By Mark A. Taylor
In this space last week and the week before, I reported, evaluated, and shared comments about the Pew Research Center’s May 12 report on religion in America. It is a thorough and detailed study, full of implications for church leaders today.
Especially interesting is the fact that Evangelicals are the only Christian group whose numbers grew between 2007 and 2014. The growth did not keep up with population growth, however, which means the influence of Evangelicals on the American scene is not growing. This is especially concerning when added to the fact that those claiming no religious affiliation multiplied during the same period.
How should conservative Christian churches react to this news? Kent Fillinger, compiler of our annual megachurch report and veteran church watcher, has several ideas. With his permission, I’m giving most of my space this week to his challenge.
Church leaders need to repent from loving the status quo and ministry comfort more than they love the lost, the broken, and the hurting.
Many churches have given up on discipling believers and developing servant-leaders and opted instead to hire more staff to manage the programmatic machine we call the church. And sadly, I’ve seen many ministry staff members who are content to “phone it in” and to hide behind the guise of busyness to work little and produce even less. This report should serve as a true “ice bucket challenge” and wake up leaders to the need to serve well and engage fully in hopes of reaching more of the “nones.”
The report showed that more than one-third of the millennials (adults ages 18-33) are unaffiliated. This reality will have far-reaching impact on the church as a whole for decades to come unless we can create some effective “off ramps” in this mass religious exodus and divert more millennials back into the church.
I think our children’s ministries, student ministries, and college-age ministries need to get serious about wrestling through the difficult questions of the faith and make discipleship (i.e., teaching them to obey) a priority. I know of one megachurch canceling its student ministry’s worship and teaching time for the entire summer. But the church can’t make up lost ground by standing still!
Jesus called us to be “fishers of men,” and the pool of “nones” is the largest it’s ever been. So we need to get serious about fishing. I’m reminded of an old Max Lucado story where he said, “When fishermen don’t fish, they fight.” Too many churches and church members are expending all of their energies fighting with each other instead of getting creative, embracing change, and throwing their nets into the water in an effort to obey Jesus’ command to go and make disciples.
Jesus’ words from Matthew 9:37 still apply today. The harvest is so great, but the workers are few. And too many of the potential workers are busy taking their kids to sports tournaments instead of church on the weekend. Or they think being a committed Christian means showing up for church once or twice a month. Or they aren’t prepared to share the reason for the hope they have because they seldom read their Bibles, as if listening to one sermon a week will satisfy their spiritual hunger.
Kent Fillinger is president of 3Strands: Consulting (www.3strandsconsulting.com).