that they fell away from the church because people are fake and because we hide our brokenness. We pretend that everything is perfect and our lives are going great. I think this also has a lot to do with pride as well. We build up these walls that hide who we are and as a result people cannot see Christ. Christ is shown through our broken lives and until we allow God to break down those concrete walls of our hearts, it stands between our relationship with God. I mean I can say this because it is the story of my life, literally. I need God. I need Him to renew me every day. I need Him to fill me. I need Him to be able to love, to be compassionate, to be patient, etc because when I have tried to do these things without Him, I fail miserably. Praise God that Jesus lives in me, because He is the only thing that is truly good in me.

    • 
      Robbie Mackenzie March 28, 2012 at 2:38 pm

      “I think this also has a lot to do with pride as well.” I agree. People cannot use a church’s brokenness to ruin their relationship with God as God is so much bigger than any one reflection of his church.

  6. 

    My whole life I have loved the church because of the relationships from it. I see God working through my relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have tried getting involved with a 5 different churches in two different cities, and I found myself empty still. I don’t believe the fault lies solely in the churches I have attended but much like Ryan said I am the main cause for not becoming connected/building relationships. I can now see the “lack of intimacy” a visitor is faced with every time they come in to our building.
    I do agree with “outside the building” most of my encounters with God have taken place outside the “church” Building. Attending various service projects with friends and the people I love have brought me closer to God than most other events. Things like camps and retreats have always been the most spiritual uplifting events I have come across.
    As a vistior I know what I don’t care for that some churches think may be beneficial. Before the worship starts when they ask everybody to stand up and meet the person next to them. What is that it almost seems like something on a checklist oh we did our job of reaching out to a visitor by letting some member to “hopeful” shake their hand. Being told to greet someone doesn’t seem like a good place to start when building a relationship.

    One love,

    • 
      Robbie Mackenzie March 28, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      Did I sense a “rant” on shaking someone’s hand? YES!!! I agree and you are very perceptive in trying to understand church from a visitor’s perspective.

  7. 
    Daniel Rushing March 28, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Good stuff Robbie! I don’t profess to have all the answers or any of them really. I do think that sometimes we forget that our Sunday morning assembly is not the church, we are. If we want intimacy, we need to seek it out and make happen. It is a grass roots movement. It starts with individuals…then there begins to be small pockets…eventually the minority becomes the norm. Thats my dream anyway. A lot of the comments so far are former msyg members. You will be excited to know we are forming a ministry called “connect” for young adults. If you want intimacy and authinticity lets make it happen.

  8. 

    I am afraid that your assement is not on target but I certainly can be wrong. We are living in a society filled with young people that’s main concern is the handheld electronic device in their hand. That device is more important to them than their relative in a casket in a funeral home or the conversations they should be in with people standing right in front of them. They are programmed to ignore everything around them to answer the latest ding from their computerized gizmo. If we are to reach people we are going to have to be countercultre and not worshippers of all things new. There is no doubt that churches are in trouble. I have been preaching for 30 years and have traveled around a bit and study the church directories put out by various brotherhood (if we have one anymore) outlets and find that most churches report anywhere from 10-20% of people than they actually have so the numbers are more dire than we would really want to admit. I also teach Bible in a public state university and I can tell you that people know longer know much of anything about the Bible. The disturbing thing is that many that attend church on a regular basis know little to nothing about it. I dont know if anything I have to say will be helpful but I fully believe that we had better do a lot of soul searching and discusion and way more praying than what we have been doing or we will calling for missionaries from Africa to reach Americans. All of the drawing of lines and splitting hairs in the past 20 years have done nothing but drive people off and discourage people. Churches have not been strengthened by all of the little local lectureships that called the choir to stone the local heretics. What did it accomplish? You are looking at it in the form of dying churches.

    • 
      Robbie Mackenzie March 28, 2012 at 2:46 pm

      Randy thanks for jumping in and I appreciate your comments. I agree that churches become way too legalistic and much damage has been drawn by our straining of gnats and the statistics you mentioned I think are on target from my experience as well.

      I hope my assessment is off-target but all of the conversations I have had seem to point towards this direction (certainly does not mean my experience is normative). I really think teenagers and twenty-somethings long for something authentic, passionate, risky, and relational. Despite all of their usage of technology it seems they still desire intimate relationships. I saw a Barna statistic that said the number one preferred way of contact a teenager desires is one-on-one or voice conversation. Wow!

      Their age group is geared more towards the church helping people much in the way Jesus did in the gospels. They look for different things in worship that is more experiential, moving and Christocentric.

      • 

        Barna was, as in past tense, a great source but I dont think it reliable since it has become a money making venture so I may look at it but do not trust a lot of the studies. I am sure you know more on this subject than I do but what I have observed is all groups are losing people after they get out of the youth group. College ministries keep some but not the majority. We have to form groups with in the church, in or out of classes, to keep them active. Most churches have a game plan, not much vision, but a game plan for the teens but once you graduate from high school you might as well be an alien until you marry and have kids. This is a target group if we are going to change things on some level. I think I am finding a way to do this at least where I am. It could be a lot better but 10 years ago we had no college students or people of that age and now we have 20 plus on Wed evenings and it was as simple as persevering with a teacher just for that age group even when we had two. We need to take it up to a far greater level than what we are and that is the next phase. This still has not dealt with the real issue of reaching the ever increasing number of non churched people.

  9. 

    Also they do want to do things to help people but they like adults have to check their ipads to see what hour they can devote to helping

  10. 

    I feel a stirring! Wait to see what God has in store for his children. Talk to your elders and practice a reasonable amount of patience. I feel an excitement in the church I haven’t felt in a long time. But understand we must proceed with caution….everyone of us should be on our knees about this. I hope I can become like James and have calluses on my knees from praying!!!!

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