Perhaps my optimism is influenced by the Christmas season and the hope of the Christ child whose birth we celebrate in two days.
But I think it’s more than that. Much more.
Let me be clear. I know there are many struggling churches. I know there are many hurting and beaten up pastors. I don’t have my head in the sand. On the contrary, I deal with these churches and leaders almost every day.
My optimism is fueled by several indicators I have been noticing. While many of my data points are anecdotal and observational, I see them as nevertheless real and powerful. Let me put them out there and allow you the opportunity to respond.
- Church leaders and members are moving from denial to seeking help. A church can’t change unless its leaders and members admit the church needs help. Just at our organization alone, Church Answers, we are inundated with requests for help. Our starter revitalization resource, Revitalize Bundle, is being utilized by hundreds of churches. A church can’t turnaround unless it admits it needs a turnaround.
- Countless church members are taking a stand against the silliness and negativity in churches. Just this past week, I have heard from seven churches where members in the churches had a “counter rebellion.” They are sick and tired of the naysayers and bullies who are discouraging and distracting other church members and, particularly, the pastor. For the most part, they are letting the negative and pernicious naysayers know they will not tolerate such behavior.
- There is a renewed interest to become outwardly focused. Many well-intending churches are inwardly focused. Few of their resources are used to evangelize the community in which the church resides. Discipleship is largely seen as efforts to provide content to the members. But more churches are actually loving and evangelizing their respective communities. More churches realize that Great Commission discipleship begins with “Therefore, go.”
- There is a renewed commitment to the community. The focus to move outwardly is complemented by an increased love of the community where the church is located. The address of your church facilities is not an accident. God put every church in a community to love and serve that community. It is an incredible movement of God to see a church fall deeply in love with those who live and work near them.
- Unity is returning to many churches. Jesus could not have been clearer in John 13:35: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples (NLT).” For many years, the world has looked at Christians and church members as purveyors of negativity and fighters over minutia. I once decided I would take a week and write down all the different fights I saw among Christians and report it in one of my articles. After one day and 57 issues, I gave up. The exercise in itself was a downer. But, more and more, I see signs of hope. Church members are becoming more unified. Many are putting their preferences aside for the sake of others and the good of their churches. I pray we may soon be to that point where the early church was described in this manner: “all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47, NLT).
Reality is tough. Answers are not easy. But there is hope. God is turning the hearts of more and more church leaders and members.
In a week, I will give you my thoughts on the trends for churches in 2020.
Have a Christ-filled Christmas! I so appreciate all of you in this community. You are a blessing to me.
Posted on December 23, 2019
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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Jesus did not promise us that following him would be easy. He did not promise that the seeds we scattered would always fall on fertile ground and yield an abundant harvest. He did, however, promise to be with us to the end of the age. We may live in a time when the influence of Christianity is waning in the West, young people are drifting away from the faith, and churches are closing. But Jesus’ presence with us is all we need to persevere in the face of the challenges we face and to press on. A merry Christmas to Thom, the Rainer team, and the readers of this blog. May God fill your lives with an abundance of his grace this Christmastide, in the new year, and in the new decade . God bless you all.
I think it’s important to understand that young people haven’t drifted away from the church – the church drifted from them. Church congregations, of the type described in this blog piece, became too focused on their own church board politics, Sunday sermons, self -absorbed, angry (expressed through passive-aggressive ways) and miserable to be around with little tolerance for those who think, act or live differently that their own conventional way of being. Those churches drifted away. They sit vacant six days a week with a pastor locked away in his/her office with the door shut. I don’t believe that’s following Jesus’ example at all.
By contrast, a majority of young people are generally open-minded, happy and optimistic with little patience for grumpy Christian congregations that have no interest in the larger community and do very little outreach in their own neighborhoods. What gives me hope is young people stay away from becoming entangled with the church mindset as it stands and find ways to serve their communities through non profit programs. They actually do something to be of service to others and are genuinely caring. Be hopeful when you see thousands of non-profits that do the work churches should be doing and that most are being staffed and volunteered by young people.
I’m sorry, but I’m just not seeing it. In my part of the country, the younger folks simply won’t come to church. Oh, they’re good at finding fault, but they’re not every appreciative of churches that are doing the best they can with what they have. As for being self-absorbed, how many of these younger people are willing to attend a church that doesn’t have contemporary worship? They tell us that style doesn’t matter, but their actions suggest otherwise. As for their desire to be of service to others, my own church is involved in all kinds of community ministries, yet it’s like pulling teeth to get the younger folks involved in them.
In short, they talk a good game, but they’re not playing one (not in my neck of the woods, anyway).
It is still hard to participate as a younger person in church. If you’re a kid, it’s easy. If you are a young professional who can’t donate a lot, you’re better off volunteering with a secular charity and you’ll be allowed to do more.
I’m sorry, but that’s just baloney. I can’t speak for all churches, but in my church, we would welcome young people to participate. We all but beg them to do so, but they won’t, and I’m sick and tired of people telling me it’s the church’s fault. Is it not the least bit possible that these younger people have wrong priorities?
The research that I have seen to date supports the characterization of the “drift” as one of young people away from the church rather than the church away from young people. This “drift” may also be characterized as a rejection of organized religion. Churches have contributed to the “drift”– I’ll give you that–but I think that characterizing this development as a “drift” of the church away from young people does not quite accurately describe it. Other factors are contributing to this development– cultural changes, the digital age, etc. I have frequent contact with university students and other young adults and for many of them religion does not play an important part in their lives. They may have some religious beliefs but attending a church or engaging in ministry of any kind is not one of their priorities.
Dear Thom I read your articles and statistics they are always spot on I am new to the ministry but not to the church. I am a lifelong PK my father just passed away after 50 years in the ministry, I am the pastor of a church that had only 12 members when we first came and its been one battle after another. Different families have had control over this church for decades and each have tried to force us out it has been really taxing on my ministry and extremely hard on my marriage. We are in our fifth year and finally have a small core group a solid foundation to build on but the damage has taken its toll on the church financially and spiritually as several families have been torn apart by the division of ones that have left. This community has a bad taste toward the church because of the actions of those before we arrived which makes it extremely hard to reach them, this stigma goes back a long way and now vicious rumors and hate are swirling all around. I realize that this a revitalization and we are on the long list of churches that are dying but our finances do not allow for the cost of the resources we need. We are not going anywhere if we had left any earlier and almost did several times if I’m honest we would have never saw this small group that loves each other and has such a desire to see God work in and through them. We are just now becoming an outwardly focused church our numbers are so low that me and my wife are filling so many positions just to survive and have since we’ve been there as many wanted us to fail and would never help out. We are not defeated but in a unique situation and prayers are much appreciated.
You certainly have my prayers, T. F.
TF your situation and mine are identical. I mean reading your post I thought you were a member where I am serving as Pastor! God has done the same thing with our congregation, former Pastor walk out after serving 22 years mostly fighting and feuding with members. But God…. left a remnant there that really wanted the teaching and preaching of the Holy Spirit. I a now going into my 8th year this year and the difference is like day and night. Be encouraged that you are not alone and God said that the church would prevail!
Pray for me as I will pray for you.