“We both grew up in the church with a strong belief but drifted away from it. Recent tragedy and illness is renewing our belief.” Words, making me smile, from the phone of a loved relative. He continued, “Recently my son called and invited us to do a weekly Zoom Bible study with he and his wife, since we don’t see each other very often. He’s leading it and that has been great!”

Within days, another call, another close connection traveling in deep water once again. With joy in his voice he said, “My friend Ken has been awesome, connects regularly, we pray together, study the Bible, and he sends texts often. Yesterday he sent this amazing song, ‘Gracefully Broken’. Don’t know what I would do without him.”

In both conversations, I ask about their church. None of the six are currently connected to a church. One even said, “I feel like so many right now, the institutional church is just not helpful.”

While there was much good news in both conversations, “No church” was painful to hear. I have found the church to be a powerful community of faithful believers that has journeyed with me. It truly has been the body of Christ for me. Yet… now the pandemic has kept me apart from my faith family, for months. I must confess, it causes me to struggle. With divisions among believers, and incredible speed of cultural changes, how will all this impact the church?

While there was much good news in both conversations, “No church” was painful to hear.

Then I remembered, a 2008 study, that I included in Just Imagine (p. 49). A predicted finding was: “By 2020, more than 85 percent of Americans won’t worship God at church.” (Shultz)

And a more recent 2018 statistic stating: “Approximately 150 congregations close weekly in the US, average 8000 a year.” Thom Rainer’s report ends with a hopeful thought: “Churches have always been asleep before an awakening.” We need an awakening!

I certainly don’t pretend to have a specific formula of how an awakening unfolds, but I believe, that God is calling us as individual Christians, and certainly churches as a community of believers into a vital partnership, in this awakening. In attempting to be faithful, in Just Imagine I’ve included biblical directives, ideas, along with some tools to help awaken us.

God is calling us as individual Christians, and certainly churches as a community of believers, into a vital partnership in this awakening.

“What’s A Church to Do?” Let’s begin as followers of Jesus… While Jesus walked this earth, he challenged his disciples to build relationships that share, demonstrate, and invite others to experience God’s love; he calls us now, one person at a time to do the same. To be equipped for our task and fulfill God’s mission of love for all, God designed the church family.

A letter written to the first century Churches challenged them to: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2  is a drumbeat for our visioning. As we begin breaking that down we discover steps for “What’s A Church to Do?”

  • Imitate God, by following the example of Christ
  • Yearn for people
  • Be open to people
  • Love people unconditionally, sacrificially 
  • Practice Hospitality with all people (p. 61, Just Imagine)

Together as the Church of Christ, we pray, discern, and develop a plan where God’s Spirit is awakening us to advance God’s Kingdom. No small task, but when we are awakened as partners “with God all things are possible.” (Lk 1:37 NLT) And, it can begin with you and me. Such love and invitation is a practice that helps even those who have left or never connected become part of the family of God!

Yes Church!

Just Imagining with you what can happen,

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2 Comments on “No Church?”

  1. James Lane Allen is given credit for the quote, “Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.” To be sure, the COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the world of the church more than anything in my lifetime. I believe it has also revealed the character of the church in America and what has been revealed needs to serve as a wake-up call to church leadership.

    The Church has preached and taught a message of making disciples and being the hands and feet of Christ for the world, and rightly so because that is what “church” is all about. Unfortunately, when the pandemic pulled the curtain back in 2020, it became clear that for most people, “church” is something very different. “Church” for the majority of Christians is a weekly worship event where they get to connect with family and friends, enjoy some music and hear some words of inspiration. That became obvious when those weekly events ceased this past year. Most people just fell away. For them, the church “closed” and they no longer had a way to connect (they thought). I fear that they now have also found other things to do with their time on Sunday mornings.

    Rick Warren’s Five Concentric Circles of Commitment came to mind as I thought about what is happening in the church today. The groups he labeled Community, Crowd, Congregation and Committed have all pretty much disengaged. Some members of the “Core” group have found new ways to remain connected with each other (Zoom, socially distanced meetings, etc.) but some of them are even beginning to disengage. Your question is very appropriate, “What’s a Church to do?”

    God didn’t cause this pandemic but I am confident that He will use it for His purposes in the world. For 22 years I wondered what the next expression of “Church” would be. It looks like we are going to find out.

    My prayer for the church is that, from this “Righteous Remnant,” God will reform His church and raise up passionate leaders willing to roll up their sleeves and get back to the basics. We need leaders that understand that “Church” is not a building or a weekly worship or study event. Church is people living out a life that shines for Christ and inviting others to join them on the journey. And evangelism is not simply inviting friends and family to worship or study. Evangelism is sharing what Christ did for you and inviting others to receive his free gift of salvation.

    Pepper Choplin wrote a choral anthem that most of our church choirs have used in the last few years. Perhaps it’s time to put his words into practice: “Wake up church, wake up. The Lord is calling you…there is kingdom work to do!”

    • HI Bruce,

      I do so believe what you have written. Before the pandemic, as I was writing, so many realities have now been revealed through this pandemic experience. One of my favorites by Thom S. Rainer, whose study reports the closing of 150 congregations weekly, in the US. parallels your thoughts: “Churches have always been asleep, before an awakening.” You are correct, ” We need an awakening. Arise, in us, Lord Jesus, and keep on rising!

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