As a pastor I have noticed an interesting and sad trend. More people are dying in the church than are being baptized or otherwise joining. This is not an isolated incident. In your average church the median age is seventy or older. Of course, there are the exceptions to the rule – the mega church that thankfully is reaching people. But even large churches that have enjoyed seasons of growth, can and do … stop growing and begin that slow decent.
As a pastor I have preached somewhere north of seventy funerals in the last nine years, have conducted seven or eight weddings, and a couple dozen baptisms. Unfortunately I have become quite good (if one can say that) at preaching funerals.
What is going on? Surely the Holy Spirit has not taken a break from his work in saving souls. Sometimes it may seem that the people in the church are not as committed as they should, but that does not really get to the heart of the matter. After all, most of the seniors I know are very committed. I have had little old ladies in their eighties go with me to do door to door evangelism! Their only complaint was that I was walking to fast. The woman who told me that was breaking out into a sweat!
Every week my church is filled with seniors who show up to study God’s Word and to worship. They love the Lord. They excel at tithing. They show up to pray. They visit one another in the hospital. They encourage, rebuke, love and show much grace to each other. In short, they practice what it means to be a church.
The young people … not so much. It seems that when you get to the baby-boomers and younger the attitude of the people does an about-face. The World War II generation is about as committed as one can get. They generally understand the nature of what it means to be a servant. They believe in community, and they seek to sacrifice to do the Lord’s work. When you get to the younger generations you discover that their perception of church is entirely different.
They approach church with the same attitude as they do a McDonalds with a playground – was the service to my liking, did they pay enough attention to me, was I sufficiently entertained, was the food good, etc., etc., etc. In short they seek to be served.
I think the real problem today is not a lack of commitment in the pews; it’s a lack of understanding the nature of the church. We have somehow managed to raise succeeding generations of people who believe the church exists to meet their needs.
I learned an interesting fact about the underground church in China. In each city, or village, a church is defined by its location. If you live in a particular area, you belong to the church in that area. There are no denominations to speak of. You cannot open the yellow pages and search for the local underground church that might suit your needs. You go to the church that God has raised up in the area, or you do not attend at all. If you do belong to the church, you don’t leave when things don’t go your way. You have to actually work things out and face the difficult task of admitting sin, asking for forgiveness, or giving forgiveness to one who needs it. If you do leave the church, it is because you move to another area and attend the church there.
Somehow this sounds all very biblical. Have you ever noticed that the epistles in the Bible are addressed to churches by their location – Ephesus, Colossians, Thessalonians etc.? No wonder the underground church in China is thriving. It’s the real deal, filled with people in union with Christ, who seeks to live their Christianity in the context of an authentic community. Wow!
For those of us not in the WWII generation we need to do some soul searching. Do we attend the church we do because God led us to be a part of what he is doing in that community, or because we like something or something or something that makes us feel good and well adjusted? Do we go because the service is good, or because our service is needed?
Well, I have never been too fond of McDonalds. But I really like Taco Bell! The problem is that God has better equipped me to flip burgers than to eat tacos. In fact, He even gave me an invitation to join the team. Decisions, decisions….