By: Brian G. Chilton | December 4, 2019
Study after study emphasizes the astonishing problem the American church faces. People are leaving the church in massive numbers. The Millennial generation has caught the eye of many studies. However, Generation Z is even more non-religious than Millennials. It is estimated that nearly a third of the members of Generation Z identify as “nones” (unaffiliated with any religious worldview) (https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/red-alert-politics/christianity-isnt-catching-on-with-generation-z). Generation Z consists of those born between 2000 and 2015 and has been identified as the first genuine post-Christian generation (https://www.barna.com/research/atheism-doubles-among-generation-z/). How do we turn the trend? How do we solve the problem?
Is the answer found in Church Resolutions? Christians do not help their case when they constantly bicker and fight over things that will not matter a couple of decades from now. For many, it is thought that if we can keep Christians from fighting, then maybe the church will change. However, many believers who have acted nasty towards others have left an indelible mark on those who question their faith. Even if a person comes to stronger faith, that does not necessarily mean that they will come back to a church where they have been hurt.
Is the answer found in Church Strategies? Many have afforded numerous strategies to grow a church. Like Francis Chan, I often wonder whether we are trying to run the church like a business or like a church. Business strategies often lead to an entertainment-based program where a person’s ears are tickled, and their fancies are met. Church then becomes an “all about me” entity rather than a God-focused body. These strategies do not build a church. They build a community club.
Is the answer found in Church Revitalizations? I think church revitalization programs are extremely important, and I am not dismissing them in the least. But church revitalization programs only help one church change the direction of its course. It neither impacts nor influences the overall trend of people leaving the church. An individual church can become healthier while still not making an impact.
Is the answer found in bad Church Leadership? Granted, while it may seem hypocritical for me to say this being a pastor myself, I don’t think the problem is found in bad leadership. I have met many pastors who have a heart for God and who want to serve God in any way they can. Many pastors are doing everything in their power to make an impact in their church and in their society.
What is the solution? The answer is quite simple. The American church must return to her first love. We must focus on what we believe and why we believe it. We do not have the human resolutions, strategies, revitalization programs, outreach, or human leadership to bring about the change necessary to stop the bleeding of the American church. We like to think that we have the power to make such a change, but we don’t. We cannot save one soul, but God can. We do not have the answers to the problem, but God does. Perhaps God is allowing the American church to go through a time of hardship to reveal who the true remnant is from those playing church? It is possible that God is allowing many churches to die because they lost their spiritual vitality long ago.
I truly believe that a remnant of the church will remain until the return of Jesus. The Church will remain forever. But churches that have lost their focus, lost their passion and lost the love of Christ that made them into a church in the first place will soon perish. Churches that have become community clubs will serve their purpose by providing kinship with no expectations. However, when hardships come, community clubs will falter, and genuine churches will remain steadfast.
I have a passion for the church and for God’s people. I would like to say that the American church will see better days ahead. But all the statistics that I have read seem to suggest that the church of America is in dire straits, becoming grimmer as time progresses. In stark contrast, the global church is growing in many areas where one would not expect to see it flourish. The Middle East, Asia, Africa, and South America have experienced explosions of growth. In these areas, Christians must depend on one another as they face uncertain days.
While I wish I could leave a more positive note of encouragement, the cold hard truth is that the American church is bleeding profusely with no end in sight. Strategies, outreach programs, and the like have come from some of the brightest minds in American Christianity but often to little or to no avail. To make matters worse, I have been told that some pastors have chosen to attend business schools to earn an MBA over seminary to earn an MDiv because they feel that business tactics are more important than theology. That is, business savvy will boost the church, whereas doctrinal training will not. No wonder we are in the shape we’re in with biblical literacy at an all-time low! While strategies have helped some churches, it has not produced the massive change that is necessary to reverse the trend. By the way, Jesus indicates that the church should not be run in the same manner that the world runs businesses (see Matt. 20:25; 1 Pet. 5:3)
In conclusion, I don’t think that we have the answers to fix the church of America because we are looking in the wrong direction. We are looking at human strategies to fix what only God can do. We must trust in God’s plan and know that he will make all things good in the end. Until then, Christians must continuously strive to make an impact in their small section of the world. Furthermore, believers must keep focused on what they believe and know why they believe it so that they may provide a defense for the hope they hold (1 Pet. 3:15). One day, Christ will return, and the church will no longer bleed but flourish in ways that it has never experienced. Christ has the answers because Christ is the answer.
Brian G. Chilton is the founder of BellatorChristi.com, the host of The Bellator Christi Podcast, and the author of the Layman’s Manual on Christian Apologetics. He received his Master of Divinity in Theology from Liberty University (with high distinction); his Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Gardner-Webb University (with honors); and received certification in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Brian is enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University and is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Evangelical Philosophical Society. Brian has been in the ministry for nearly 20 years and serves as the Senior Pastor of Westfield Baptist Church in northwestern North Carolina.
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