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October 1, 2013 / compassioninpolitics

Why are the Churches of Christ Shrinking?–an Answer to James Nored

To me, it may be a matter of getting back to basics–and I say this not as a 40, 50, or 60 year old–but as a Gen-xer:

1) Relational (breadth and depth–and cross-communal ideally)
2) Communal (doing meals, service, and life together–building meaning and identity together)
3) Service & Servant Leadership
4) Discipleship (this is a huge topic: knowing the faith, living and demonstrating the faith, sharing the faith). One which goes beyond just doing these in practice–but learning to be better Christians and human beings. Faith is lived out–its a full contact sport–it involves participation and engagement.
5) Experiential, but not necessarily visual or entertainment driven. Entertainment or flashy services doesn’t solve the underlying problem of churches misunderstanding the needs, beliefs, assumptions, language, or real-lived experience of its audience–or its prospective audience. Pouring money, new auditoriums, and new entertainment on that problem may not solve the underlying problem.
6) Re-frame Christianity. Help repair its broken image in the minds and assumptions of the lost. People have (seemingly massive) myths about church and what it means to be a Christian. Certainly, an entertainment-driven or entertainment-spiced worship service might change some of the opinions around that topic.
7) Passion & devotion (to drive the other components & to make the sacrifices necessary)

Also, it would be smart to return to the original research which points out this glaring issue:

In Yeakley’s view, the most telling statistic is a 7 percent drop in the total number of children in Churches of Christ.

That’s incredibly telling–or at least incredibly revealing of an underlying issue in terms of membership and attendance. We need to figure out why they are leaving. (That might also suggest we need to be looking to Gen X versus Gen Y in terms of some of our–or at least blend their needs together).

One solution here is also using church plants to solve the issue–rather than attempt a big change–and risk a church focused on entertainment or worse a church split. Is entertainment enough to be attractional? Is that what will provide sustainable numbers to show up and build their faiths week in and week out.

Some of this echoes James Norads solutions here:

4. Use testimonials. Interview people and have them tell their stories. It is an Oprah world. Millions recently watched Lance Armstrong sit on the couch and talk to Oprah. People will line up to hear other people’s stories.

5. Make preaching biblical, culturally relevant, and applicable. Remember, people are not going to be wowed by our exegesis. They can find this online or on their own study Bible. What they will be wowed by is a person who models a godly life, who speaks their language, and who can tell them how to live this biblical truth out in their daily lives at work, in their homes, with their family.


7. Engage the body, mind, and heart in worship. This is imminently biblical. Remember The Greatest Commands song? We do not just worship God with our mind. We worship him with our body and with our heart and emotion. Be joyful. Clap. Shout for joy. (We sing about shouting, but don’t ever do it.) Have a praise team or worship leader that models this, for passionate worship is contagious. And give people permission to really engage their whole being in worship for God.

8. Emphasize community

I happen to experience a pretty grace-filled brand of CoC worship, but beyond my Wednesday night class I have very little experience with how Christ has been relevant to the lives of the people around me (and in this case mostly the teacher). I’m not sure thats a practice that can continue and expect for the church to prosper. To me this in some ways is faith at a 10,000 foot view or without recognizing the evidence of Biblical truth lived out in the lives of those around us.

You don’t need entertainment or a flashy service to be experiential. For instance, James Nored, the author mentions the ancient-future model of church service. And he even mentions the simplicity of that model has some appeal to certain segments of the current generation (Gen Y).

I don’t think entertainment necessarily solves any of the following 3 key challenges which the church addresses itself to:
1) Relational
2) Translational
3) Transformational (which I would argue might include personal, demonstrative, non-traditional, reflective, spiritual, experiential but not necessarily entertainment driven services).

Third, bringing a world of distraction via Facebook and Twitter into the assembly isn’t going to be particularly helpful. We need more focus and deep reflection–not less. Church definitely needs to be a sanctuary from the 24/7 assault of the 30 second commercial and 140 characters (I think Neil Postman as well as a number of psychologists like John Medina would suggest thats key to having effective communication and deep spiritual experiences). Further, if it was for some reason decided that this would be a good idea–it would probably also be a good idea to learn from those who have experimented in this area already–to learn from their challenges, successes, and failures.

Finally, I think a better understanding of a couple issues are fundamental:
1) assumptions about the local community and why they don’t attend or why they stop attending
2) unpacking what it means to be experiential–and what that might mean. Can a church been experiential without being entertainment-driven

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