In The Jollyblogger’s archives is a good post called Eclipse of the Gospel in the Church. In it David Wayne builds off this Marcus Honeysett quote:
“At some point in the life of most local churches a critical point is reached when the core fellowship of those committed to gospel vision are outnumbered by a fringe who are there for quite different reasons, be it spiritual comfort, kids activities, personal support, or whatever. Regardless of the particular type of church government, all fellowships struggle to maintain focus around core vision when the fringe, be they believers or not, outnumber the gospel-oriented core. It is very hard to maintain focus, or alter any aspect of church life to reflect the gospel needs of a fresh generation, when the majority are committed to maintaining their comfort. When this happens “Christians” have been replaced with “churchgoers” who assume they are Christians.”
Expanding this beyond an individual congregation, I would say this is a predicament for all gospel-centered churches in areas where the inordinately attractional church is king, particularly in the Bible Belt, where Christianity is “cultural” and the church with the most toys wins.
Wayne follows up:
That seems to be the nature of the beast when it comes to the church. The Exodus people of Israel quickly forgot their redemption and pined for their leeks and onions and devolved into complaints and idolatry. So much so that God had to let a generation die out before they could enter the promised land. And, if you read through the history of Israel it’s easy to see how quickly the pattern that Honeysett describes here happens. The people of God forget or jettison their identity as redeemed people, and they jettison a redemption-driven agenda for other agendas. The church in Corinth is a good New Testament example of this.
It’s probably just something we have to accept and accept that getting the gospel into the church is an even greater priority than getting it into the world. I remember vaguely hearing Tim Keller talk about Redeemer in Manhattan. Redeemer is well known around the world as a leading light in gospel based, missionally driven ministry, yet if I remember correctly Keller said there were probably only a third or a little more at his church who were really getting the whole gospel-missional thing . . .
So the point is that our first and greatest battle is to gospelize the church.
We are in a weird — but frequently exhilarating — position where the gospel is scandalous even to Christians.
So many of our brothers and sisters want the compartmentalized spirituality (putting in their religious time on Sunday mornings), the six steps to such-and-such messages, and the superficiality of apathy towards real community, that missional thinking and living, gospel-saturated and Jesus-centered messages, and the demands of relational intimacy freak them out. This stuff is a foreign language to them, and I see it constantly in the so-called “Christian South,” where “everyone” is a Christian, “everyone” goes to church.
Once upon a time, reading on a Nashville church shopper’s blog, I noticed a commenter urging her to look for a church that focused on Jesus. Her reply was, “I’ve already found Jesus.”
This is the default mode of Bible Belt Christianity. I’ve got my ticket punched, just give me the show now. I need a dynamic speaker on Sunday mornings, a rockin’ band on the stage, a full service childcare facility, a big youth group, a coffee bar near the sanctuary, etc.
I’ve got Jesus already; give me something that matters to me now, something “relevant,” something applicable.
And there is a never-ending appetite for this stuff because this stuff doesn’t fix or fulfill anything. Seven steps to conquering conflict in your marriage won’t eradicate conflict. So there’s always demand for seven more steps next time around.
What I find especially ironic about the churches catering to gospel-unawakened Christians is that they claim they exist for the unchurched. They are the ones actually reaching lost people, they say.
The data does not support this, of course. The number of megachurches has increased; the number of Christians has decreased. This does not compute. And when folks like Sally Morgenthaler start looking at the research, what they find is that the attractional machine, which purports to be for the lost and unchurched, basically just ends up attracting Christians from smaller or less “exciting” churches.
Should missional church pastors care? Do we want these folks?
Speaking for myself, yes. Except, I want to win them. They’re no fun as they are. But frankly, as they are, they don’t want what we’ve got anyway. To the cultural Christian, there is nothing attractive about a small church that expects relational community, practices regular neighborhood service, highlights the cost of discipleship in every message, has a minimalist menu of programs to partake from, and gives most of its money away (precluding a “nice” facility and assorted bells and whistles). But I want to reach them. All Christians are family. I love the big-C Church dearly.
There are some who would say the missional communities should just write off their attractional brothers and sisters and focus on reaching the lost. I defy false dichotomies. And while I never poach (I’ve never invited members of other churches to mine before they themselves have first expressed interest in visiting), I pray and preach AND BLOG and try to live a life of witness so that my churched brothers and sisters will begin to crave the gospel and gospel-centrism in their congregations.
The more churched converts gospel-centrism receives — we’re talking about revival here, by the way — the greater impact for the kingdom among the lost and “least of these” there will be, in the Bible Belt and beyond.
If indeed cultural evangelicalism in the Bible Belt is dying, what do we do about it?