The Vine is Dying

Photo by Hans Kylberg

Photo by Hans Kylberg

I’m growing increasingly frustrated and impatient with mainline Protestant churches like the one I serve, the Presbyterian Church (USA). At every level of our system, from congregations on up to General Assembly agencies, we keep missing the big picture. We measure our success by how well we manage and deploy an increasingly small pool of resources—people, money, influence, and relevancy. The things we do with these resources are often really great, but we consistently fail to reckon with the stark realities of mainline Protestant decline. We close more churches than we open. We lose more members than we baptize. And because of this, we have fewer and fewer resources with which to serve the world, yet we continue to follow the same basic game plan developed during the zenith of mainline Protestantism in the middle of the 20th century.

I’m not claiming to fully understand the reasons for mainline decline, nor do I claim to have solutions ready to roll—but I do spend a lot of time thinking about this. It seems to me that mainline Protestants have so closely identified our understanding of the gospel and the purpose of the church with social justice agendas that we are stuck trying to serve those agendas—worthy as they are—at the peril of church growth and vitality. I’m finding it harder and harder to be proud of our mission work when our church is marching steadily toward extinction. I’ve lost patience with General Assembly statements and actions about social justice that make us feel good but don’t really register a significant impact in the world. And I wonder what good it is to update our structures if we don’t shift our priorities and rethink our purpose.

As someone born and raised in the Southern Baptist Church, I think that evangelicalism is part of my religious DNA. Of course, I’m about as far away from evangelical theology now as I possibly could be, but my desire to have and promote a gospel message that is relevant and urgent has always stuck with me. Evangelism is a bad word among progressive mainline Protestants, but this is precisely what we need right now. For the life of me, I cannot understand why mainline Protestants like the PC(USA) insist on busying ourselves with certain kinds of mission and social justice work—which I do believe are vital expressions of the gospel—while the ship we are on is sinking. We won’t even talk about it.

If we believe that mainline Protestant churches are worth saving—if we believe that these churches provide a Christian witness needed in today’s world—it seems to me that we need to divert significant time and energy away from business as usual in order to focus on rebuilding our base. But I’ve encountered reluctance to make such moves at every level of our church. We are so convinced that our increasingly small contribution to the world is indispensable that we’re turning a blind eye to the bigger picture. We refuse to address the new realities of our post-Christendom world and our ever shrinking place in it. While our fruit is still sweet, the vine is dying such that soon there won’t be any fruit left at all.

It’s time for mainline Protestants to regroup and start thinking about the long game. Otherwise, we’ll maintain our steady decline toward extinction and be left with nothing more than good intentions.

Comments

  1. Hey John, I share a lot of your frustrations with our mainline churches and the difficulty of not just waking up to a new reality of the world we’re living in, but figuring out what to DO (moving beyond hand-wringing).

    I also think that the way a lot of mainline denominations make statements (mine as well as yours) can involve a lot of energy but not necessarily make as much of an impact as we would like it to. (Although at the same time, I do think that offering theological reflection on the social issues we face is important… )

    My question for you, (and as someone who’s currently a missionary for the UCC/ DoC, I think you can understand why this raised a bit of a flag for me) is how much resources does the PC(USA) actually invest in mission and social justice work at the various levels? My experience in congregations has been that even in churches that do a lot, it’s a very small percentage of the budget, and of the congregation’s time together.

    I wonder, if we saw the numbers (it might be hard to get the data to analyze them this way, I don’t know) how much resources are actually invested in maintaining structures that once worked but have become burdensome, in “church hospice” work (it can be incredibly important to help a congregation die well, but it can be so draining when one is in denial), compared to mission and social justice.

    When it comes to international mission/ development I actually see it as one of the things mainline churches are doing exactly right — there are probably things we (in our church, and probably a lot of others) could do to maybe revisit the structures we have in place to support that work, but in Nicaragua anyway, the PC(USA) is doing great stuff, based in long-term relationships with Nicaraguan organizations.

    • I’m not sure how much the PC(USA) is investing in mission and social justice versus other areas, but that’s easy enough to find out. Same goes for mid-councils and congregations. In her comment, Laura Cheifetz claims that these areas are being gutted.

      My congregation has a healthy mission budget and is very much justice oriented, but how we account for time and resources is complicated and we are very much struggling with the perennial “inreach” vs “outreach” dilemma.

      My point is not to take away from mission and justice areas in the long run—which I believe are essential to our identity and overall mission—but that if we don’t solve the bigger picture of decline there won’t be a church or resources to devote to these efforts. I completely agree that we are spending too much time and resources maintaining our institutions, at all levels. I also agree that we ought to invest more in what you call “church hospice” rather than letting churches die slow deaths.

  2. peter allen says:

    tell us more of what you mean by evangelism? what does that look like?

    • First, we need a clear and compelling message: an understanding of the gospel that is relevant and urgent. (I should note, contra to what many commentators are perceiving in my post, this message involves robust mission and social justice work.) Then, we build a movement around this message with the express purpose of changing the world. We need people in this movement for it to have any impact, so we must re-invest in the kind of evangelism aimed at growing our numbers.

      • I have A LOT I want to say about your post. So much ground already plowed and prepared. First, a common post-mortem of ‘what happened’ would help the church grasp where it is so that it can move ahead [get people going "yes, yes" not "yes, but." (The underlying theory here is one of lament and grief set out by Jaco Hamman.)
        There are many creative strands happening. To me the key challenge is to acknowledge where we are and then go somewhere new in FAITH (cf. Isa. 40). The Gospel will always be compelling because it is LIFE, but we must know someone well enough so that he/she might drink from the well of living water.

        It has been said by others wiser than I that the challenge is a spiritual one--a malaise even depression in a denominational culture that's both politesse and passive/aggressive, more intellectual (heady and not embodied in practice and life). A former member of Chicago Presbytery once described my former North Shore locale as suffering from the three A's: Attittude, Affluence and Appearances. I believe this is the sin of our denomination who views itself still through the lens of it's peak in numbers, money and worldly prestige--that ironically was an anomolly (I asked Prof. Marty once about what happened and he replied enigmatically, "that [time] was an exception”). Evangelism is about giving you what I have and if I don’t have ‘it’ then don’t be given it to me.

        As for a post-mortem, there are many competing narratives, mostly reductionist and blaming, that lead to paralysis (rooted in shame and guilt). How we got here is complicated! Indulge me to point to some markers: 1. cultural and demographic shifts not addressed (particularly since 1962); 2. lack of a compelling Tinitarian theology that engages science and social science [reemphansizing 19thC doctrinal points is retrograde, cf., Diana Bass]; 3. lack of risk taking, i.e., FAITH (“fear” psychology teaches causes us to emotionally regress); 4. beaurocratic sclerosis (e.g., Prof. James Moorehead once said that the “bureaucratization” of the church in the early 20C has had a longer and greater impact on the church than the “fundamentalism/modernism debate” (quote: “Since when has ministry been about efficiency?!”; also see #3.

        Here’s a synopsis of the 5,000 (?) page 7 volume study of by Coalter, Mulder, Meeks: “The Presbyterian Presence” (now 22 years old):
        The basic theme is the fragmentation of American Presby. in the 20C. In surveying the Presby. research, Dorothy Bass noted that the studies are characterized by three interpretations. One stresses the impact of secularization. The second argues that what happened to various parts of Presby. was a decline in quality. The third focuses on the fragmentation of its life and witness. [The Re-forming Tradition, J. Mulder, et al, p24.]

        Bass sees #1 (above) as a key driver of the changes, challenges and problems and from the choices made to cope with it. Challenge of modernization: hierarchy, bureaucracies. Individuals are more autonomous and individual because relationships (in sociological terms) are more and more “secondary” (i.e., we know people in only one context, for instance, church) and not “primary” (i.e., people are known in many overlapping contexts, for instance, work, church, school parent, neighbor.)

        As for me I go back to the three A’s a prophetic insight by Elton Trueblood in his little book, “The Company of the Committed” (1963). He worried that the affluence of many members, big buildings, and money would be our very downfall. Why would this be so? He said that we rewarded each other according the to the standards of the world—money and power–and became seduced with this worldly success. We were poorly equipped to pass on the Gospel to instruct our children, disciple the parents, to learn to walk in His ways.

  3. Sheila Macgregor says:

    Well said! Thanks, John.

  4. Preach it.

  5. Laura M Cheifetz says:

    I would recommend you keep up with Pew Research and also read “American Religion” by Mark Chaves.

    I agree with you that some mainline churches need to change how they do business. That is a major reason for why I went to get my MBA. The church needs a reality check. The business world doesn’t have the answers, but it brings a different perspective that is forced to keep up with the times.

    I do not believe that social justice work has led to decline. The decline is absolutely in line with demographic change and changes in behavior that vary by factors such as SES and education linked to church affiliation (and the type of worship style of said church). Mainline churches are mostly white. White people have low birthrates. White people are proportionately older than other groups of people of color. Demographics. In fact, emerging generations are becoming increasingly in support of what you would likely call social justice work. Perhaps social justice is not exactly the issue. These emerging generations are also less likely to not affiliate with institutions.

    People are not fleeing mainline churches for more conservative/less social justice oriented churches. They are just dropping out.

    You may also want to check how much of any church budget, at any level, is devoted to what you call social justice work. It is increasingly minimal. You know what the PMA is really dumping money into right now? Mission. Yes, mission, evangelism and church growth. They have cut funding for racial justice, gender justice and any other kind of social justice work. They have cut staff and they have cut programs.

    However, if you would like to hold that we are spending too much time on social justice work, how about this: what you call social justice is what I would call fighting to recognize God’s creation – and the humanity of people who are not white, who are incarcerated, who have HIV/AIDS, who are children, who are not heterosexual/married/with children, who are hungry, who face domestic violence and abuse. What you call social justice I call evangelism – isn’t fighting on behalf of people who aren’t citizens but would like to be citizens so they can live here freely simply sharing the good news?

    It is a very privileged worldview to think that to build our base, we should stop talking about those pesky things that divide us, like class, prejudice, ignorance, and privilege. It is not the business of the church to grow (although there are plenty of folks who would disagree with me and cite Matthew). Perhaps it is the business of the church to love even unto death. You know, like Jesus.

    This doesn’t mean we spend all of our time doing social justice. But I think you are using social justice and mission as a scapegoat, when the issue of mainline Protestant decline is driven by multiple (complicated) factors outside of our direct control.

    • Thanks for this, Laura.
      I’ve been trying to find ways to articulate this very sentiment in many other settings & in many different ways.
      Per usual, you’ve put words to what I’ve been grappling with.

    • I do keep up with the Pew research and have read Chaves, along with more conservative studies and analysis from Barna and the like. I’m not suggesting that focusing on social justice is the reason for mainline decline. I know full well that the reasons for this are many and complicated. My point is that a preoccupation with this particular posture, to the exclusion of church growth, is one of the reasons why we aren’t doing anything about it. We’re doing business as usual as good social justice mainliners while the foundation of our church is crumbling underneath us, which we simple aren’t addressing. In fact, we seem to think that if we keep being good social justice mainliners relying on institutional/denominational power and mobilized resources we will attract people, but we clearly aren’t. And the less people we have the less power and mobilized resources we have.

      While birth rates are contributing factors to mainline decline, I would not overemphasize these realities. You are right to point out that we’re losing people because of drop out, not because they are going to different churches. This seems more pertinent to me than birthrates. We still baptize a lot of babies, but we lose most of them by the time they become youth and young adults. And on the flip side of this coin, youth and young adults—who do in fact support social justice work—are not flooding our gates because we’re so good at mission and social justice.

      Don’t conclude from my post that I don’t prioritize mission and social justice and the very things you lift up. I believe that this is at the very core of who we are and what God calls us to do in the world. My vision of a healthy and vibrant church is all about mission and social justice. But we’ve done a poor job building a sustainable movement around these priorities. We’re doing a poor job articulating our understanding of the gospel. We’re doing a poor job nurturing a multicultural church that doesn’t rely on white people. We’re doing a poor job engaging and retaining emerging generations.

      But instead of doing these things, I see us primarily fighting over how to best disperse rapidly diminishing mission budgets and trying to exercise power and influence that we simply do not have. And if we want to fight these fights until the PC(USA) and every other mainline denomination dies, fine. But let’s not pretend that this is following Jesus’ path of life through death.

      • Thank you for this POV. I mostly concur and would only add a tidbit of texture:
        Dean Luiden studied why confirmands dropped out of mainline churches. Key finding of those not involved in their late 20′s was that they didn’t see how faith made a difference in the world or his/her own life. So it’s not just a personal Jesus but also a transformation of the world (“on earth as it is in heaven”). Our session has had good conversation around the question, What is it that the church has that cannot be gotten elsewhere?

        Mantra: “Only when we do the Jesus TRUTH, in the Jesus WAY, do we get the Jesus LIFE”

        It’s worth wrestling with: Why do we fight the old fights in our relationships?

    • “You may also want to check how much of any church budget, at any level, is devoted to what you call social justice work. It is increasingly minimal. You know what the PMA is really dumping money into right now? Mission. Yes, mission, evangelism and church growth. They have cut funding for racial justice, gender justice and any other kind of social justice work. They have cut staff and they have cut programs.”

      I just finished eight years on the PMA board and the last two years as chair. This is not correct. There have been cuts but there have been cuts in all areas. Programs that are typically associated with “Justice” causes have not suffered disproportionately and in most cases have fared better.

      But I want us to listen to ourselves. Justice is a set of programs. Justice is dollars allocated to line items on a budget. Justice is offices at the Presbyterian Center with titles and people. Do you hear this?

      Justice is none of these things. Justice is a value that must permeate all we do. Look at the work book done by our mission co-workers around the world. The great majority of them are engaged in contexts where justice questions are at the core of their daily ministry. We try to raise money for sending more mission co-workers. This is immediately framed as taking money and staff to do “mission” while “justice” is being left behind. Look at 1001 Worshiping Communities emerging around the country. Here are communities with our PCUSA DNA of concern about justice springing up around the country. But this too is doing mission to the neglect of justice.

      Justice begins with congregants in their daily lives. It begins with a frame that puts daily life in the context of God’s mission. It begins with reflection on issues of justice in the context of debugging a piece of software, of checking out customers at the register, of welding pipes together, and so on. More collective approaches to justice spring from this deeply embedded DNA from daily life. But their is no sustainable pursuit of mission justice without this micro-foundation. Fifty years ago there was a tighter connection between the narrative of the church and justice issues and that vitality from daily life is what gave emergence to more collective actions.

      Today, justice is a clergified programmatic exercise. People are called out of their daily lives to find meaning in working for justice (almost escapist) as part of initiatives designed, guided, and perpetuated by ecclesial professionals. And, in many people’s eyes, work that is not grounded in a group of people with titles, salaries, and offices at 100 Witherspoon is unvalidated ministry.

      I probably sound harsh. If so, it is because I’m incredibly frustrated. I’ve been at this attempt to re-envision how we think about ministry for a decade. Incredibly insightful work is done by groups like the Middle-Governing Body TF and the Special Offerings TF only to be slammed down hard by GAs that are stuck in past patterns of mission. It feels like we have barely nudged the dial.

      • JMorrow says:

        Interesting convo you stirred up John. I must say though, even in the same presbytery, I see more haranguing about buildings and staffing resources than I do about mission budgets. Oh how I long for deep discerning conversation about mission budgets, and not just in committees but amongst my peers as we consider causes we support, I could go on… !! :)

        As Laura and Mike have alluded, I wonder if the sequence you have laid out in the original post is really a false dichotomy. What specifically are the social justice agendas we serve that detract from a focus on church growth? Or is it, as I suspect the case is, that our understandings of justice are too narrow. I’ve observed in my time with congregations that Justice often comes down to something that we outsource to others with minimal investment on our part, unless the issue strikes close to home. I would venture to say it’s far rarer in our congregations to disciple one another in the ways of living out justice among our families, friends, strangers and coworkers (if we have jobs!). It is far rarer for that discipling around justice to be holistic, drawing from the rich and vibrant life of worship, prayer and togetherness that stems from letting our weaknesses and junk be worked on in community. My biggest concern for Presbyterians is our lack of curiosity. The Other in our lives remains an other. A holistic life of discipleship invites curiosity about the world and whether what we are do aligns with God’s reconciling work in it.

        To your point about having a relevant and urgent Good News, I agree. Yet, if we are not a community that lives out justice daily among our neighbors local and global, then no message, no matter how savvy, accessible and amenable to contemporary life will save us either. Jan’s post you linked to is an excellent example of how those who purport to be hospitable, and I would add, those that say they are about justice, but fail to live such values out in the most basic ways with their neighbors undercut the veracity of their claims.

  6. rachel says:

    I was part of the PCUSA for awhile and now part of the UCC. I just wanted to say that my local church has seen incredible growth and new members say that it is because of our stance on social justice among other things – music, community, etc. So, I am not sure that focusing on growth would need to exclude social justice. I don’t have all the answers and I know that one church does not a denomination save, but I do think that we can find ways to invest in growth and outreach, finding ways to connect with the needs in our society for community, etc. without somehow setting aside mission and social justice.

    • I serve one of the biggest PC(USA) congregations. It grew by leaps and bounds precisely because of our progressive theology and mission and social justice work. But now we’re dealing with shrinking resources too and we’re stuck in old ways of doing church. Part of this is our institutionalization of mission and social justice. In post-Christendom American we can no longer rely on big budgets and bureaucratized institutions to organize and fund mission. But this is the understanding of church we are clinging to rather than building a movement that mobilizes people in different ways.

  7. John,

    I think you nailed it: “we are stuck trying to serve those agendas” and not the living God. In effect our agendas have become idols. I just don’t see us genuinely seeking the will of Jesus Christ for His body, but rather presuming that our political causes must be His will for the church because they fit some 20th century notion of ‘justice.”

    I have to believe that if the God whose Word spoke the cosmos into existence wanted justice there would be justice—bam—right now. But IMHO this world hasn’t lived by a principle of justice since Eve and Adam bit into the forbidden fruit. If this world operated by justice, then they would not have drawn another breath, but would have been little piles of cinders on the ground. The fact that they did indeed continue to draw breath indicates that the cosmos operates under grace and not justice, for in a just society everyone gets what they deserve. Maybe if the mainline churches repent of their social gospel and begin to focus their energies on proclaiming the grace of God in Jesus Christ for sinners, then the power of the Spirit would come to us and empower us to deal with our structural issues.

    For in Christ there is neither rich or poor, male or female, slave or free, gay or straight, full term or aborted…For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The grace of God is available in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit for all who repent, and who repenting are willing to submit to the Spirit, take nothing off the table, and endure the pain of transformation into the image of Jesus Christ.

    Jake H.

  8. John: I recently resigned from membership because as a Christian, I find it difficult to call myself a Presbyterian – not because of the Presbyterian theology, but because the PCUSA hurts people, as do most denominational churches where exclusivity is practiced ( a la same-sex marriage). I wholeheartedly agree with you and think evangelism needs to be practiced (not taught) within the church first. On Sunday morning at a class on Soren Kirkegaard a question was asked, “what exactly does it mean to be a Christian?” yeah.

  9. Yes, John. In both Evangelicalism and Mainline traditions, the church is now at the periphery of people’s lives. It is supplementary. It is adjunct. God and God’s mission has little connection to our daily affairs. Instead of genuinely helping people make that connection, we develop escapist programs for our members. Evangelicals develop therapeutic refugees or engage people in political battles to stop the barbarians at the gates. Mainliners have their own therapeutic refugees but also lift up social justice programing as a means of finding meaning. Both camps teach us that the primary locus of meaning and mission in our lives is outside of, and in contradistinction to, the routines work and family. Evangelism and Justice are qualities that spring from people that have made deep holistic connections with all aspects of life. I’ve tried saying this eight years in the national offices. I see a few who see this and few more who are waking to it, but they are commissioned to be responsive to the community that is PCUSA across the country. That culture is still deeply stuck.

  10. I am a lifelong Presbyterian that has become a “Creaster”. John will know what that is!

    I was sorely disappointed by my church experience. Instead of preaching salvation, I was lectured to politically. Since I am a libertarian/conservative, I didn’t appreciate the church’s social agenda and voted with my feet and pocketbook. I find most mainline churches to be the same-and miss God in my life.

    Fourth Pres endorsed higher minimum wages, a socialized health system, and one time when I was there, a pastor said that a huge mistake happened when the Republicans retook the House from the Democrats. All from the pulpit. The steps of 4th were used by then IL Gov Rod Blago to advocate for some statewide socialized health plan.

    The last I checked, Jesus wasn’t a Democrat. As John knows, it’s pretty easy to twist Bible passages to mean anything you want. I can find as much free market literature in verses as a socialist or communist can find justification for their brand of politics. In the PC(USA), the socialists won-so they set the agenda.

    I am forced into a couple of choices that fit my Presbyterian upbringing, yet shy away from hard left wing politics in the pulpit and church hierarchy-Catholic, Missouri Synod Lutheran, and independent mega churches like Willow Creek (which I find unsatisfying)

    One year at an Easter service, they didn’t even mention that Christ rose from the dead. I figured that was why I was there.

    In America, churches are perfectly competitive. I can be any denomination I want. Churches need to speak to their market. There are many paths to Christ, and while I don’t think any denomination has it perfect, some fit with people for various reasons.

    Presbyterians aren’t just losing members, so are ELCA, UCC, Episcopalian etc. It’s precisely because they decided to pursue an untenable social justice agenda and be in your face about it.

    Additionally, culturally being Christian is degraded as some sort of disease among trendy people and intellectual elites. Next time you are at a highbrow party, tell the elites how much you enjoy going to church and that it means a lot to you. See their response.

    John has hit the nail on the head as to the problem-however I don’t think those in the hierarchy would buy into a solution that changed the direction of the church.

    The church has lost its way. Why does it exist in the first place? This video might get you thinking why–http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html

  11. Ellen VanOsdol says:

    As a lifetime Presbyterian, I believe one of the things that has damaged my current church is the long and laborious process we have to replace a Head Pastor. Also, what is fair or right about a rule that says the Associate Pastor cannot become the Head Pastor? It is really frustrating to go years with no leadership. We have lost many members. We have also been unable to start programs of outreach without leadership.

  12. Steve says:

    The vine is NOT dying. Maybe the branches called ‘Christendom’ and ‘institutional church’ no longer bear good fruit and need to be pruned back or cut off. But I see no reason to think the Jesus-vine is bad, or that the winegrower has abandoned the vineyard.
    http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Jhn&c=15&t=NIV#1

  13. Mike Welf says:

    Thumped a nerve I see. I won’t go into the social justice debate based on all of that commentary already. I will say this – we continue to “preach” to a generation that does not want to be preached to. The reality is that we need to start having conversations. The conversation should be generated by whatever message we are delivering. What happens is we leave worship and the conversation changes to whatever the week is ahead. We don’t offer (a generalization) a message that continues into conversation in “coffee hour” or other fellowship. There is no continuity in the message and HOW the Word affects us in daily life. We spend much time on Teaching and Preaching and not enough time on real life current examples of living the Word. Sorry if I’m a bit disjointed – typing on my iPhone. As always thanks for the thought provoking post. I’ll look forward to the continuing conversation!

  14. Great post, John. I think one of the problems in mainline churches that I’ve observed is the lack of discipleship. We might be good at baptizing kids, but we don’t do anything to tell them or adults about living a life formed by Christ. I think it also explains why mainline churches are so bad at church planting. If we don’t take following Jesus seriously, then we won’t see evangelism as important either. Social justice is important to the faith when it is moored to discipleship, but in someways that tie has been cut, and social justice has become an end in itself and not an outgrowth of our walk with Christ.

    • The Rev. John Witherspoon (fl. 1775) preached, “Remember why you are in the public square in the first place! It is Christ who sent you there.”

  15. Very well said. I am a part of that group that you refer to… the ones you’re losing. In my case it was a severe case of the overall church paying little to no attention to the youth of the church. I don’t mean the pastor, I mean the congregation. It doesn’t mean a whole lot if you’re not passionate to pass the word on to the next generation…. it smacks of hypocrisy, “here’s what we believe, but mostly we’re interested in our traditions and getting together to eat”. The non-denominational church I currently attend (I guess you could call it Evangelical- but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing if it’s done appropriately) focuses on the message and how it applies to the modern world. As someone above mentioned, the restrictions on finding new leadership are one the many details of the Presbyterian church that “gunk” everything up and prevent what’s truly needed; leadership, the gospel and how it applies to the modern world, and direction for the next generation. I will always admire the intellectual slant of the Presbyterian church, but they lost me with their bureaucracy. Don’t feel too bad though, our Christian faith is still vibrant and growing it’s just your power and influence that’s “dying on the vine”. I think that’s what really upsets the mainstream churches.

  16. Deborah Brewster says:

    How do we “rebuild our base”? Surely it can’t be as simple as reframing the message. A movement (church-denomination-Kingdom of God) needs energy and enthusiasm which require butts in the pews and bucks in the plate. If our youth disappear after confirmation and our long time members become occasional guests, how do we attract new members? I’m not being sarcastic – I honestly want to know. Is it simply how we frame the message?

    • Natural Church Development titled what you are referring to as “Passionate Spirituality” (that is, an enthusiasm and awareness of God in your life and the world). When our congregation surveyed low in this regard (but high in “effective church structures”) and it was shared they rejected the definition outright–gagged on their silver spoons like the Dowager Countess talking about Americans.

  17. Shannon K says:

    Social justice statements may have garnered attention in the days of the power and prestige of the Christian Church in American culture, but those days are long gone. You want to stand for social justice? Start by loving and developing relationship in your communities with those who are oppressed, forgotten, struggling, wounded. That’ll take things a lot further than a policy statement. And if we aren’t starting new communities of faith in which people are being discipled into a compelling relationship with Christ that translates to being of earthly good in relationship with “the widows and orphans and poor”–then there will be less and less of us to do this relational work in our communities. Preach it, John.

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