Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Church as Hope-Bearers

TITLE: THE CHURCH AS HOPE-BEARERS
SCRIPTURE: 2 Cor 13:11
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: December 14th, 2015

"Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you." (2 Corinthians 13:11)

I have just finished a book called "Churchless" with mixed feelings about the state of the Western Church. The authors are owners and members of Barna Group, which is a private, non-partisan, and research organization that serves to identify and interpret cultural trends, especially relevant to the Christian community. They begin with some grim news about the increasing number of people who are no longer attending church services. They define the "unchurched" as people who say they are Christians but have not attended a Christian church service in the past six months. With particular interest on those who are Christians but not involved in any Church, they made this conclusion: "Invite a friend to church on Sunday" is no longer an in-thing. This week, I look at three necessary things. We need to understand the current cultural movements. We need to find ways to connect them both in or out of the Church. We need to find ways to show the unchurched that Church is worth it.

A) Understanding the Current Climate

According to Barna and Kinnaman, since 2008, there is a general decline in terms of prayer life, evangelism, small group attendance, reading the Bible, and simply going to a Church. The number of unchurched people have risen from 28% in 2008 to about 48% in 2014. Perceptions of religions in general are poor, especially among the unchurched, so much so that 60% of them believe that they can improve on their own religious lives without the Church.

The media pours kerosene on the fire of discontent and general dissatisfaction with religion. In fact, the media's portrayal of Christianity tends to be more negative and poor. One incident quoted Sean Penn's tendency to attack the Church frequently when interviewed. In aRolling Stones magazine not long ago, while reporting on his work in Haiti after the 2008 earthquake there, Penn said:
"What it comes down to are the churches are not operating like instruments of love. They’re hate machines. They’re ignorance factories." [Mark Binelli, “The Rolling Stone Interview: Sean Penn,” Rolling Stone (February 19, 2009): 49.]
Incredibly, there is this perception of Church being "guilty until proven innocent" mentality by both secular press and entertainment symbols. Several other more troubling observations from "Churchless" include:
  • Everyone seems to agree that Christianity is on the decline in the West
  • God's reputation among Americans is "mediocre"
  • The youngest, the most educated and the most liberal tend to be churchless
  • A whopping 61% of the unchurched have not made a personal commitment to Jesus
It is no secret that not only many societies are increasingly secular, they are becoming anti-religious, even anti-Church. That is not all. The mood among Christians too are increasingly negative.

B) Understanding the Connecting Points


Where are these unchurched? What are their interests and desires? What keeps them going? For anyone who is concerned about the unchurched, these questions are important ones to ask. The top three topics of interest for the unchurched are activities related to:
  1. Recycling used products/materials (65%)
  2. Changing one's lifestyle for the sake of the environment (53%)
  3. Talking about moral issues or situations (51%)
Compared to the churched, the unchurched have a higher tendency to watch explicit or uncensored sexual content, buying lottery tickets, getting drunk, and using profanity in public. There is a general indication that people who are churched will refrain from profanity, be more restrained about sexual content in the media and drinking. Barna and Kinnaman add:
"Don’t miss the fact that when the unchurched ponder how to become better human beings, a majority admit their best strategies revolve around God: obeying his rules, relying on his power and guidance, leaning into his grace, imitating the behaviors of Bible heroes, and so on. This is where churches can help. Churches are in a unique position to show people the way to Christ and all that he offers: new life, a new identity, a new set of values, restored relationships, new types of goals." (137)
C) Showing the Church is Worth It

It is easy to let the data become a discouraging wet towel. We cannot let that derail us from the importance of Church. Based on the survey, it is evident that unchurched people have been negatively affected by things pertaining to Church at one point or another. According to some of my friends who have become unchurched, they find Church largely boring, irrelevant, and no longer helpful for their spiritual needs. That is why any invitation for them to attend any Church will likely fall on deaf ears. We need alternative ways to demonstrate that Church is still worth it. After all, the Church is still the bride of Christ. Below are some of my thoughts about how to show Church is still worth it. The Church can be bearers of hope, bringers of good news.

Ten Thoughts for Church to be Hope-Bearers
  1. Don't rely on websites or mailings to get people interested in Church. There are other sites and mainstream media that are more attractive and churches will find it difficult to challenge them.
  2. Don'r rely on unsolicited phone invitations to draw people in. People will find it intrusive to have strangers representing a church calling them to go to their church.
  3. Don't rely on sermons or podcasts to draw people in. There are other equally (if not more) compelling offerings on the Internet. 
  4. Don't rely on producing a "contemporary church service" to draw in the hip and young. After a while, people can get bored.
  5. Don't rely on programs or a celebrity speaker to be the draw for the unchurched. Most likely, it draws the churched from other churches.
  6. Do remember that people, not programs that will draw people. People would rather endure a boring program when they are among people they like.
  7. Do remember that marketing the church can only go so far. People want to see the Church visibly in the marketplace, making a difference in the environment, social justice, and good works.
  8. Do remember that God must be the focus of any Church event. Didn't Jesus say, " And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)"
  9. Do remember that there is better success in inviting the unchurched for common community projects that they can participate in, rather than having the Church do everything for them.
  10. Do remember that the Sunday service is about worshiping God, not pandering to any group or individual preferences. God is and must always be the main draw. 

THOUGHT: "As a people rescued from “the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4), the church is the community of the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). Therefore, the church has seen the future and now lives as an outpost of the new world. In bringing together different ethnic and social groups, it is a living demonstration of God’s ultimate reconciling work. In baptism believers enter into “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4)—God’s new world. God’s counterculture is not “conformed to this world” but is “transformed” by the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2). Paul depicts this countercultural existence in his numerous ethical exhortations. To die with Christ is to participate in his self-denial (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14–15) and to live in a community where no members live for themselves or die for themselves (Rom. 14:7)."  (James W Thompson, The Church According to Paul, Baker Academic, 2014, p245-6)

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Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.

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