Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The road to revival

In 100 AD there were 25,000 Christians in the world. By 310, there were 20 million. Christianity became the dominant religion of Rome even though they were largely an underground without political power or centralized structure. Somehow they managed to turn a hostile government to their favor.

Fast forward to the 20th Century. Mao Zedong wants to purge China of all Western influence, including Christianity. He deported foreign missionaries and ministers, took ceased all church property, killed all senior leaders and outlawed church gatherings. At this time the church had been well-established in China with two million members. When contact with the Western world was re-established in the 80's the Chinese church had grown to 60 million. At the dawn of the 21st Century membership grew to 80 million.

Like the early church, they lacked professional clergy, formal training and centralized organization. Also, like the early church, they operated underground moving person to person. Neither movement tried to enact legislation that required nonbelievers to behave like Christians. Neither movement tried to gain political power

In his book, “The Forgotten Ways,” Alan Hirsh observes that revivals begin on the fringes of society among the poor and marginalized. It seldom (if at all) starts at the center. In fact, when the institutional church begins its inevitable decline, there is usually a vibrant grass-roots movement forming.

The established church in America wants to reach the middle class, family values types; the “soccer moms.” Most churches are competing for this segment. The result is that only 18% of the US population attend church. What about the other 82%? What about the 40% of San Antonians who claim no religious belief; the “nones?”

The contemporary church growth movement sought to make it easy for people to go to church. Recommendations included sticking to your own people group, using music that appeals to your demographic, parking lot attendants, and excellent children & youth programs. No cross bearing nor sacrifice. Forty years later, church attendance decline continues.

George Barna predicts, in “Revolution,” that the church will lose 50% of its attendance in the first quarter of the 21st Century. COVID-19 may have accelerated and increased the decline. In 2008, The Christian Century (5/6/08) reported that 3700 churches close every year. These tend to be inner city and rural churches but also include failed new church starts.

Hirsh recommends reseeding an established church with new, grass-roots folks who will respect the needs of the old guard. Perhaps several new church starts and/or parachurch groups can share space paying rent to help with the utilities and maintenance.

Frank Tillapaugh, in “Unleashing the Church,” states that we need a marriage between the established church and the parachurch. I would replace the term “parachurch” with any organization that is doing Kingdom work, even those that don't identify as faith-based.

We need to get back to the methodology that helped the early church, the 20th Century Chinese church, and many others to become disciple making machines. There is no short cut; no easy way. There is only people who know going to people who need to know Jesus.