A question I’ve been asking on a regular basis is, “If the church closed its doors tomorrow, would anyone in the community notice?” Or how about this one: “If the church closed its doors tomorrow, would anyone in the community care?”
As a leader of a local church this is a sobering question to ask. For RiverTree (of which I am a part of the leadership team), I believe there would be many people (who are also a part of RiverTree) who would be very distressed by the closing of our doors. But the question remains, “Would anyone in the community notice or care?”
Last year alone, the American church took in more than 95 billion dollars. What was that money used for? Did it really make any difference in the world? Are there fewer hungry people as a result? Are there fewer children finding themselves in foster care? Are there fewer homeless people walking the streets of our cities? I believe these are questions whose answers matter to Jesus.
The underlying question is, “Has the American church become irrelevant?” I hope not. But how do we know?
Incidentally, even though Christianity is rapidly declining in the United States, it is on the rise in other parts of the world. In fact, it is the fastest growing movement on the planet. In India, 40,000 people make the decision to become followers of Jesus in every twenty-four hour period. In China 10,000 people become Jesus-followers every day. South Korea has become the number one sender of Christian missionaries in the world. In 1900, Africa’s population was 9% Christian—today the percentage has risen to 43%. Once again, very sobering.
There are several issues I believe we need to address in the American church to return it to its once vibrant, life-bringing state. First, we must realize that the church was never meant to exist to serve itself. The church was meant to be a servant to the world in Jesus’ name. Second, people within the church are living lives that are virtually identical to those outside the church. For example, the divorce rate is 50% for both. If following Jesus really changes lives, then why aren’t lives being changed? And third, if the church is meant to be the hope of the world, then why isn’t it making much difference in the world?
These aren’t easy questions to ask and they’re even more challenging to answer. However, if many of us really do love Jesus and consequently love the church, then ask them we must. And if not . . . let’s just close our doors.