David Olson, in his 2008 work The American Church in Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based on a National Database of over 200,000 Churches, tells us that “contrary to the oft-quoted 40 percent, in fact only 16.2 percent of Americans regularly attend a church service.
Something has gone wrong.
A study by Pastoral Care Inc. shows that in just five years, 20 million North Americans left the church.
Something is clearly missing.
A LifeWay poll revealed that 70 percent of 18-to-22 year olds have left the church.
Something is terribly wrong.
What has happened? Jesus proclaimed and lived a gospel that could not keep people away. Everywhere he went, the crowds flocked to him, so that he often struggled to find a few minutes of time alone with the Father. Now 2000 years later, in a world where we can amplify the good news, deliver it across a vast range of mediums and dress it up with lights, music and smoke machines, people are losing interest.
Is the gospel no longer enough? Or have we changed the gospel?
Simply put, the gospel that we preach is too small and too tame. Dare I say it is boring? The Creator has placed the stamp of His passion into every person. He has made us with a longing four our lives to make a difference that is only fulfilled in a life invested in a greater purpose, a greater story than just our own.
This is the great invitation of Jesus: to leave the smallness of living for ourselves behind and to follow Him on a journey of trust (often rather terrifying), adventure and ultimate fulfillment. This is why Jesus announced that He came to bring abundant life—abundant in scope and impact; abundant in deep relationship with Him and others traveling with us on the journey.
Frankly, a small gospel of “come to Jesus, come to church, be good and go to heaven” leads to one of two results: frustration or boredom. I believe that these are the keys to what is sending people away from church. In contrast, Jesus’ invitation to follow Him leads us into His great mission of rescue, reconciliation and restoration.
In the midst of a declining North American church, there are congregations that are thriving. Many of these have heard the heart cry of men and women that ‘there has to be more’ and have responded with a corporate mission that reaches beyond the church. In the midst of so much debate on the various strengths and weakness of small, mid-sized and mega churches, of the pros and cons of house churches and organic churches, it seems that the real issue is following Jesus into His mission. Church forms and programs don’t answer the longing of our hearts, divinely ordained significance does.
If we find ourselves feeling frustrated, we can see it as an opportunity to grow. I suspect that frustration is one of the Lord’s methods to awaken us and call us into something new. A healthy response to frustration is movement; otherwise frustration simply morphs into either the destructiveness of bitterness or apathy. It is up to us to change, and change requires movement.
When He says ‘repent’, Jesus is really saying ‘change your way of thinking’ (metanoia). Jesus says:
On top of that, Rom. 8:19-22 tells us that all of creation is groaning, waiting for us, His sons and daughters, to step into our true calling the rescue, reconciliation and restoration all things.
So when we keep hearing that inner voice insisting that there’s got to be more, we are hearing the sound of heaven and earth. You were created for impact and significance—something that reaches beyond yourself, beyond your lifetime, something that connects you to God’s greater story.
Once we embrace this sound, then what do we do? What does more look like?
Steve Stewart is the founder of Impact Nations, a Christian organization that brings hope and restoration to the poor and vulnerable in the developing world through both supernatural and practical expressions of the Kingdom of God. Since 2003, Impact Nations has not only touched the lives of the thousands of people living in volatile regions with clean water, education, schools, businesses and churches, but thousands more have had live-changing experiences traveling and ministering in these regions around the globe through Journeys of Compassion. Follow Steve on Twitter at @impactnations or learn more at http://www.impactnations.com/