Moving on from the institutional church.
George Barna, a noted reviewer of contemporary religion, published a book called Revolution in 2005. I recently read the book, which is more of a predictive snapshot of the church in America, then it is a statistical analysis, though it is statistically sound. Having been hanging around the church for 50+ years, I found the book exciting at the same time as I found it chilling.
Here is a brief synopsis: 30% of committed believers are no longer attached to a traditional congregation. (a traditional congregation is one that meets in a large group setting, is led by a pastor/board, promotes and leads programs by committee and funds their institution by the gifts of those who attend)
If the same demographic continues, Barna says, in 20 years, 70% of committed believers will no longer be attached to the traditional church. Please understand what Barna is saying here. People are not leaving the traditional church because they have lost their faith, they are leaving to protect their faith.
Committed believers are leaving because the institutional church didn’t fulfill their spiritual hunger and wasted too much of their time and energy on programs and activities that did little or nothing to promote a deeper dependence on Jesus or healthy relationships with other believers.
What Barna said created quite a firestorm of criticism from the establishment, as you can imagine. What institution wants to spend the next 20 years vainly hanging on to their committee driven vision, while year after year the most committed among them opt out for something no committee or elder board can ever provide, an authentic encounter with the living God and a deep and fulfilling relationship with His people.
Last week, in 3 separate conversations with passionate and committed believers, I heard the cry that seems to be building in the Family; “where can I go to find people who love Jesus, love each other and want to spend their time helping people find hope and healing, rather than sitting in committees trying to fire a vision for the same old thing?”
These were not negative, critical people but highly involved, motivated and Spirit filled lovers of the Father, yet they were as disillusioned with their church as they have ever been.
Here are some of the things I am hearing from committed believers these days:
- We are bored. Sitting through the same old rituals and listening to the same tired voice week after week has dulled our spiritual passion.
- We feel disconnected. Sitting in rooms full of people we hardly know, watching the same people perform on the stage, isn’t building the kind of relationships we long for.
- We are tired of seeing people blasted with guilt and religious obligation. Guilt is a great motivator but it hardly leaves us feeling wanted and needed.
- We are sick of the political games, played behind the scenes, to serve someone’s ego and preserve the institutional priorities over the priorities of Jesus.
- We are frustrated with asking questions and being pushed away and not listened to by leaders who don’t like the questions we are raising.
- We found the performance based gospel being preached by the institution was causing us to spend ourselves serving the institution rather than the Savior.
- We found we were being forced into pretense and hiding rather than led into authenticity and openness in order to create the illusion that all was well in the Family.
- We felt like the institutional church had so abandoned the truth of Jesus for some safe program of happy truth that we no longer could experience the reality of God in our lives.
No doubt this sounds negative and foreboding to some, especially if you are part of trying to keep your institutional church afloat. But I find this consternation and frustration hopeful. If these kinds of concerns lead to real change in the church, many of us still want to love, then that will be a good thing.
If you no longer attend an institutional church I would like to hear why you left. If you have found what you were looking for, please share that with us. Comments on this subject would be extremely helpful for all of us.
Next post I want to write about why I think some committed believers continue to attend and serve in churches where they see the kinds of things I listed. How do they continue to support an institution George Barna and others say will be empty in 10 years?