How Churches Can help Reduce Their Membership Numbers

              I was hoping, once again, that this web-article I clicked on would be different.  Honestly, not many article-leads grab my attention enough to warrant my actually clicking on the web-link to their article.  Yet this one did.  As one who spent much of his adult life avoiding church, this headline did in fact peak my interest.

            As I began to read through the article by Pastor Jarrid Wilson, recently posted on ChurchLeaders.com, my hopes were once again crushed. As usual, just as I started getting into it, it was over! The article entitled “Why Millennials Are Sick of Church,” consisted of a list of ten reasons for millennials being sick of church and a few short paragraphs, followed by the expected flurry of comments, either showing their respective agreement or disagreement.

            Let me promulgate up front, while I do not know Jarrid Wilson nor have I read anything he’s written prior, my article here about his is in no way meant to be negative toward him.  One of the reasons that I rarely, if ever click on a link, it’s because my interest in the topic is suddenly squelched when I get to the article and it is three paragraphs or less.

            Here I am, frustrated once again.  I realize that print media may have many understandable constraints on the length of their contributed articles, but I must admit to being ignorant of what such constraints would be that would limit an online article to almost nothing but its title that grabbed your attention. My apologies for the rant, but I can’t believe that I am the only one frustrated by the “lack of article” in the article, and I was truly interested in reading one in this case.

            That said, allow me now to address the points that Pastor Jarrid Wilson highlighted in his article. The first bullet is, “It’s not authentic.”  I certainly agree with that observation.  Though I myself do not regularly attended a church service, observation of those that do is quite telling. While it may be “authentic” on Sunday, it never appears to be authentic the rest of the week. I believe that there are a select few that indeed appear to be authentic, but in most instances, I do not need more than my own ten fingers to count them.

            The second bullet presented is, “It’s too corporate.” I must pass on this simply because I can’t here in this article see where that’s coming from. I would however be interested in learning more about that.

            The third; “I don’t like the political side,” is right up my alley.  As one who most often fails at being pc (not that I try very hard), I also have no love for “politics” outside the framework of our public officials. The church, I believe, should be the last place politics should be found, if found there at all.

             I can say for myself, I too would want nothing to do with a church where “politics” and political wrangling are evident.  Every aspect of church should be transparent and if it’s not, that’s a real problem.  Paul writes in the 16th chapter of Romans (v17), “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. (NASB)

             His fourth bullet, “I feel like I can’t be open about my struggles,” I suggest has much to do with the first.  How can anyone be expected to be open and honest about issues such as these when surrounded by those one feels are “not authentic.” I am also going to tie bullet no. 6 (It’s too judgmental) in here as well.

             Those that one sees as judgmental are the last ones that someone would be open and honest with. Any church which allows an attitude of “judging” to be fostered should be a church one should turn away from. Church should promote a number of things, but promoting an environment of judging is not one of them. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, “…let all things be done for edification.” (14:26)

            Also, Peter writes in his first epistle, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.” (1 Pe 1:22) And in Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple of the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

           I can’t help but wonder how anyone can expect God to raise us up if we don’t humble ourselves before the Lord. (see James 4:10) Would not a community gathering in a local church be the right place for all of us to be humble?  If we can’t show some humility outside of church during a typical week, wouldn’t church be the one place that we should approach with humility?

           Unfortunately, conceitedness runs rampant in our world today.  As an outsider looking in, I must speak my observations. How can we expect any church to grow in the Lord while so many of us walk through the church doors, filled with conceit?  Is it not conceit of the heart that brings judgement upon others?

            I cannot with truth, exclude myself from such an assessment.  In my youthful years, I can look back upon them and now admit my very own conceitedness. But I truly believe, regardless of what our age may be when it occurs, that there will come a time in every person’s life, the realization that no matter how highly we think of ourselves, how great or smart we think we are, or how bigger and stronger we might perceive ourselves to be, there will always be somebody bigger, better and smarter than we.  Here, I am reminded of verse 16 in the 12th chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly.  Do not be wise in your own estimation.”

            I would prefer to read more about bullet No. 7 before commenting, so I shall overlook the point and move on to bullet No. 8; “They don’t spend enough time outside of their building.” Well, I must say (light-heartedly anyway) I feel just the opposite, but since I myself do not currently attend a church regularly, I say this in light of observing the actions of self-proclaiming churchgoers.  I truly believe that we don’t spend enough time within the walls of our community churches.

           As a ministry student taking a short course in Evangelism and “vocal witnessing,” I learned that while it is important for us to leave the confines of our church building and witness as is possible, it is also imperative that we “know the material” we are sharing with others.

           Again, my humble observation would be that many of us indeed need to spend more time inside our church, learning, than outside sharing.  I’ve heard it stated that of we pastors, only about 30% of us can recite the ten commandments my memory.  Don’t feel I’m barking up the wrong tree with this point, because I too must be excluded from that 30%.

           While we each assuredly have received gifts from Heaven, having a “keen memory” was not a gift given to me.  Contrary to what my wife says, it doesn’t matter how important to me it is or is not, I struggle, in my adult life, with memorizing things.

           So for as much as I admire those that hit the road with the leather of their shoes, I am convinced that one should “know the material” before strapping on their sandals.  The apostle Paul, for example, didn’t just run out and begin witnessing mere moments after his conversion. I think it would be fair to say that Paul spent a few years, “in training.”

           I’m also quite confident that his training was not held merely for an hour or so each Sunday morning; perhaps Saturday mornings for him at that time, but rather he experienced it both day and night, day after day, week after week, for years before beginning his ministry. There was never any doubt that the apostle Paul “knew the material,” before strapping on his sandals and hitting the dirt highways.

          Bullet No. 9, “They aren’t really welcoming of people who are different from them,” stirs some emotions within my small brain.  I see this particular bullet as a double-edge sword, so to speak.  I will address it from two opposite directions; one in agreement; that is, I believe it should be that way; and the other, in disagreement; that is, where I believe it should be more welcoming.

          First, to my point of arguing that the church should be weary of people different from those there.  I must admit foremost however, that I’m not really comfortable with the word, “welcome,” as used here in the bullet. Of course all “visitors” should be welcome to enter into the church, but not necessarily that all people should be welcome in the church.

         If you think it’s difficult here to follow my train of thinking, you wouldn’t believe how it plays out in my head.  Particular churches have particular beliefs.  In general, I would accept the argument that those in regular attendance of a particular church agree, for the most part, with the tenets of that particular church.

         If one enters a church with the intention of becoming part of that church, then I would suggest that one is obligated to agree wholeheartedly with the beliefs of that church.  Why would anyone want to be a member of a church that they don’t believe in or agree with?

         While I’m sure it won’t take long for someone to find fault with what I’m about to say, I say it with great reverence and humility, and only in the context of referring to Pastor Wilson’s bullet No. 9.  Although I’m a bit hesitant to use such a pun, I honestly believe it is perfectly comparable.  I see particular churches as leather sandals.  Before one buys into the sandals, one would most likely want to try them on; see if they fit.  If we don’t, then I would presume that we would take a look at another; yes?

         While every church should be welcoming visitors with a pure heart and good intentions, I can see a point in the future where a particular church may not see a particular parishioner as an honest member of their church.  I realize I am being politically incorrect here, but I fear, I have no other choice.  So I would pose a question.  If one is openly and adamantly in favor of same-sex marriage, why would one want to be a member of a church where perhaps 99% of the membership are openly and adamantly against it?  And why would one expect that church to change, just for them? If one is honest with themselves, one must understand why a particular church may not be so inviting or welcoming to a perspective member.

         Take caution. I am not speaking here in terms of congeniality, cordialness, respect, and manners; all which should be expected by a church as one approaches its doors.  Each and every person wishing to experience a particular house of God, is to be afforded every concession, welcome, and pleasantry under the sun. However, one seeking to become a full member of a particular church should not be offended because the church, as a whole, is not willing to bend its ideology for you.

         So, in the words of bullet No. 9, I can understand the point of view.  I shall stand in defense of a particular church only on the grounds where a major difference in ideology is profound; such as I mentioned previously in the matter of same-sex marriage.

         In the arena of point No. 5, “I hate the cliques,” this I can also tie into my previous comments.  I can believe that the neighborly receptiveness of the church can indeed be infiltrated by members of certain church cliques; that is not good.  There is absolutely no justification for the existence of particular cliques within the church.

        Did not the apostle Paul write, in 1st Corinthians, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you.” I am indeed using the word, “divisions,” quite broadly, and I truly feels it is warranted.  What is a “clique,” other than a division within the church: a group holding themselves apart from the whole?

        Here, I will refer once again to Paul writing in the 16th chapter of Romans (v17), “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. A “clique” I’m quite sure would fall within the context of this verse.

        In Titus 3:9, Paul writing to one of his Spiritual children, “true child in a common faith;” says, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”  I see this instruction of Paul’s to Titus also encompassing the idea of a “clique,” and the importance of avoiding them.

       Our Christ Jesus said in Luke 11:17, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; And a house divided against itself falls.”  Who will disagree with my point of view that “cliques” are not a part of the true church of God? Oxford dictionaries gives the following definition for the word, clique; “a small group of people, with shared interests or other feature in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them.” So in biblical terms, a clique is most certainly a division in any church and is something to be avoided.

       Now on to the pastor’s tenth and final bullet point; “They focus too much on what they know instead of who they are showing love to.” It will be a bit difficult to comment on this due to it ambiguity.  I’m not confident in embracing the thought which this point is based on specifically, so I will try to keep my comments in broad terms.

       What should a particular church focus on?  I would imagine a fair point to start with is that a church should be well rounded and balanced in all that they do.  First however, perhaps we should take a brief look at the true purpose of a church, whether in a large, well-inspired building up the street, or in a private home; because a building cannot be afforded.

       I shall begin my bible recitations with the 3rd chapter of Colossians; “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (v 16, ESV) So the author here which I believe to be the apostle Paul, is pretty clear as to the purpose of the church; “with thankfulness to God,” (My emphasis in bold).

       Peter, the Lord’s Chief of Staff if you will, writes in his 1st epistle, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (ESV 2:4-5) Fairly clear Peter is here where the verse ends with, “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ,” (again with my own emphasis in bold).

      Another verse by Peter says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV) The phrase, “… that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you,” is again quite clear.

      Let’s now take a look at a what was written by the author of Hebrews. In chapter 10 the author writes, in verse 25, “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  What does the author mean specifically, when he speaks of encouraging one another?  Do we assume that he talking about encouraging us in our private lives; in our personal opinions and world viewpoint?

     On the contrary; the author is speaking to the necessity of encouraging one another in the faith; the way, as it was often referred to in the first century.  The same is to be said of the apostle Paul when he writes in 1st Thessalonians; “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thes 5:11)

     The church built by Christ was established first and foremost to be a place for like-minded believers to gather together, to give honor to God.  Is it not the hearing of the word of God the reason for which we go to church?  Paul says in the 4th chapter of Ephesians, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (ESV 4:11-12) The church is meant to be the body of Christ; not the body of Clayton, Bill, Suzie, or Mary; but to be the “body of Christ.”

     Therefore, being a member of the body of Christ, our purpose is to know, thank and praise God. From Colossians 1:18, Paul says, “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” And from chapter 2 of the same letter, Paul writes, “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” (ESV 2:18-19)

     We are to build one another up in Christ; in God; in the word.  Paul explains in 1st Corinthians, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” (ESV 12:27-31)

     Is not our church, the prime place for us to assemble and build one another up in Christ; in the faith of Christianity?  While we should attend the church to fellowship with other believers, would in not be more true to say, we should attend church to fellowship with God?  Would it not be a stretch for myself that I would, as a Christian, go to a synagogue to worship; or to a mosque? Would I not seek fellowship with a church, with a body of Christ, that is like-minded and not be timid in my praise of God?

     In closing, to some extent I can feel and relate to the sentiments underlying the 10 bullet points as presented. As the author, Jarrid Wilson says in his article (to which this paper refers), The points need to be, and should be discussed.  I thank the author, Jarrid Wilson for sharing and bringing attention to them.  I have enjoyed spending the past few hours pondering and researching my own thoughts on each of them.

 

©2016 Clayton Moore

Sources include but may not be limited to: “Why Millennials Are Sick of Church” (By Jarrid Wilson) for Church Leaders. (http://www.churchleaders.com/); www.openbible.info; http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com; NASB Study Bible; www.esvbible.org

Also see: http://jarridwilson.com/

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