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)?