Are We Reaching the Lost, or Rearranging the Chairs?

Posted: Oct 04, 2007 3:10 PM
Are We Reaching the Lost, or Rearranging the Chairs?

Have you ever had the powerful experience of seeing seemingly disparate newspaper articles suddenly come together in a “connect the dots” manner? This happened to me recently as I was preparing for my daily radio program.

What connection could there be with an article about Muslims in the Pentagon, another about the 100 fastest growing churches in America and another about American business executives bemoaning the fact that more and more of the young people they hire are horribly narcissistic? A close connection, indeed.

Out of the Washington Times is a troubling article about the growing number of Muslims in America’s military and the concessions that are being made for their religious practices. It started with a description of a celebration of Ramadan that was actually held within the walls of the Pentagon. That’s not actually what caught my eye while in my “dot connecting mode.” This is what grabbed me: “the Pew Hispanic Center estimates the U.S. Muslim population in 2007 at 2.35 million people and growing….” (italics mine).

The business story in the Boston Globe titled, “The New Me Generation” has the following subtitle: “The crop of talented recent graduates coming into today’s workforce is widely seen as narcissistic and entitled. And those are their best qualities.” The article quotes several business executives, psychologists and studies, all indicating that today’s young adults may be the most selfish and self-serving generation in American history. The conclusion is that the situation is getting worse with no reasonable expectation of improvement any time soon.

The last article is from Outreach Magazine and features a recent study on America’s 100 largest and fastest growing churches. The story highlights the “megatrends” that are common in all of these churches. As I anxiously looked to see what was causing these churches to grow, I was deeply disappointed to see little mentioned about anything biblical or spiritual. (I’m certainly not saying there isn’t anything biblical or spiritual going on in these churches. I’m simply commenting on the “analysis” offered as to their rapid growth.)

As I studied these articles along with over a dozen others in preparation for the day’s program I found myself seeing these stories profoundly connected. Let me explain.

I am absolutely thrilled that we have so many evangelical churches in America that are growing. I have nothing against the current megachurch trend just so long as these churches are actually biblically-based congregations. Unfortunately, however, all of the attention the megachurch trend receives sometimes gives a false view of what is actually happening, spiritually, in our country.

The statistics vary from poll to poll and study to study, but all agree on this: church attendance is not increasing in America. It is either staying steady or declining. Evangelical Christianity is not on the rise. Several studies in the past few years have indicated that at least 80 percent of all church growth, including and especially the megachurches, is “transfer” growth, not evangelism. In other words, we’re merely moving bodies from one church to another. Too often in today’s consumer oriented culture this simply means many smaller churches in a particular community “go out of business” and merge into a bigger church.

At the risk of painting with too broad a brush, it seems that much of the growth in some churches has come from a seeker-sensitive mentality that works to give people anything and everything they want. The program of the church is built on “felt needs” and desires. You do a survey, find out what people want and you give it to them in order to fill seats with warm bodies. It’s the Wal-Mart syndrome. When Wal-Mart comes to town most of the “Mom-and-Pop” shops end up closing—they simply can’t compete. Today’s megachurches can have this same monopolizing effect.

Do you see the line connecting this “dot” with the article lamenting our narcissistic culture? Is it possible that in our zeal to build bigger and bigger churches we have unknowingly fed the narcissism of our age? Is it possible we have become part of the problem rather than leaders in administering the cure? For centuries the cry of the Church was “come and die with us.” Too often today our battle-cry seems to be more like, “come and let us entertain you.” For a vast swath of evangelicalism, the true meaning of the Cross has been lost.

Finally, I saw a connection with the article on the Pentagon and the growing Muslim population. Islam is growing in America, evangelical Christianity is not. We’ve got far more megachurches than ever before, but we’re not reaching more people—just re-arranging the ones we’ve already reached. Maybe it’s time to stop complaining and worrying about how Muslims are taking away our rights and start trying to reach them with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The conclusion in all of this for me is that it begins and ends with the Church—the one institution the Lord Jesus promised to build such that the gates of Hades will not overcome it (cf. Matt. 16:18). The way to combat narcissism and promote real evangelism in the culture is for the Church to more vitally believe and live out the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

This, of course, is the best news story of the day.