Found this article in my inbox from Christianity Today a few days ago, and I've been mulling it over.
"Faith is relevant for many people, but church is not," says Bryan Wilkerson, senior pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts. "People want to attend to the spiritual side of their lives, they are interested in God, but their experience of church has not been relevant.
Spiritual growth, then, may be occurring for many of today's Christians in non-traditional ways. Instead of attending church on Sunday mornings, many opt for personal, individual ways to stretch themselves spiritually.
"Emerging generations may not see themselves as churched, but neither do they see themselves as any less committed," says Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Florida. "The traditional programming that churches do is becoming less essential to work out faith for many people."
I think the bulk of the people I know tend to fall into this trend. As a believer myself, I still feel the need for getting together and building and strengthening the relationships I have within my church, but I understand that as the many churches that seem to distance rather than draw people and judge rather than love and extend grace to people continue to become a deterrent to faith in their communities, I don't expect people to stop seeking God elsewhere, such as in nature, etc.
"The old paradigm of evangelism was a transactional sharing of the gospel," says Ken Fong, senior pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles. "I would try to get people to intellectually agree with me. But the new paradigm is different, an approach in which I invite you to walk alongside me, examine my life, and see evidence of the truth, and hopefully there will be something compelling that you see. It's a no-strings-attached invitation to enter my life as I follow Jesus.
This one is a big deal for me. I can't stand the mindset that Fong addresses here, that "target and convert" mindset that so permeated the place I used to work. I remember constantly trying to promote the idea of relationships vs. evangelism, and no-pressure vs. sales technique, and the relationship being contingent on shared belief vs. the relation being a safe place to either agree or disagree. I'm still surprised how many people within the church just don't get this concept, as if God were sometime limited by the church's ability or inability to "sell" him to the biggest "market" possible.
Another necessary shift is recognizing that the old metrics of success may no longer apply. Wilkerson says, "We need to spend the next ten years investing in the life of our surrounding community and finding ways to regain a hearing for the gospel. Instead of going to the nursing home and holding a church service, we're just going to go and love and serve people for years and years, until the staff and residents ask, 'Why do they care so much?'
Perhaps the biggest "duh" moment of all. If this is the kind of life Christ modeled, why do we still try to treat our religious faith like a humanistic, romantic, rationalist (the worldviews) exercise of intellect and purpose rather than an organic, always ebbing and flowing, always changing and growing part of our being? And as such, we become living "testaments" simply by being Christian (ie, exercising grace, love, patience, concern, care, charity, etc.) and showing people we actually do all this crap we talk about.
Of course these are just my thoughts. Your mileage may vary.