as she has done throughout the book, duin cites the data from surveys and statistics, and she interviews authors and church leaders (some quite “high profile”) to find an answer to her question: “How does one get the disenchanted back into church?”
she references the famous (or, infamous, if you prefer) willow creek summit that found 1 in 4 members unhappy with their church experience. that group, many of whom were thinking about leaving willow creek, identified themselves as “stalled” (they had been christians for some time, but seemed to be spinning their wheels spiritually) and “dissatisfied” (mature christians who felt the church was keeping them from growing). after crunching the data, the willow creek staff determined that they needed to 1.) teach young believers how to become “self-feeders,” and 2.) find a place for mature believers to serve.
duin was dubious about the proposed solutions.
when she asked scott mcconnell, associate research director of lifeway how the church might reclaim the disenchanted, he answered, “When we asked the formerly churched what would get them back, they said the number one thing was an invite from a friend or family member. The friendliness and welcoming aspect is crucial.”
again, ms. duin doesn’t think “being more friendly” is the answer. so what does church look like in the foreseeable future?
1. house churches
A lot of people have found them to be the answer to many problems that have been brought up in these pages (in this chapter, ms. duin interviews author john eldredge and prolific attorney john whitehead, both of whom are vocal proponents and practitioners of house church). There’s nothing like attending a group where you are missed if you are gone, where people know enough about you to intercede intelligently, and where your participation means something. I attended such a group years ago in Oregon and loved it. But in many areas of the country…there aren’t enough house churches to constitute a meaningful alternative.
2. truth centers (my term)
Many local churches are not about to change. They would rather die first, and many will slowly fade into the sunset. Everything in such churches depends on the pastor, who must want to reach the more mature Christian and be willing to make the necessary changes to attract this group. I’ve not seen many churches like this, that concentrate on discipleship and leave the bottle-feeding to the megachurches, but I’m willing to bet such a church would do well in this era of dumbed-down, purpose-driven, seeker-friendly Christianity.
to add a personal note from your humble host: i believe there will always be a remnant of christ-followers who covet truth–truth that drives them to their knees in humility and brokenness. we (i include myself in that number) will passionately pursue like-minded truth-lovers with whom we can do life together. perhaps small fellowships where truth is ruthlessly preached without apology might find a way to survive until truth-lovers can find one another, and then their meetings would thrive until jesus returns.
a last word from julia duin…
I have seen what a great church should and could be. Many of these discoveries came when I was doing research on covenant Christian communities in Houston, Evanston, Illinois, Ann Arbor, and other places. In their best moments, they were like Camelot–a vision of beauty that truly worked. Everyone lived within one to two miles of the church, which created great possibility in transforming a neighborhood. One could walk to many members’ homes. There was a “vision of the house” that demanded a lot of commitment, which people were glad to give because they got a lot back. There was an introductory rite by which you were introduced to the core beliefs of these churches. Their gathered worship was intimate and passionate, mainly because people knew each other so well that they were vulnerable with each other. There were physical and emotional healings. People shared and gave away their possessions. They helped with each other’s children. They were led by a group of elders, not one pastor, which gave these churches a balanced meal. Instead of being insular, these churches were quite attractive to the outsider and the unconverted.
Right now, Christians all over the English-speaking world are casting about, looking for a solution to the current malaise. Like the builders on Nehemiah’s wall, they have often operated too separately and too far apart. Their best efforts get diminished, then absorbed by the culture. Miracles happened in Acts 2 when Christians decided to share things in common, be willing to suffer together, and be part of a supernatural church. They can happen again if enough believers are willing to pay the price. Then people will begin craving church rather than quitting church, and the exodus will be no more.