12 Ways To Feel Better About The State Of The Church Today

The negative news may grab the headlines, but the good news is stronger, deeper, and truer.

After more than 40 years of pastoral ministry I am now in the strange, but eye-opening position of spending time in a variety of churches.

Because of these travels, when I talk with fellow pastors and other church leaders (denominational officials and so on), the most frequent question I get is “What are you seeing about the state of the church today?”

My answer is simple, but it almost always surprises them. “The church is in way better shape than what you’ve probably heard.”

But why are we hearing so much bad news? First, because there is a lot of bad news. I’m not blind to that. Second, because we tend to overemphasize the bad. And third, because we now have systems and algorithms that benefit more from negative news than positive news.

So, while we need to acknowledge the problems of the church (which I do here regularly, plus in great detail in De-sizing the Church), how can we overcome our bias toward the negative and see the good news that still exists in the church? Here are a dozen suggestions:

1. Spend More Time Offline

If the only thing I knew about the church was what I see online, I’d be convinced it was a lost cause. But that’s true for every institution. If the only thing I knew about the family, the education system, financial markets, medicine, or politics was online, I’d be convinced that we’re barely one step away from the zombie apocalypse.

But when I spend offline time with actual people in families, schools, businesses, and so on, my experience is almost universally better, and the net effect is far more uplifting. This is especially true of time spent in the company of people who genuinely love Jesus. You know, the church.

The internet rewards and promotes anger and scandal. When we reduce our screen time and increase our in-person face-to-face time we’ll see our world get bigger and better.

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2. Look For The Positives

You find what you’re looking for.

Looking for negatives? You’ll find plenty. Looking for positives? They may be harder to notice (since negatives are amplified by our human “car crash” mentality and mathematical algorithms) but they’re everywhere.

3. Go Local And Personal

When people are asked if they trust “the church,” or “Christians” in general, the news is bad. But when people are asked about a church they attend, or a Christian they actually know, their opinions are much higher.

4. Get Involved

When we make an active contribution to a cause, we tend to be far more optimistic about it. Even if the cause we’re contributing to is trying to overcome some of the worst problems imaginable, contributing helps people and elevates our mood.

The good things being done by local churches seldom make the headlines. But when you’re in the trenches you get to see and participate in them.

5. Step Outside Your Bubble

Of all the practices that have helped fuel my optimism about the state of the church, this is at or near the top of the list.

As I’ve had more chances to spend time in churches outside the tradition I grew up in, the geographical region I live in, and the style of worship I’m used to, the more appreciation I have for the amazing variety within the body of Christ.

6. Ask Questions

Humans tend to dislike anything they don’t understand. But curious people learn more and live happier lives.

7. Seek To Learn, Not To Criticize

“I don’t understand” shouldn’t be the end of the conversation, it should be the start of a new one.

8. Express Gratefulness

The longer I live, the more I am overwhelmed by gratefulness—and the more delighted I am at how a spirit of gratefulness elevates everyone—starting with the grateful person.

9. Practice Daily Spiritual Disciplines

I come from a Christian tradition that values spontaneous worship more than planned liturgy. I’m still drawn more that way.

But when we live in a culture that is dictated more by following our feelings than being disciplined in our behavior, I’m growing in my appreciation for the importance of what I used to disparagingly refer to as “going through the motions.”

I’ve become very grateful that my spiritual growth rests on God’s grace in consistent spiritual practices more than on my emotional state.

10. Become A Disciple

In my experience, skeptical believers tend to have a shallow understanding of their faith, while those who have been deeply discipled are far more optimistic. Realism and optimism are not enemies, they’re co-laborers.

11. Become A Disciple-maker

It’s harder to be skeptical about the future of the church when you’re actively participating in discipling the next generation of Christians.

12. See The Church Through Jesus’ Eyes

The church of Jesus is in great shape. Jesus said he would build it, and Jesus knows what he’s doing. Even if you have negative experiences—a reality I do not dismiss—the good news outweighs the bad news.

Jesus loves his church. So should we.

(Photo by Michael Saechang | Flickr)


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