The church is in trouble.
It must be. My blog feed keeps telling me it is.
For several years now, barely a day goes by without someone writing about the imminent demise of the body of Christ.
Everyone seems to have a different reason why they think the church is dying:
- The “nones” are growing faster than the church
- The “dones” are leaving faster than we’re replacing them
- People aren’t singing together any more
- Offerings are way down
- Regulars attend less often than they used to
- The post-pandemic turndown seems to be permanent in many places
But despite all the gloom and doom, I have not lost one moment of sleep over the demise of the church. Here are 13 reasons not to worry (there are more, but I had to stop somewhere):
1. The Church Belongs to Jesus, Not Us
And Jesus knows what he’s doing.
2. The Picture Is Not As Bleak as We Think
While the European and North American church is dealing with significant issues, the church in many parts of the world is experiencing strong, steady growth. As reported at Lifeway.com, “There are fewer atheists around the world today (147 million) than in 1970 (165 million), and the Gordon-Conwell report expects the number to continue to decline into 2050.” Plus, “Not only is religion growing overall, but Christianity specifically is growing,” especially in the global south.
3. The Church Always Thrives Under Persecution
If persecution is coming to the American church (which is where almost all of this hand-wringing is coming from) it may reduce church attendance numbers and perceived cultural influence, but it won’t kill the church.
Prosperity is far more dangerous to the church than persecution has ever been. As the Puritan writer Cotton Mather put it in the early 1700s, “Religion brought forth prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother.”
4. Loss of Privilege Is Not the Same As Persecution
The removal of the Ten Commandments monument from a courthouse is not persecution.
I’m not saying it’s good, but it’s not persecution.
There are Christians in places like Syria and Iran who know what real persecution feels like. When we claim persecution for what is a loss of privilege, we minimize the real persecution our brothers and sisters face all over the world today.
5. The Church Is at Its Best When We Are Counter-Cultural
The church doesn’t hold the reins of power well. We’re better in a burr-in-the-saddle role than being the conquering hero on the stallion. Let’s leave that role to Jesus himself.
6. The Church Is Bigger than Our Buildings and Our Denominations
We are likely to lose many church buildings in the coming decades. This will be especially challenging for churches with full-time pastors and a mortgage. I also foresee massive stress points coming for most, if not all, denominations.
I sympathize with those who love their church’s historic building and their denomination, only to lose one or both. But I’m grateful that buildings and denominations are not needed for the church to survive and thrive.
In fact, we may need to lean on our buildings and denominations less in order to lean on Jesus more.
7. The Church Is People Who Love Jesus, God’s Word, and Each Other
This is one of the main reasons the church thrives under persecution. It forces us to turn to what really matters and can never be taken away – loving Jesus, following the Bible, and caring for each other.
8. The Church Has Faced Bigger Problems Than This (Whatever Your “This” May Be)
Whatever your real or perceived church crisis may be, it is not “the greatest calamity the church has ever faced.”
We tend to magnify the severity of small pains that are close to us, while diminishing the reality of much larger pains that are further removed from us.
The church has faced far bigger problems than what most of us are currently experiencing, but those problems are so far away from us that they feel insignificant. The church survived them all.
9. My Corner of the Church Is Not the Church
My segment of the body of Christ may be tied to a particular worship style, theological stance, historical background, denominational identity, or any of a wide variety of other distinctives. But the way I worship is not the church. It’s just my little corner of it. If the way I like to worship becomes less popular, that has nothing to do with the strength of the church as a whole.
In fact – brace yourselves – even if the church in America collapses, as tragic as that would be, it would not mean the end of the church.
Jesus has sheep that are not of this fold.
10. Maybe the Parts that Can’t Survive Shouldn’t
I know that sounds harsh, and it may even be triggering for many small-church pastors who have heard something similar because of their lack of numerical gowth. But the small church is not the issue.
This is not a point about size, but of type.
Anything Jesus does will not just survive, but thrive. Eternally. So I have to wonder, if my favorite form of church is dying, maybe it’s because Jesus isn’t building it?
Everything but the church itself (as defined in point #7, above) has an expiration date. No denomination, worship style, or tradition is forever. Sometimes a congregation, tradition, or denomination dies because it has finished serving its purpose.
This point is not meant to trivialize the very real pain of a local church going through serious hardships. I stand with you. Like John said to the suffering saints in Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13), “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” You have my heart, my prayers, and any help I can offer.
11. The Church Is the Most Relentlessly Growing Organism In History
For almost 2,000 years of great triumphs and horrifying persecution, the church keeps going.
When Jesus builds something it tends to stand. And stand strong.
12. Worry Doesn’t Work
In fact, worry makes it worse.
13. Jesus Told Us Not to Worry About Anything
You can toss the previous 12 points. This is all I need to know.
To wildly (but hopefully not inappropriately) paraphrase Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5:25-33:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your church building, where you will worship or fellowship; or about your denomination, what decisions it will make. Is not the church more important than buildings, and the faith more important than denominational creeds? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his church’s life or a dollar to its offering basket? But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Whatever is of worry is not of faith.
And we need all the faith we can get.
(Photo by Giorgio Montersino | Flickr)