So what happened? The church, for many years, was a highly relational body, a true family of believers centered around fellowship who enjoyed being together and were woven into each others' lives. Now, it feels very different, but what changed?
What changed is that the church, fearful for its future, started to turn outward. We decided that the most important persons in our body were the ones who were still outside of it. We chose to start changing our services to be more attractive to those outside of our flock. The entire goal was to get more persons in the door. So everything that we did became a deliberate effort to appeal to those who do not already know Jesus.
We'll call this the "Seeker Sensitive" movement.
I'm not sure that I've met a church, to date, that has been untouched by this idea. But in essence, what this did was shift our focus from what we were doing in our church to what we are doing with our church. That is, how are we using our resources to best fulfill the Great Commission - to go and make disciples of all nations?
And in this shift in mindset, the persons inside our walls, the core of our body, the fellowship of our believers...became just a resource. Every person on our membership roll became one more person who could invite someone else to church.
A lot of the long-time faithful have lamented this move for other reasons. Most significantly, it is often lamented because it turns every Sunday into a first-time introduction to Jesus and doesn't leave a lot of room for growing in discipleship, the way the old church model did. If every Sunday, you have to design your program around the possibility that someone might walk in who has never met Jesus before, then you can't go deep.
You also can't focus on fellowship.
Your events can't be relationship-centered any more. Because that feels clique-ish. That feels closed-off. It feels like an "outsider" wouldn't be welcome at your event. We're afraid that someone might walk into our churches, find a true family of believers, and feel like they are crashing Thanksgiving dinner at someone else's house. So we simply did away with dinner and made church more of a come-and-go kind of thing, so that no one could ever possibly feel left out.
Those who came to the church for a family are no longer finding it. And those who have treasured being part of that family no longer have it. And as much as we're trying to focus ourselves on fulfilling the Great Commission - going into our community and making disciples and growing in numbers (which somehow became the metric by which we judge our churches) - the more we have lost the essence by which Jesus Himself said they would know us, and know Him - by our love for one another.
Remember that? That's what Jesus said. They will know you are Mine by how you love one another.
Oh, how often we cut that verse short and use it to fuel our new seeker sensitive movement. Most Christians today, they only know the first part - they will know you are Christians by your love. Period. So we invest ourselves in trying to "love" everyone, especially the outsider. Especially the "unchurched." Especially the seeker.
But that's not what Jesus said. Jesus said they will know we are Christians by our love for one another. By our fellowship. By what they see when they walk into our fellowship, before a single string is plucked on a guitar or a single verse is projected on the screen or a single prayer is spoken. They will know we are Christians by how we love one another.
And what's happening is that the seekers we have sought to be sensitive to are coming to our churches. They are soaking in our programs. They are listening to our sermons and our worship. They are being fed everything that we thought would be important in getting them to know more about Jesus and maybe even know Him personally. But they aren't staying around.
Because we aren't loving one another any more. Not like we used to. Because we aren't a family; we've become a social group. Because we've lost that distinctiveness that we were supposed to be known by. As the church has turned outward to try to draw in the seeker, we have turned away from what was already inside us, the fellowship. And the truth is, we're failing on both fronts now.
Seekers don't want us because they need something more than information. Members don't want us because we aren't loving them well any more. We've made clear that our priority is always "the next one," not the ones we already have. And it's killing us.
Just look at what it's doing, by the way, to those numbers that we seem so massively concerned about...