Another month of delight has gone by. The First Presbyterian Church of Greensboro continues to be a blessing. I continue to thank our Lord for you and pray for you. I would like to share with you all a tough situation and ask a tough question.
With the advent of revolutionary electronic communications and a radically different world view, our culture no longer supports the institution of church the way it has been practiced in any of our memories. In a culture in which Christianity is the dominant world view, church can survive very well as the focus of religious practice. In the 21st century we are no longer able to claim that status or its benefit of providing a constant flow of potential new members into church services. In the 20th century it came to be common that faith was defined by what kind of church we go to and how often, a phenomenon known as “churchianity.”
Alongside that, not only are we now facing a decrease in the number of people who attend church, but also a decrease in how much loyalty and commitment the attendees have about supporting the church with their time and/or finances. The generations that defined their life around WWII and the Korean conflict upheld a much stronger sense of duty and loyalty than us Baby Boomers and the younger generations. In response to these trends many church people are asking the question, “How can we do church better, so that more people will come and support it?”
I have heard that question (or forms of it) in every church I have ever been associated with in any way (including here). It is not a bad question. It is relevant, BUT… the point I am trying to make is that it does not go deep enough. Not only that, but also nobody really has a blueprint answer to it. In my ministry, I have interacted with a lot of pastors, a lot of “experts,” and a lot of Presbytery execs with a lot of experience in an unknown number of churches. I have yet to find anyone who is not trying to sell a book to have an answer to that question. Experience also shows that most of those “answers” don’t work anywhere else than from where they originated.
Maybe that’s because it is the wrong question. Ever since the mid-20th century, Christianity has become “churchianity.” Churchianity asks questions like: “How do we get more members for our church? How do we balance the budget for our church? How do we get the right pastor for our church?” Again, these are not bad questions, just not the bottom line question. They are club-membership questions.
I am not sure that the change in our culture is as bad as it may seem. Faith is really about something other than a building, a congregation of people, or a denomination. Faith is about the person of Jesus Christ and how do we relate to Him. Jesus stated, “If you love me you will obey my commands.” Who do we put our faith in and how do we show that faith? My hope is that the change in culture will make us deal with these kinds of questions instead of club-membership questions.
Churchianity asks, “How can we do church better?” Perhaps a more critical question is, “How do we deconvert from ‘churchianity’ to ‘Christ’ianity?” I have often heard folks make the accurate point that instead of focusing on the building we need to focus on the people in the church. What I am talking about is to take that same shift to one more level. The focus is not even really the church, but Jesus and his calling for us.
Let us engage in this question in the light of the fact that the Lord is with us and is still in the blessing business. We might start with, “What is ‘Christ’ianity?” before moving to “How do we get there in a more complete way?”
“How do we deconvert from ‘churchianity’ to ‘Christ’ianity?” Food for thought and discussion.
May the Lord bless you and keep you… Alex.
P.S. This is the first of six tough questions for the church, from Reggie McNeals’ book, “The Present Future,” an excellent read.