Church Life, Outreach, Missions
What's Going On "Out There"?
by Ed Vasicek
Things are changing rapidly in America. The evidence is clear, with the
tragedy in Colorado, the situation in Yugoslavia, the loss of top secret
information to Chinaadd to the natural disasters of Oklahomaand the news
media has no shortage of headlines.
Things are changing every bit as rapidly in our churches. If you have been involved with Highland Park Church for a few years, you have seen some of these changes before your eyes.
Indeed, the leading authority and pollster on this subject is George Barna. His most recent book, The Second Coming of the Church, validates that what we see in Kokomo, (and, to a lesser degree at HPC) is true even more so on a national scale.
Barna concludes, "...I examined 131 different measures of attitudes, behaviors, values, and beliefs and concluded that in the aspects of lifestyle where Christians can have the greatest impact on the lives on non-Christians, there are no visible differences between the two segments...." (p. 211, footnote 3).
This comes as little surprise, as the divorce statistic (27% for born again believers vs. 23% for those not claiming to be born again) has been well publicized. Christians watch roughly the same amount of MTV (19 vs. 24%) and R-rated/Pg-13 movies (76%-87%), though fare slightly better when it comes to X-rated movies (16%-9%) (p.6).
It is obvious that the Evangelical Church in America is failing miserably. Yet, it is my opinion that most Christians (and pastors) are in denial of the severity of the problem. We read the statistics and then go on with business as usual. Like the man in James who looks in the mirror and forgets, we acknowledge but do not address.
Americans Christians are changing in their relationship to the church. Barna reports that "...small groups (cell groups) never really seem to have caught on..." (p.18) and that today's church pillars are involved in church in two time blocks rather than four (as was true twenty years ago).
Barna tells us that people hope to build friendships in church, but are often disappointed. He says, "...the potential for developing a network of church-based relationships is undermined by the lack of time people devote to church activities, their poor relational skills, and their disinterest in establishing a deeper commitment to the churches they attend." (p.19)
The problems is intensified because, "More and more Americans are beginning to view churches as a 'rest stop' along their spiritual journey, rather than their final destination." (p.19). Unfortunately, it is not just true here at HPC, but this poisoned attitude is prevalent all across America.
Coupled with this, Bible reading is down (as is all reading, by the way), missions giving is down (though giving to build church buildings or facilities that are self-serving are up), and God is being viewed as a being Who exists for our personal development rather as a being we are to serve and reverentially obey.
Whether you perceive it or not, I, and I think I can honestly say our board of elders, do see what is happening and are trying to address these issues. We do not want to embrace many of these trends, nor do we want to model ourselves after churches that help propagate this horrible set of statistics, be it ever with good intention. Very bluntly, we want our folks here to model a Christianity worth Reproducing, not this blighted version which certainly must displease the Savior. If we do what everyone else is doing in the way everyone else does it, we'll have a church like every other church.
Evangelical Christianity has grown in a wide way, but not in a deep way. It has never been more shallow. Evangelical beliefs have never affected lives in such merely trivial ways. We would love to grow wideras long as we grow deeper at the same time.
Barna writes, "In short, the spirituality of Americans is Christian in name only. We desire experience more than knowledge. We prefer choices to absolutes. We embrace preferences rather than truths. We seek comfort rather than growth..." (p.23) I'm glad Barna said that!
Please be in prayer for our board of elders as we try to blaze the trail, named, "Our perception of God's will." Pray that we would be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The possibilities seem endless, but the roads fork in many directions. Please take the request to support us in prayer seriously. Business as usual won't cut it.
Reprinted from the May 1999 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA