What if when Jesus returns, there is nobody to meet him in the air?
What the church needs is Jesus. Jesus was a Jew who came to change Judaism. Today Jesus is needed to change Christianity.
Churches are emptying out all across America. It is estimated that in only 35 years, church attendance will be at 11.7%. Right now it is thought that small churches are emptying out as their members decide to ‘upgrade’ to a larger church, which gives the appearance of growth in mega churches, but is actually just a relocation of people.
In a few years the small churches will be emptied, pinching the bloodstream that flows into these mega churches. Then the mega churches will become the empty shells that we see all across America today, the ones that used to be thriving churches.
David Olson, the Director of Church Planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, wrote about churches in crises in his book, The American Church in Crisis: groundbreaking research based on a national database of over 200,000 churches. According to reviews I have read of his book he believes that planting new healthy churches is the solution.
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, and known for his church planting expertise, says in a study that he did in 2009, that 4,000 churches were planted and 3,500 churches closed. Stetzer is also committed to new churches being planted.
I, too, have a heart for new church starts. The burden for new churches entered my heart three years before I began working for Baptist General Convention of Texas in the Church Starting Center. For almost 15 years, I read thousands of new pastors’ monthly reports and prepared requests for millions of dollars for those new churches. It is doubtful that most of those churches still exist, and in the association where I live, many of them are still classified as mission churches.
Texas has 25,150,000 people and ranks 11th in church attendance. According to Pew Forum, 78.4% of adult Americans identify themselves as being Christian. Other religions account for 4.7% while 16.1% claim no religion at all. Yet, 61% of those identifying themselves as Christian do not attend church.
Let’s look at Texas. In Texas, the five largest Southern Baptist churches endorse (by actions or statements) the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. These five churches account for 86,000 people in church attendance each week in their 21 campuses in Texas (plus overseas). These locations reflect the sameness of their parent church and have the same pastor. In their mission churches abroad, they carry this same message of male headship and anti-science. Since 73% of Southern Baptist pastors do not believe in evolution, it is likely that these churches are also anti-science. From their websites we can see that they allow women to teach kids and other women, but will not allow women to be a minister or pastor to men. That is exactly what we would expect from an SBC church. Two of these churches are affiliated with Texas Baptists, but that has not changed their stance on women being subordinate to men.
Pastors and church leaders see the empty pews. Books and blogs are written about the declining church. They start new worship services, they begin community projects, and they change their worship style in order to bring people in, or to keep them from going out the back door. They plant new churches, or expand their campuses. The problem with new church plants is that they are coming from the seed that has failed.
David Platt, newly elected president of the Southern Baptist International Missions Board, wrote a book about Jesus that he called Radical. He contends that the church is missing the radical Jesus. Platt says that Christians have manipulated the gospel to fit our cultural preferences. But the Jesus that David Platt offers is not the whole Jesus of the Bible. Platt believes and teaches male headship. The radical Jesus, the one we need back in church, does not fit Platt’s model.
However, David Platt is right about one thing. We have manipulated the gospel to fit our cultural preferences. We prefer women to live in the culture of the First Century while men move along in this 21st Century. We embrace science and technology when it suits us, all the while denying the revelation that God created the universe and earth and man in His own way, and in His own time, which fits the description of evolution. We seemingly prefer to believe that God is lying to us in these revelations, and we have land-locked God.
As a result of our manipulation of the gospel, Christians are now at a place where people do not want to go to church. Church is irrelevant in their lives. Caley Nieuwhof said in January 2014, “We will see great moves of God, but they will not primarily be based on calling people back to what they have left, but instead be based on calling people into something they have never experienced.”
Marv Knox, editor and publisher of CommonCall and the Baptist Standard, said, “These days, Christians often lament the widening gap between church and culture. We contrast burgeoning population growth with plateaued and declining churches and denominations. We juxtapose secular philosophies and other religions with Christian doctrine. From podiums and pulpits, our leaders challenge us to double down on doctrine and argue unbelievers into God’s kingdom.” (CommonCall “Community.” Fall 2014)
Knox goes on to say that “Doctrine matters, but doctrine never will fill the “God-shaped hole” in so many hearts.” He suggests that when the Christian community is “open and outward-facing, unconditionally loving and sacrificial, others will long to experience relationship with God, which we experience in Christ.”
But churches are not listening to the heart of the people. It is no wonder then, that in the book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, authors Thom and Joani Schultz say that the church is viewed as being hypocritical, judgmental, and irrelevant.
We have lost Jesus in the process of defining our doctrines and writing our statements of faith. This is catching up with us now. Prior to 1964, women had few legal rights and less education than men. Today more women than men are in college, and women make up one-third of all seminary students. We find ourselves with women educated, secularly and theologically. So Monday through Saturday, women are equal. How long do you think it will be before the majority of women decide that they are also equal on Sunday? Perhaps they already are, because churches are emptying out. It is women who teach children, and it is women who carry the kids to church. When only 11.7% of the population goes to church, it will be because women have finally had enough. As it stands now, 10% more women go to church than men do. Yet is the men that we cater to, by telling them that it is biblical that they are the heads of women.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (2:12-13), he welcomed the new Gentile Christians into the faith, “Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” Those words are still critical today. We, too, should be welcoming new converts. However, church membership is declining.
Pastors must speak out for women’s equality in the church because of the great falling away from the gospel that has already begun in their churches. When asked to identify with a religious belief system, more and more people are checking the box that says “none.” Thus a new name, “Nones,” has been created. That is a sad indictment against churches.
Remember, Paul began his letter to the Ephesians with Christ’s love for his people. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, in chapter 3 verses 26-29, also expresses Christ’s love for his church. He wrote, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
While churches are busy with building programs or are wrapped up in self-preservation mode, the people who they hoped to connect with have already left. Pastors scratch their heads and wonder what is happening, and then they purchase greater pyrotechnics.
With the focus on getting men to come into the door, the church has lost focus on the women who are walking out the door and taking the kids with them. The “Nones,” who profess no Christian affiliation, say they still pray to God and God is important in their lives, but these parents will not necessarily teach their children to pray, and the next generation will not be supporting the mega churches that demand female submission. They will be absent in both city and country churches that are still pushing legalistic laws against women. A church is hypocritical when it binds its women while the men go free, and this hypocrisy is not lost to the younger generation.
At a time of great enlightment and technological advances, we have held on to a restrictive and unloving culture against women, along with a narrow-minded view of God. We cannot sing “How Great Thou Art” and then deny God’s revelations in the earth through science. We cannot sing “Here I am Lord” unless we are willing to send women – not across the foreign seas – but to the church house next door to preach and to pastor.
It is not just SBC churches and other fundamentals that are declining.
It is not just SBC churches and other fundamentals that are declining. All denominations and non-denominational churches are declining, and will continue downhill to get to the 11.7% in 2050 of people who are still attending church. Many of these churches in decline already embrace women fully (or they say they do) and many tell their members that God and science can co-exist.
However, these churches are also chasing their tails trying to figure out how to keep their members and draw the younger generation into a worship relationship with God.
They have the answers, but they don’t know what to do with it. They are succumbing to wringing their hands because the big boys – Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists – can’t seem to stop the decline, causing them to think they can’t either. The truth is that they can’t stop the decline as long as they shy away from what makes them different in the first place from Catholics and Baptists.
I want to close this by recounting the story found in Acts 3, 4:1-18 when the church was just getting started.
It was destined to be an extraordinary day at the temple. Peter had just healed an adult man who was crippled from the time he was a child. And now he and John were telling people about Jesus and his resurrection. The people assembled there were listening because of what they had seen.
Guards always get suspicious when a group of people are intently listening to one person speak, so they slipped closer to hear what was being said, and then reported back to their captain. As you can guess, the captain of the guards did not like what they were saying so he came over to have a little chat with them. They not only chatted, but the guard took them and put them in prison overnight.
“By what power are you doing these things?” they asked Peter and John the next day.
Peter looked them in the eye and said that it was by the power of Jesus Christ, who they had killed, but who had resurrected and now they were able to do this good deed in his name, (based on Acts 3, 4:1-18).
If these unschooled and untrained men were able to do this, then what else could they do? After all, these men had been with Jesus.
So they talked, and they talked some more, and came up with the only thing they could think of: “in order that it may not be spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to any man in this name.”
Peter and John said: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge.”
Like Peter and John, we women cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.
Women are powered by the same Source. Like Peter we, too, have walked with Jesus. Peter and John couldn’t quit telling about Jesus. They were told to stop, but they couldn’t because they were just getting started. We, who believe in equality, can’t quit now as the battle is not yet won for women’s equality. We, too, have been with Jesus. Saved by the blood of the lamb and a witness to what he has done through his Word, and to how he has spoken to us.
Jesus is our standard, and since Jesus did not commit women to husbands, or to males, and because Jesus did not deny women anything based on their being women, then we cannot in good stewardship of the gospel, do so either.
What the church needs is Jesus.
Shirley Taylor – Street evangelist for women’s equality. www.bwebaptist.com