‘Plugging the back door’
Revolving door parishioners and how to slow the attrition rate.
First published in a CMI newsletter
This year, as part of CMI-Australia’s commitment to helping build up other CMI ministries, I’ve done a lot of travelling and speaking in other countries. The issues in countries like South Africa, UK, Canada and the US are really the same as in Australia—by and large the church1 is failing to stem the tide of secularism and is viewed by most people (and the popular media) as being outdated. In short, it is failing to communicate its relevance to the culture today.
Even though one gets very tired at times in travelling, it is amazing how many conversations one gets into with fellow travellers—incredible opportunities to present the real Christian message (especially when they find out you’ve written a book about aliens and UFOs). Time and time again people tell me that they are disillusioned with the church and what it represents. Sadly, all churches seem to get tarred with the same brush. It is clear that most people don’t understand that the church is supposed to represent the values and teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ, who has, somewhere along the way, become secondary to what the church conveys. Thus, when the church tries to hold up its hand on some core issues (like, for example, speaking out against abortion and homosexuality), the secular press criticizes the church for being ‘out of step’ with secular ‘community wishes’. But since when does the ‘world’ tell the church what it should believe? It’s no wonder it thinks it can if the church does not speak with authority, and blows with the wind of change. If the secular media sees that by and large the church does not hold onto the teachings of the Bible, then the church has, in effect, ‘shot itself in the foot’. If it doesn’t even believe what it is supposed to believe, no wonder it is viewed as irrelevant in an increasingly secular culture, which doesn’t even see in the church a viable and consistent alternative position.
Do we even believe what we are supposed to believe?
For example, in Australia a couple of years ago, when the debate about the ordination of gay clergy was raging, one prominent Christian leader was taking a stand by saying that homosexuality was contrary to the teachings of Scripture, which he (correctly) claimed was the final authority in these matters. But in the very same interview this minister was challenged as to how he could cite the Bible as his authority when it was ‘clearly wrong’ in the book of Genesis, where it claimed that God created the world in six days. I have to confess that I cringed when this well-known Christian leader tried to explain; in short, he conveyed that the Bible didn’t really mean what it said in Genesis. How can we expect the world to respect his viewpoint when he says that the Bible’s teachings on morality are to be plainly understood, but at the same time he says we don’t have to take it seriously about the history of everything? No wonder folk think that the Bible is not connected to the ‘real world’!
Stopping the drift
All over the globe I’ve seen the latest church phenomenon, wave or program sweeping through. Desperate to be able to ‘talk to’ and attract the ‘world’, churches are eager to adopt programs or change their focus, worship styles, etc. in ways they think will help them connect to people ‘outside’.
But many pastors tell me they are at a loss as to how to retain folks in their churches—they say people are coming in only slightly faster than they are leaving. There seems to be some success at attracting folks in to begin with, but, as one experienced church administrator put it to me, ‘We can’t seem to plug the back door’.
Solid food, not milk
I believe it is because although we can make someone feel good about the fact that God loves them, and provide an entertaining ‘church’ experience, this is not lasting. Many courses don’t recognize or deal with the underlying or foundational issues that most people seem to have a problem with. Surveys show that the majority of evangelical Christians today believe that the Bible merely contains the Word of God instead of regarding every verse as ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:16).2 No wonder we are having difficulty communicating our message to the world, if our starting point is that the Bible is not fully the Word of God. If it can’t be trusted from the very first verse, what confidence can we have in sharing our faith?
By contrast, most churches who are able to retain folk are ones that demonstrate they fully trust in the Bible, connecting it to the real world. The implications are profound—people have confidence and trust in their Saviour. I remember one pastor telling me how much easier it is to counsel folks when they believe the Bible, as opposed to others who say, ‘Yes, I know what the Bible says … but…’
For most, the lack of confidence in God’s Word starts in Genesis—the most ridiculed book—and then spreads like a cancer. That’s why there is such an amazing response to the creation message. It restores confidence! Time after time after time, we hear comments like, ‘You mean I really can trust the Bible?’ after a CMI visit or a program using our resources. If we compromise with Genesis, we don’t really have a foundation for our doctrine. How can the church preach and teach with any authority?
Join with us and be part of the solution to help restore confidence in God’s Word, transforming the church first and through it, affecting the world in which we live. Please consider supporting the work of CMI or contact us to arrange a speaker in your church.