I was reading online recently about a large evangelistic series of meetings held in New York City. The jury is still out on whether or not the series was a success considering the money spent. What interested me, however, was the content of the meetings and their ability to draw people to church. Notice I said church and not Christ because there seems to be a strange disconnect between the two in the minds of some evangelists. I hate to say it, but that’s never stopped me before, but often the emphasis on these large evangelistic efforts seems to be concentrated more on numbers and connecting people to a particular church than leading them into a relationship with God.
There is no doubt that Christianity in North America needs a shot in the arm if it is going to become relevant to our culture. The latest statistics show that though 77 percent of Americans consider themselves Christian, only 20 percent attend church regularly. Our churches, if we are brutally honest, are not meeting the needs of a progressively skeptical secular society. In all honesty we are whistling in the dark.
In many churches, week after week, there are no visitors. The pastor simply speaks to the faithful. They hear the message, pack up after the sermon and go home to struggle through another week of ups and downs. Either because of tradition, loyalty to the church or obligation, the people return each week but they don’t bring their friends and family with them. Why is that?
When up to 80 percent of professing Christians stay away from church each week something has to be wrong. We can blame it on dry boring sermons, indifferent teachers and dull out of date music, but there is something more at work than just these factors. We are not teaching Christians to put Jesus first in their lives. Christianity has become a spectator sport with a handful of extroverts leading out and everyone else sitting quietly in the pews listening to what they are being told. Remember the old saying, “give a man a fish and he is hungry the next day, but teach a man to fish and he is set for life.” We seem to be content to feed the congregation once a week and hope they don’t die of malnourishment sometime during the rest of the week. Christians need to be taught how to pray, study the Bible, and be open to the Holy Spirit. Sermons, teaching, prayer meeting, and Bible studies all need to be directed towards giving a Christian the tools and incentive to study and pray on their own. Growing in our Christian journey is not easy, from the church leadership perspective or for the Christian sitting in the pew. It takes dedication and devotion to find time to pray let alone try and figure out the Bible.
This brings me full circle to those large evangelistic series. Maybe everyone would be better off if we stopped spending our resources on such dated forms of outreach. What would happen if the pastors in North America started teaching the keys to building a better relationship with God? How does a series on developing a personal devotional time sound? Would you be interested in an honest discussion about prayer? I believe with all my heart that if the church were equipped with the skills to develop their spiritual understanding of God, legalism, indifference and discouragement would fade away. Christians would come to know Jesus as a personal God instead of one they simply hear preached about. This new assurance, through personal experience, would lead to confidence in God and the desire to share their understanding of Jesus with others. Church members would take the lead in developing innovative ministries that fit the demographics of their neighborhood and the Holy Spirit would bless. When Jesus becomes real in our life we suddenly have a message that can be spoken with conviction and honesty.
Someone needs to remind these denominations that the vast majority of people in North America won’t come out to a church to hear a message on a topic they are not interested in, from an evangelist they have never heard of, and sponsored by a church they know nothing about. Instead, invest time and resources into encouraging the church to know God personally and everything else will fall into place.