For centuries the model was a parish church drawing to it the surrounding community. It was assumed that all were Christians, but not all were active. The job of the parish was to seek out the lapsed and to offer pastoral care to all.



In the US, from colonial times, this morphed into a growing number of denominations in competition for the same pool of people who were mostly identified as Christian. A market economy emerged. Churches sought to make themselves attractive not only to their lapsed but to people shopping for a church who might be converted to one’s particular brand. The model remained one of seeking to attract people who would fit in. Recently this has developed into genre brands: conservative, liberal/progressive, moderate, socially involved, evangelical etc. The question remained, how may a church make itself welcoming to searchers?
That whole pattern is becoming defunct. Those stuck in this old pattern compete for a dwindling market of seekers. But like Europe, a growing and significant number of people have no attachment, even former attachment to Christianity. They were not formed as children with basic biblical/liturgical knowledge. These people see or think they see nothing done within church walls which impacts the reality of daily life. Another complication has been a growing separation of “religion” and “spirituality”, the latter something personal and often unconnected to corporate practice.
In a sense we are returning to a pre Christian culture, or rather one complicated by a post Christian folk law about “organized religion” its failures, corruptions, and irrelevance.
None of us, clergy or laity have adjusted to this new reality, nor are we trained to go beyond our dwindling and aging communities to tell our story or witness our faith. Stuck in our buildings and structures we have not the flexibility or the courage to break out into the world. We’ve tried new liturgy, inclusiveness, evangelism, conservatism, liberalism with little impact. We “thrive” still in urban and suburban settings where there’s still a pool of people attracted to our wares.
Until and unless we find ways and means to break out of our post Constantine model, we shall continue to dwindle and marginalize.

4 Responses

  1. Thanks Tony,

    This is where we can learn so much from our African brethren. They know the need to bear witness and to bring Christ and they do it successfully. They bring Jesus to people and people to Jesus.

  2. A brief but absolutely critical insight. Because of the mobility of our society and the weakening of “denominational affiliations,” it is and will continue to be possible for some congregations to grow in membership by attracting church “shoppers” and church “swappers.” Nonetheless, this is in the long run a diminishing pool, and we’re past the tipping point. It’s zero-sum. A new member in one congregation equals the loss of a member somewhere else. Aging church-going populations and declining numbers of baptisms and children in congregations make the projection of steep downward trends a no-brainer. The key for the future thus is evangelism: the presentation of the winsome gospel of our Lord to those who haven’t heard it–or, more likely, who have heard it and who have consciously and deliberately in the past decided to reject it. (I suspect in our northern/western context, anyway, there are relatively few who haven’t heard.) This is a high-touch, long-suffering ministry, involving a persistent, against-all-odds commitment to going out. To meeting the unchurched, unconverted where they are. Which is, inevitably, not going to be “in church.” The old practice of opening the doors and preaching to those who find their way in is unlikely to bear much fruit.

    Thanks, Tony, for the helpful observation.

    Bruce Robison

  3. This is absolutely correct, thank you Tony for this insight. The new or conventional evangelical churches attract people who want to be changed and are changed by Christ

    Mike Strong

  4. […] Tony Clavier contributed an excellent post to his blog that I wanted to share a link to. (here) I’m only now getting online after some technical problems, so I’ve got a backlog of […]

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