If you spend a fair amount of time reading books and articles on the state of the local, evangelical church, you might come away with some pretty negative perceptions. Pastors who read a lot of this kind of stuff can also come away with the sense that if they are not trying to accomplish a dozen disparate goals at once, they are not doing their job well.
A lot of negativity about the local church is put into print out there. A lot of it comes from current progressive haute couture about what they think church communities should look like. As a result, all kinds of odd, external pressures can be unreasonably placed on the local church. They are often vague standards; they are often unmeetable pressures (as is often the case with progressive haute couture).
Sometimes the pressures come from an odd group of people sometimes self-labeled as “ex-vangelicals.” These friendly folks decided at some point that the church they were raised in was emotionally and spiritually destructive, and now seem to be on the war-path. They have grown beyond the church, no longer need the church, and the church had better catch up.
I think the local church often gets a bad rap.
The average local church is not racist. Even if most of their congregation is Caucasian, the pews are not lined with racists. Chances are most of the neighborhood they serve is Caucasian. Odds are that the church will welcome everyone with open arms and are excited for anyone of any background to walk in the doors, become part of the Body, and get to know Jesus. Foisting some vague quota of skin colors on a congregation is a terrible way to label one as “racist”. They love God and love their neighbor.
Even if the church is small to medium-sized, they really do care about outreach, mission, and growth. Let’s not foist another artificial set of homogenized standards on every church in every neighborhood because some version of “growth” worked for “that one church in that one city”. It may be hard for some to see it, but even if a church doesn’t grow from 100 to 2,000 in 5 years, that does not mean they don’t desire to see people saved and transformed. Small to medium-sized churches can love each other well, meet the needs of their neighbors (next door and next in the pew) really well, and people really do come to know Jesus in these kinds of churches.
The local church doesn’t need an overhaul of its essential DNA. The local church is doing what every local body of believers has been doing in every culture for almost 2000 years now. They gather, worship, pray, read the Scriptures, and try to love each other. It won’t “go extinct” if it doesn’t “radically change”, and it hasn’t suddenly become irrelevant if a group of grumpy former Sunday school attendees think it is.
Of course, local churches have things they can do better and need to work on, but that doesn’t justify many of the complaints leveled at them. We all need work.
But let’s be careful when we paint with a broad brush and say sweeping, negative things about the local church.
Great thoughts Pastor Phil!
I think the geographical location and cultural context also play into this.
Many people become “experts” about church growth when something works in their location and context, not realizing that their location and context truly gave them advantages for growth that others won’t see because of various challenges.
Thanks for championing the local church and being a voice of reason!
Thank, Lee! And you are right – the more thoughtful folks are, the more they can be aware of their local situation and the things that may or may not work.