Monday, June 29, 2009

Why Church Membership

Is On the Decline

By Joe Ortiz

Every day we keep hearing how church membership is on the decline and many reasons are given. One international church leader stated that “the church is being hit by a double whammy on the one hand it confronts the challenge of institutional decline but on the other hand it has to face the rise of cultural and religious pluralism.”

This may be true to an extent, the cultural war between those who viewed themselves as God-loving, God-living, conservative and moral Americans and non-beliers is rising faster than gasoline prices. They (conservative Christians) have viewed those at the opposite end of the spectrum (gays, minorities, liberals, Democrats) as the heathen, ungodly and primarily responsible for the moral decline in America. In fact (at least from a political point of view) the right-wing evangelical, moral majority folks are the ones who opened the door to the left-wing agenda, by extolling a holier than thou presence in the predominate community. Many of them (conservative leaders in government and the church) represent the amoral majority which has been felled by sex and financial scandals. Therefore, adopting and promoting conservative GOP candidates to run the government is obviously not the answer, either, anymore than electing liberal, progressive non-believers, all of which (GOP and Democrats alike) cater to and bow before the throne of greed and profit, rather than serving the people.

What most church leaders have not accepted (although they preach this sermon all the time) is that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. But yet, most church members focus solely on walking around with their Bible in hand, spewing moral epithets at the weaker segments of the community. Sadly, most preachers and pastors nowadays do not clearly understand what God wants from them, and it’s more than merely playing church (as non-believers view the antics of the electronic church, especially). By “playing church, I mean the “show time” aspect of most churches in today’s America, the ones who use the latest Christian rock and roll group, amazing singers, greatly gifted orators with tongue-filled “how-to-get-rich sermons. Those churches who have been competing for the same lost souls that are being drawn away by new age gurus, secular celebrities (the list is too long to mention, although Brittany Spears, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Paris Hilton, et al come to mind), Ipods, cell phones and Blu-Ray technology. Those same churches that have turned to secular marketers and fund raising experts to develop the latest mailer programs to raise funds; or the so-called “Christian Growth Programs” being pedaled through ads on the Internet and in Christian magazines, are not only feeling the financial pinch of membership decline, they have failed their true missions.

Where the church has failed is not by not being creative enough to draw the younger set with the latest youth-oriented sounds (rap, punk, heavy metal) disguised as Christian entertainment, nor such novelty acts like muscular and handsome young men lifting weights, or the latest so-called Christian writer with a new (and prosperous) twist to the Bible. No! Church leaders have failed the young and older regular pew patients by not showing them how, nor directing them to the source of increase, who can deliver new and or prosperous members: Worshipping God!

My favorite Christian author, A.W. Tozer, sums it (declining church membership thusly:

These people who have to have truckloads of gadgets to get their
religion going, what will they do when they don't have anything
like that? The truck can't get where they're going.

I heard a man boast this afternoon on the radio to come to his
place because they were going to bring in equipment from
Pennsylvania and Ohio to serve the Lord with. What equipment do
you need to serve the Lord with, brother? Why, the dear old camp
meeting ladies used to say, "See, this is my harp with ten strings
and I praise the Lord!" And they'd clap their little old wrinkled
hands with shining faces. What claptrap do you need? Do you need a
bushel basket full of stuff to serve the Lord with?

Brother, if you have two knees and even if you're stiffened up
with arthritis so you can't get on your knees, you can look up in
your heart. For prayer isn't getting on your knees--prayer is the
elevation of the heart to God. That's all a man needs. You can
pray in a prison, you can pray in an airplane, you can pray in a
ship; you can pray anywhere and you can worship God, because it's
Himself that we want, Himself.

Hopefully, soon, the Christian community will come to its senses and quit denying the power of God to sustain their lives and sustain their respective fellowship by focusing on Him rather than tried and failed secularism. The church we have known (especially the one in the last 50 years) is one filled with “style” rather than substance. God did not say he would bless the largest or the fanciest church organization in town. He said:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

June 29, 2009