Let’s be perfectly honest: Americans are lazy. We are the people who get in the car to drive 150 feet to the mailbox; who get angry when the batteries go dead in the remote control because that means either going to the back of the house for new ones or getting up to change the channel; who cannot imagine life without restaurants that deliver. We are spoiled, comfortable, and often ignorant of the full view of how different we are from most of the world. Unfortunately, within the body of Christ in America, the same has also become quite true.
American Christians have followed their friends and neighbors into the same levels of laziness, comfort, and the other trappings of riches, when it comes to Christianity. You don’t believe me? Many of the congregations of the Lord’s church are shrinking, not growing. Studies have shown that we are losing more than 60% of our young people after they leave for college. Congregations are increasingly filled with larger percentages of senior citizens and smaller percentages of children. On and on the lists could go, but the automatic question is: why is this happening?
Friends, let’s be honest, the church is not dying. There are parts of this country where the church is still thriving and growing. The problem is not that the church is dying or becoming outdated; instead, the problem is that the church is rotting.
As a whole the Lord’s church in America has begun rotting from the inside because of lack of function. Anything that does not get used for long periods of time ceases functioning as it should; it matters not whether it is the muscles of the human body or the gears of a piece of machinery, over time things rust, deteriorate, and fall apart. Such is also the case with the body of Christ when it sits idle for long periods of time. Sadly, this has become the tale of many congregations.
The question is often asked, “What makes _______ tick?” That question could be asked of any number of people or things, but when it comes to the church a different question needs to be asked: “What will it take to get us back to ticking?”
As a whole, the church of Christ in America has become soft, lazy, and too comfortable. We do not face God’s work with a sense of urgency; we are too busy with other things. We no longer seem to understand just how lost this country is. Too often, we have convinced ourselves this is a “Christian” nation, and as such there must be far less work to do here than elsewhere. So we send missionaries around the world, believing that we have now fulfilled our call to preach the Gospel everywhere (Mark 16:15). What we fail to understand is that the Gospel is needed here more than ever.
The Lord’s church in this country numbers approximately 2 million individuals, just barely putting it into the top 10 of religious groups. In this country, the average county contains about .2% of its population as members of the church; that means, on average, for every 1,000 people – there are 2 New Testament Christians. There are a few counties where that number reaches above 5%, but you could just about count them all with the fingers on both hands. Do we really understand how few Biblical Christians there are in the United States? We live in a country where, by an overwhelming majority, your neighbors, friends, at least some of your family, classmates, co-workers, associates, and acquaintances are lost and travelling down a road to destruction. We have become too wrapped up in the “they’re good people” philosophy and have forgotten just how lost this country is.
I know this because if we really understood it, Christians would be lining up at the door to find ways they could reach everyone they know. They would be trying to find opportunities at every turn to teach someone the Gospel. Instead, when new programs are presented, opportunities afforded, or volunteers needed, we respond by asking someone else to do it: we are too busy.
I constantly hear people wonder why the church is not growing. It is not because the Gospel has stopped working, but because we have stopped spreading it, and desiring to do so. In most places, if you asked 50 people where the Lord’s church assembled, less than a handful would be able to tell you. If you asked most people if they had ever heard of the church of Christ, they would respond by asking if you were talking about the Mormons. If you think that everyone knows what you believe and why, and that the Gospel has already been preached sufficiently where you are: think again.
It is very telling to this writer when I can write an article on children behaving in the assembly and get hundreds of hits; but when an article is written about evangelism and what we can and should be doing – I’ll get 15 page views. You see, most Christians are not nearly as concerned with evangelizing the lost as they are not being disturbed during worship. It is not comfortable to think, by name, about all of those around us treading the wrong path. It is not a happy thought that we are failing in fulfilling the expectations of God. It is not convenient to discuss the urgency, not of taking the Gospel to the rest of the world, but of taking it to the people here at home.
What is it going to take to get American Christians ticking? Will it take the loss of the wealth and lifestyles to which we have become accustomed? That time is quickly coming. Will it require the loss of our freedoms? History shows it can and has happened in the past, and history often repeats itself. Will it require the passing of the present generations to be replaced with ones who are not so comfortable with the levels of Christianity they have attained? I pray not.
This is not to say that there are not brethren working hard for the cause of Christ today: there are, but there are not nearly enough. Brethren, we can do better; we must do better. We have to stop looking at what everyone else is, or is not, doing and instead begin worrying about what we are doing. We have to stop blaming the world for the church not growing and instead look at the harsh realities ourselves. We have to get back to working as we should, to start ticking again; because the fields are still white unto harvest, but the laborers have to get back out into those fields.