It’s Time to Get Small
In his recent book, Storm: Hearing Jesus for the Time in Which We Live, Jim Cymbala cites the warning signs of an approaching storm for the church in America. He states,
I believe we are in the early stages of a storm that has the potential to damage our churches, our families, and ultimately the cause of Christ in the nation. I believe followers of Jesus in America are on the cusp of something horrible. I, and many others, see the early warning signs all around. You may see them too. I want you to consider three specifically.
The Three Warning signs are:
We Are Not As Big As We Think
Personal Transformation is Rare
Biblical Literacy is Declining
Personal Transformation is Rare
All three warning signs are relevant, but the one that jumped out at me is the second: Personal Transformation is Rare.
Cymbala explains the symptoms of this warning sign:
In 2012, the Barna Group found that 46 percent of churchgoers said “their life had not changed at all as a result of churchgoing.” On top of that, “three out of five church attenders (61 percent) said they could not remember a significant new insight gained by attending church services.” What is even more bothersome is that “one-third of those who have attended a church in the past have never felt God’s presence while in a congregational setting” (emphasis added).Think of it: More than half of churchgoers don’t remember even one significant new insight gained by going to God’s house! Something strange is going on here. It is obvious the overwhelming majority of our ministries are not producing much fruit in the form of converted, changed lives. And people are not experiencing God in our churches. This would have been unthinkable in the early days of the Christian church as described in the New Testament. This is a critical warning sign that something is terribly wrong.
We Are At A Turning Point
In many ways, we are approaching a generational turning point. This happens every 30 or 40 years when the old generation exits the global stage and the new generation begins to take over. It happened in 1960 when John F. Kennedy became the first president elected who was born in the 20th Century. The last shift happened in 1992 when Bill Clinton became the first Baby Boomer to become president. This election, we could be witnessing the last of the Boomer generation to lead our country. The next president, elected in 2020 or 2024, will likely be considerably younger than either party’s nominee in 2016. With generational transition comes change. The church will not be immune.
This single issue—the lack of true personal transformation— could become an obvious crisis in America. Currently, the lack of transformation within the church is hidden by the presence of many “cultural Christians,” people who attend church regularly because that’s what they have always done. Baby boomers (born 1946-1965) were Ok with this arrangement; Millennials (born 1981-2000) are not. Boomers, for the most part, were loyal to the institution of the church, while Millennials are highly individualistic and loyal to their peers, not an organization. Boomers wanted their children to participate in church because of the values taught; Millennials want their children to have as many opportunities as possible, and the church is just one among many opportunities.
Not Bigger, But Deeper
Many of today’s churches have grown accustomed to having a full house on Sundays without focusing too much on real transformation in the lives of their members and attenders. This time could be coming to an end, and, in a way, that is a good and necessary thing. In order to survive in the next decade, churches must focus on life transformation—what the Bible calls discipleship—and this happens best within the safety and familiarity of a few deep relationships.
The New Testament doesn’t tell us how to do church as much as it shows us how to do church—in small groups. Jesus didn’t start a megachurch in Jerusalem that was running thousands within three years, but he did focus his attention on 12 disciples, and within that group, he spent the most time with three—Peter, James, and John.
The church in Acts numerically, but the Bible is clear to show us in several places that the church of the New Testament was essentially a community of small groups. The Apostle Paul aggressively planted churches, but invested in a few individuals who would carry on his work and pastor the churches he started.
In two weeks, we will begin sign ups for our 2016–17 Lighthouse Year. Real life transformation doesn’t come casually, but intentionally, and it happens best within a small group of committed friends doing life together. Watch for more information on how you can join a Lighthouse starting in September. First Family, it’s time to get small.