As churches have turned their focus outward in what we can call the "seeker sensitive" movement, they've begun crumbling from within. The seekers come, but they don't stay, because all they are finding is information. And those who have been in the pews for a long time are dropping out, for a number of reasons.
It was the fellowship that welcomed them into the church and gave them a place, but as the fellowship takes a backseat (or no seat at all) to the seeker-based model designed to impart basic information as succinctly as possible, there's really no reason to go any more. There's nothing at the church but the same boring message we've heard our whole lives, nothing new to challenge us, and no one to really talk to. There's no connection, and we already have the information.
Churches have historically tried to combat this decline in two ways. First, they put the onus of spiritual growth on the members themselves. Our Sunday mornings together, they say, are not designed to take you deeper in your walk with Christ; you're supposed to do that on your own with individual prayer, Bible study, and quiet time.
The problem with this is two-fold. First, we can think of the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The eunuch was reading the Scriptures. We can assume he studied them frequently. He was faithful. Then, Philip comes alongside him and says, "Do you understand?" And the eunuch replies, "How can I?" The truth is there is a large number of the faithful who invest themselves in prayer, but never know if God hears them; read their Bible, but don't understand what it means; have quiet time, but never hear even a whisper. We were designed to help each other understand, so putting the burden on the faithful to disciple themselves is ludicrous. The Bible itself tells us this isn't how it's meant to be and it doesn't work anyway.
So in response to that, the church has tried to set up small group models. Or other discipleship models outside of Sunday mornings. Want to grow in your faith walk? Come to church more often at non-peak hours. We can't spend our Sunday morning on discipleship, but we can create a bunch of other programs to help you do that, if that's what you're looking for.
The problem here is that these programs are often, well, programs. They, too, are information-based, meant to help you learn more, study better, do better, live more faithfully. They are missing the relationship component that we're already feeling missing. Most of these classes and programs offer informational discipleship, not relational discipleship - they attempt to teach you how to learn or teach you how to teach yourself, but they are not usually designed for someone to take you under their wing and walk with you the way Jesus showed us it's supposed to be done.
And it wouldn't matter anyway, would it? In the seeker-sensitive church model, what does being a super-disciple get you? You still sit in the same service on Sunday mornings hearing the ABCs about Jesus every week. You still have to pursue any deeper faithfulness on your own. You are still by yourself in a sea of persons. There's not a distinct role in most churches for mature disciples - they're still just part of the crowd, unless they were already part of the ministry team.
So we end up with churches inviting a lot of folks in, but not getting many of them to stay and even the ones who have been here awhile are going away. Because if it's all about the ABCs, it doesn't take long to learn them. And if all it takes is a one-time commitment in baptism...check. And if that's all the church is focused on, and I've already accomplished those two things, then what's the point of coming back? The church, it seems, has nothing more to offer me. The church, it seems, is not interested in offering me more.
But they will invite - perhaps even expect - me to do more.