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Category: Sunday Morning

Rubber Bands

06

For hundreds of years, churches have been like rubber bands. Their focus has been on getting as many people as possible inside the circle (of tradition, of polity, of community, of doctrine). The bands only stretch so far, however, making it inevitable that a point will come at which some people will get squeezed out unless the old band is replaced with something newer, larger and less restrictive in each of the senses listed above.

This model isn’t working the way it used to. Southern Baptists — the nation’s largest protestant denomination — reported in 2008 that new baptisms were down to the lowest level since 1987 and that membership had dropped by about 40,000 people this year. These numbers are generally in line with downward trends among all mainline protestant denominations.

How should Christians respond? Maybe it’s time to reconsider the model. Who says the world should be knocking on our door (let alone sitting in our pews)? After all, Jesus didn’t tell his followers to sit in an upstairs room—door locked—counting down the days to His return. He sent them out to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Who says the world should be knocking on our door (let alone sitting in our pews)?

New Problem?

05

Social researcher George Barna spent several years searching for evidence that attendance and involvement in a local church makes a difference in a person’s life:

“While we certainly found some wonderful examples,” he writes, “I was stunned and deeply disappointed at how relatively rare such instances were.”

Reading this prompts further questions for me:

1) What is spiritual transformation? What does it look like? How does it feel? Why does it matter?

2) If the church supposedly provides a moral foundation for society, then what does it mean that this institution is failing? Isn’t even making a difference?

3) Is this really a new problem?

I’d like to know.

Is this really a new problem?

Efficiency Thinking

10

Just a few years ago, my sister and I decided to unhook our dishwasher. It was a kind of quiet protest.

We’d noticed that tools of convenience actually tend to make life less convenient. For instance, modern appliances save time. But the saved time comes with a need for more space (to house the appliances) and a larger income (to pay for them and the energy they use). Besides that, I tend to take advantage of the time-savings by adding more stuff to my schedule. I decided that living efficiently would no longer be my standard of success.

But it wasn’t until after we’d made this decision that I started to notice how efficiency thinking had invaded not just our homes but also our businesses and social institutions. Take church, for instance, which has become — in so many cases — a kind of one-stop spiritual shop. Every human need has a program (with more being created all the time). We’re becoming busier and busier, struggling to keep up with committee meetings, service projects, Sunday school commitments, home Bible studies, potlucks, small groups.

People need relationship. We’ve made them pay for it with time and responsibility. And now they don’t have time for what they need, for what’s important. No wonder, then, that so many of my friends are disconnected from church. It’s become so efficient that it no longer functions.

It’s become so efficient that it no longer functions.

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