Yesterday we looked at four reasons that people are leaving churches. Now the question remains; What can churches do?
First churches must return to the basics. When the church at Ephesus became mis-focused after a few years, Jesus encourages them through the Apostle to “return to your first love.” This concept needs proclaiming from the roof tops of churches around our great nation and the world as a whole. We need to be like Paul who said, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). To the Philippians he declares that above all he desires to know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Phil 3:10). We need to return to proclaiming the message of Good News – the Gospel of Christ that is God’s power to save men (Rom 1:16, 5:1). Once we reach people with this wonderful, awe inspiring, love compelling, disciple making message of hope, then we can move on to loftier and meatier matters. Churches cannot abandon the simple Gospel message for any watered down more “palatable” message. Any thing less would be (is) disastrous.
Next we need to study up on and instruct congregations in the Bible; not modern self-help psychology; not sermonettes on how to avoid financial ruin, but messages that create a firm foundation for faith and hope. We must hear again and follow the teachings of and the teachings concerning Jesus as Christ and not build on the sand (Matt 7:24-27). This teaching begins with a confirmation of the Bible as God’s authentic inspired word and therefore reliable as a guide toward obedience. We need to re-establish faith in the inerrant nature of Scripture. I dare suggest that many in the pew do not know the history of the providential preservation of God’s word from it’s inspiration to the version you hold as you study. We need to demonstrate the relevance of the messages within the Sacred Text to our lives in the 21st Century. Details of life may change, but our nature remains the same. Specifics within the context of a narrative may not always be relevant, but the underlying lessons are still for our learning and instruction (Rom 15:4). We need to return to the pattern of living by the precepts of God in Christ.
We must also remember that Jesus told His immediate followers, and by extension all that belong to Him, that they and we are “in the world but not of the world” (John 17:14-16). We are to lead the world by our example and not follow the example of the world. Paul put it this way in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” When we will live a daily Christian life, the world will take notice and we will be the unique people we God calls us to be (1 Pet 2:9).
Finally, we need to refocus our worship. Too many churches and individual Christians look for a worship experience that moves them as individuals or small groups. Jesus told the woman of Samaria that God is Spirit and those that worship Him, must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). God is the focus of our worship. When I worship God, I am the last concern, you are next in line, and God is the central figure and the only member of the audience as we each individually participate in cooperate worship. Your edification and admonition are secondary byproducts of my worship and my encouragement is secondary to your worship. The focus is God and His pleasure. We must learn again to worship the Creator and not the created. I find that when you and I focus on God and Christ that I do gain. Notice the Hebrew writer’s emphasis in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We accomplish this when we gather together to “offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb 13:15).
What will the results of a shift toward a restoration of Biblical preaching, Christian living, and godly worship? Some will still leave, they left Jesus in John 6, and He asked the Twelve, if they would leave as well. They stayed. Some today will stay the course. No matter who leaves or stays, if we will do the above those who stay will be stronger for it.
One reader on Facebook mentioned the importance of an atmosphere of love. Another reader wrote about cross-generational relationships. Those are posts for another day.