There have been articles making the claim that church attendance is down (disclaimer: I’m currently not part of a church, only part of the Church) and, by the looks of the direction of our current culture, that shouldn’t surprise us. However, what does surprise me is the tactics churches are utilizing to keep itself relevant. As though we need to trend with the revolving desires of a culture, by masking the genuine heart of Christianity to appease would-be hearers of the Word.
Where do we get the idea that tempering the immovable foundation of the Church, will ultimately grow the church? Of course, it is our calling as Christians to evangelize, to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Savior, and not to centralize our focus on a certain people, but to do so without discrimination. The Reformed beliefs of election do not loosen up this command, due to the fact that we aren’t in on who will believe Scripture’s message or what souls God has chosen as His elect. It is when I witness, not to apparent unbelievers, but the methods churches are using to fit in with what the world deems as relevant, that I cringe.
Since when is the message of Christ on the cross not sufficient? Seeker friendly churches are pulling out all the stops for their seekers (offering barista style coffee in the lobby, setting up concerts in the sanctuary, carefully navigating their sermon series to avoid the hellfire and more doctrinally challenging aspects of the Bible), rationalizing this approach as a way to draw more people in so that they can hear the Good News. The only issue with this relevance attempt, although noble in its ideals, is that it is not remaining faithful to the very God we’re trying to promote.
The Church will grow, regardless of whether the church offers rockus music venues or sugar free vanilla lattes with whip. That is because the Church is not to be confused with the church. It is correct to infuse church attendance as a means of grace for those who are part of the Church, but to confuse church attendance with the salvation of seekers is misguided. If your numbers are growing, pews are being filled, and the parking lot is packed, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the knowledge of Christ and His work is flourishing because your church is. It is always good to test yourselves with the Galatians 1:10 questions: are we trying to win the approval of men, or God? Or are we trying to please men?
Growth can be measured, and should be measured, by the depth of discipleship that is happening within the church. Lifelong and seasoned believers are in need of growth, as well, since they’ll be the ones on the mission of evangelizing unbelievers and teaching newer converts. Discipling is not limited to sharing your faith, in order to win souls to Christ, but is a continuance of sharing your life with those you profess your faith with. In the Great Commission, Matthew (28:18-20) uses these words as our instruction: make disciples, teaching them to obey everything I (Jesus) have commanded (emphasis mine). Walking with them through the loss of a loved one, eating meals together, openly expressing and challenging beliefs in all theological topics, and above all, teaching and training those newer in their faith the complexities that being Christian encompasses. There is much to learn about what Christianity beholds, and stopping at the point of one’s conversion is failing. Discipling is what Jesus did with, well, His disciples.
We, as the Church, cannot make the dire mistake of missing this. Our relevance is solely based on Christ, Who never changes, never evolves, and never strives to remain relevant to any thing other than His Word. His teachings in Scripture never cease to be relevant, as relevant as they were in the culture He spoke them as they are today, and still will be in the future (Hebrews 13:8). Trying to draw people in by entertaining them with an overuse of props, media, and musical instruments, while neglecting or watering down Scriptural Truth to attract unbelievers by appearing current (or “cool”), is a shame and a sham.
Jesus will be entertaining enough for those who (will) love Him. His Word is a grand enough prop, His Church’s voices will overpower a symphony of instruments, His blood is adequate over caffeine cocktails, His majesty is sufficient to enlighten even the darkest soul He calls, and in knowing these truths, His Church will be forever relevant, regardless of the tides of change our culture endures. If the sound doctrinal preaching of His Word doesn’t appear to bring the growth to your church that you’re hoping to attain, perhaps that growth you seek is becoming an idol of ambition, rooted in a self serving motivation, or the time has come when men will not put up with sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3-5) in your church. Either way, keeping it pure, focused, and remaining cognizant of Who the seekers are seeking will keep your conscience clear before God. Seekers don’t need gimmicks and perpetual elementary teachings, they/we need Truth (Titus 2:1; Hebrews 5:11-14, 6:1-3).