Church isn't dead - here are three reasons why it shouldn't be.
Again and again, I see some variation of the same argument from Mainline Protestant Pastors and faith leaders:
"The Church is dying, and that's okay, God has other ways of working in the world."
Let me start with the latter, yes, God has plenty of ways of working in the world, I'm not arguing with that. But to the former, the Church is not dying--nor should we be okay with it's apparent decline.
Please note, my use of the big "C" Church is purposeful. I'm not talking about some local church nor the Roman Catholic Church, but rather the Church universal, Christ's body on earth.
Matthew 16:18 comes to mind here:
"And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
I'm quoting from the KJV here because I was most influenced by this verse when I was in Bible college, and that's how I would have heard it then.
Back in those days, the debate was usually centered around who or what "this rock," was about. Was it about Peter? Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ? Or the fact that Jesus is the Christ? The latter half of that verse, that "gates of hell shall not prevail" against the church was an after thought. Of course, who would think otherwise!?
Enter Mainline Protestants.
Now, I don't want to be too harsh here as 1. I identify as a Mainline Protestant 2. I have tons of friends and colleagues who are Mainline Protestant 3. Mainline Protestants have done a ton of good in the world 4. I'm grateful for all the experiences and education I've received during my time in Mainline Protestantism.
But, and this is a big but,
I seriously don't understand why Mainline Protestantism seems to be so content to watch (our manifestation of) the c/Church die.
Yes, trust me, I get it. Or denominations, structures, committees are all horribly outdated, inefficient, and often irrelevant. But, too often it feels like the whole lament about the church dying is just another way to avoid our responsibility to do something about it.
Furthermore, I do think the c/Church matters, big C or little c. Church matters (see how I purposely put it at the start of new sentence there...)
To that point, here are my 3 reasons why the church still matters:
I believe that the church is the best place to experience wonder, welcome & community, and challenge.
There's something to be said about recognizing your place in the universe. Yes, that you matter and are loved, but also that you're really not that big of a deal. In our me-first, individualistic society, it's so easy to see ourselves as the center of the universe. Recognizing our place in the universe, that we're a part of something bigger, and that our destiny is wrapped up in the destiny of others goes a long way in influencing how we live and treat others. One of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is believing in a power greater than yourself. When I realize my place in the world, I'm filled with a sense of wonder and awe that the God of the universe would love me and care about me. Whether it be through singing, prayer, a message, or sacraments, church has a way of helping people experience wonder.
Experiencing Welcome & Community:
In this season of Covid, we're well aware of the value of community and connections. So many people are just so incredibly lonely right now. And while church isn't the only way to experience community, connection, welcome, and love, it is a great way. Now I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that in many times and places, church has been anything but a place of welcome. I believe that when a church truly lives out God's dream of a beloved community, all who enter and participate will experience the love and welcome of God through others.
Most people just don't like to feel uncomfortable. So much of our modern world is centered around making us feel comfortable and secure. While I believe that church must be a place of welcome and community, I also believe church can and should be a place of challenge, where we are exhorted to try harder, live fuller, and love more deeply. Sometimes our growth requires doing difficult things. While the proverbial saying, "no pain, no gain" is a bit simplistic, the broader message is true. We'll likely experience little growth without challenging ourselves or have other people challenge us.
Church is the best way to experience ALL THREE.
These days, people talk about their "church" being spending time outdoors, participating in a community group like AA, or working out with their CrossFit group. And sure, it's possible to experience wonder by being outdoors, experience community in being in AA, and experience challenge by working out at the gym, I would counter by saying it's unlikely you'll experience all three of these outside of church.
And yes, I know one could be a part of a hiking group whereby they experience wonder in the outdoors, challenge from the hiking, and welcome & community through the group, in reality these opportunities are few and far between. Furthermore, like I've said before, I think c/Church is the best way to experience all three of these.
Does the c/Church have a long way to go before we truly become the "beloved community?" Absolutely. Is church for everyone? Probably not. Are there other ways to experience these three things? Sure.
But, c/Church has a head start, c/Church has the ultimate advantage I believe. So, rather than lamenting the supposed decline of the c/Church, I believe pastors and church leaders need to do a better job figuring out what we need to do to reach new people.