Does church matter anymore?
Maybe your city is different than mine, but it’s hard to argue that churches where I live are becoming more significant in the life of the city.
What about your church?
Are you finding it increasingly difficult to believe that your city needs you? Do you look around at large crowds and wonder if all your effort is doing much of anything to change their ordinary, everyday life? What do you do when even committed people in your church show up less often on weekends because they have other places they need to be?
Does your church matter?
The world we live in is changing. The church is in exile, no longer occupying the center of cultural formation and priority. And while a natural response is to recover what we have lost, what if the opposite is true?
What if exile is an advantage?
This is one of the points that Mark Sayers makes in his book Disappearing Church. Any attempt to be accepted by our culture will demand that we make modifications to the message of Christianity so that we agree with the world that ‘life is all about me.’ Churches that reinforce this ideology have a very real opportunity to grow and scale rapidly. But at what cost?
Consider an alternative. What if the impact we want to make—a contribution we quite honestly can and should make—focuses on a revolutionary message that ‘life is about more than me.’ Indeed, a church with this message will sound obtuse to a culture that is hardwired to believe that ‘I am God.’
But what if a church that calls people to sacrifice rather than to self-create is the church that will live beyond this particular cultural milieu? What if the way forward is a willingness to go deep before we attempt to go wide?
Toward the end of Disappearing Church, Sayers picks up a pattern seen throughout history that shows us how marginalized churches (and the individual leaders who serve those churches) affect real and lasting change in the cultural makeup of their city and beyond.
I’ll summarize his findings here as Six Ways to Make Sure Your Church Doesn’t Disappear:
1. Take a Step Back
Churches that last both understand and embrace that they are not at home here on earth. Their vision of life is increasingly different from the surrounding culture’s vision of life. Rather than choosing to become bitter and live in isolation, or modifying our message to better fit into the world around us, the church settles into a life of love as exiles.
2. Discover Cultural Myths
Shoved aside, churches now have a unique ability to see and explore the myths and blind spots of dominant culture. We are all products of the places and people we come from. And those realities are not wiped away by God; rather they are used by God as we break away from old habits and patterns. Our unwillingness to inhabit old paths of living offers an alternative to those around us who don’t even know they have options.
3. Identify Your Flaws as a Church
None of us can live embedded in a culture and not become deeply flawed by the worst aspects of that particular way of life. A healthy church is a church that repents not only of individual sin and sinfulness but of our complicit participation in a way of life that does not look like God’s intent for his world.
4. Depend on God’s Strength
God’s work in this world has carved out a gracious invitation to pursue and experience a deeper relationship with Christ. This relationship is not deeper because God grants us insight into secrets that no one else can see. No, our relationship with him grows in depth as we experience a love that never fails to forgive and provide freedom as we become increasingly aware of our inability to succeed spiritually and culturally. Churches that last are churches that have moved from depending upon their power to living in God’s strength.
5. Clarify Your Message
The message of Christianity is singular, reinforced across cultures and strengthened over generations. One reason the teaching of the church is timeless is because of its fluidity within particular cultures. Churches that last do not redefine orthodoxy; they dig deeper into orthodoxy to find answers to the questions of the day and hope that is larger than life.
6. Develop a Way of Life
The world will not be changed by proclamation alone. God has always set apart a people to show the world how life works best. The straightforward and sustainable work of discipleship that invests in a minority group called the church is the way that Jesus intends to change the majority.
Wait, There’s More
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