A good friend sent me a link to this post today. The quote is from Tim Keller.
“Isn’t evangelical Christianity growing—at least in North America? Look at all the megachurches spouting up! But we must remember that the new situation Lloyd-Jones was describing has spread in stages. It was in Europe before North America. It was in cities before it was in the rest of the society. In the United States it has strengthened in the Northeast and the West Coast first. In many places, especially in the South and Midwest, there is still a residue of more conservative society where people maintain traditional values. Many of these people are therefore still reachable with the fairly superficial, older evangelism programs of the past. And if we are honest, we should admit that many churches are growing large without any evangelism at all. If a church can present unusually good preaching and family ministries and programming, it can easily attract the remaining traditional people and siphon off Christians from all the other churches in a thirty-mile radius. This is easier now than ever because people are very mobile, less tied into their local communities, and less loyal to institutions that don’t meet their immediate needs. But despite the growth of megachurches through these dynamics, there is no evidence that the number of churchgoers in the United States is significantly increasing.”
And now some bullets because…hey it’s easier.
- I find this a bit depressing. It it said that traditional methods of personal evangelism are dead. I am not sure I buy that. Instead I am wondering if they every really worked in the first place. Perhaps our churches were full because most people went to church and all the while we were crediting our evangelism ministries for the great results. Now that people are not going we think people have stopped responding to evangelism or we question the specific methodology of evangelism we are using.
- I am not a church historian so take this with a grain of salt, but the Apostolic church grew out of the blessing of signs and wonders and the Apostles teaching. God has also used persecution to grow and strengthen the church. The Reformation is as much about the printing press as it is about the spread of good theology. So my point is that personal evangelism is more of something that is always part of church growth but perhaps not the primary means.
- Also speaking historically here, in my mind large movements of growth within the church usually parallel social and cultural reforms (ending slavery for example). This is something that has pretty much been a big no show in the American church, instead we pretty much decry and participate in the culture at the same time.
- So where are we to look for an answer? Well if I had to guess, and it really is nothing more than a guess, I would say you should look to groups which because of their beliefs are going to face sure fire persecution. You should also look at groups which are taking on the task of real cultural reform. These would be groups that are pursuing excellence in art, education, theology and music (probably missed a few things here). They would be groups who are not afraid to live counter-culturally. They would be groups which are seeking to live as free men with as little intrusion by the state as possible in their lives. They would be speaking boldly to the culture in addressing the sins of that culture as well as proclaiming a clear Gospel message. Now I can think of a few groups that might fit this mold. “How are they going to grow?”you might ask. Well the ones I am thinking of are not afraid to have a lot of children, and they raise their children to have the same desires. Isn’t it just possible that the next wave of growth will come from these groups?
- Perhaps I’m wrong about this, but I am sure that the modern church is on the downgrade. The fact that we are a zero sum game is evidence enough. I feel strongly that change will require antithesis to the culture and to the modern trends within the church.