|Church on the Hill expanding its campus|
It must be nothing but confusing for anyone who comes to America - who practices a religion other than Christianity - when they notice how many churches there are on any given street, ALL of which consider themselves to be Christian. According to American Church Lists, there are 386,000 churches in the USA alone.
While the Church on the Hill is thriving, amidst persecution, in third world nations, here in America the traditional, local church no longer ranks as the only place to go as the Christian's primary meeting place. Millions of people claim they are drawing closer to God but farther from any involvement with traditional churches. What's happening? According to California Researchers called the Barna Group, "...new ways of experiencing and expressing faith, such as through house churches, marketplace ministries, and cyberchurches, are becoming the norm for millions of people."
A new book by the group's founder, George Barna, entitled Revolution, indicates that since the turn of the millennium there have been major changes occurring in how people experience and express their faith. Based on a series of national surveys conducted by his company during the past 25 years, Barna discovered that discontent with congregational churches, changes in lifestyles, and a gowing desire to get closer to God, have caused many people to seek new ways to felowship with God and with other God-seeking people.
In the year 2000, most of America's Christian activity took place by way of local churches. Today, in 2005, during a typical week, 9% of all adults attend a house church. An even greater proportion (22%) engages in spiritual encounters that take place in the marketplace (e.g., with groups of people while they are at their place of work or play, or in other typical daily contexts). The Internet serves as the foundation for interactive faith experiences for more than one out of every ten adults. Personally, though I attend house churches, have held high school Bible studies for over a year in a hair studio and the past three years have led a college Bible Study in a local coffee shop. In recent months I have preached twice at a Disciples of Christ Church, and have taught Sunday School at the local Methodist Church for a month of Sundays. Just yesterday, the Pastor of the local Cowboy Church asked if I'd be interested in teaching a cults class on a Thursday which he would open up to the entire community and, just this morning, I was invited to take part in an outreach with a Baptist College in Oregon. In each instance, according to the examples set by the Apostle Paul in Acts Chapter 16 with Lydia at "First Riverside Church" and with the Jailer at "Slammer Assembly of God," these gatherings are nothing less than THE Church in all its fullness, never intended to be a mere bolt-on program for the REAL Church.
The findings from several Barna Group surveys conducted during the past twelve months reveal the characteristics of this emerging population of people who had to leave Church to find more of God in their lives. Referring to these individuals as "Revolutionaries" who are intent upon "being the Church rather than merely going to church," Barna believes that the magnitude of this movement into new forms of religious community will change the face of the entire religious community - not ONLY the Chrsitian community - during the next ten to twenty years.
PASTORS AND CHURCH LEADERS, LISTEN UP!
According to Barna's research, some of the more intriguing attributes of these Revolutionaries who seek to experience and express their faith in alternative ways are:
*It's the Baby Boomers, those who are largely responsible for the megachurches that have redefined the Church environment during the past quarter century, who are now making up the greatest part of the Revolutionary ranks.
*Adults involved in marketplace ministry are more than twice as likely as those connected only to a congregational church to have a biblical worldview and more than twice as likely to identify the Bible as the source of truth in life. They are also one-third more likely to contend that absolute moral truth exists.
*About two-thirds of all adults engaged in a house church attend in any given week, with the remaining segment attending at least once a month. That is nearly identical to the attendance profile of people for whom a congregational church is their church home.
*Men and women are equally likely to participate in marketplace-based ministry activity, while men are slightly more likely to engage in house church options.
*The Midwest is the stronghold for congregational church connections, while the southern states have become the most fertile spawning grounds for marketplace ministry involvement, and participation in a house church is equally common everywhere outside of the Midwest.
*Evangelical Christians are those most likely to get involved in an alternative form of the Christian church and also the groupmost likely to participate in both a traditional and alternative church form. More than four out of ten evangelical adults are involved in an alternative form of church on a regular basis.
*Many parents are involved in both a congregational and alternative church form presumably to address the diverse interests of both the adults and children.
*One-third of the alternative church crowd engages God and other believers in a church form other than a house church, that is, they are involved in a marketplace ministry, a cyberchurch, or a series of faith-focused events that connect them with God and other Christ-followers.
Interestingly, Barna also pointed out that surveys of people's religious activity often blur our understanding of Church behavior because many participants in alternative church experiences are not sure whether to describe themselves to survey interviewers as "attending a church service" or not. "Some of these individuals are so comfortable with their new, alternative forms of church that they do not hesitate to say they attend Church. Others, however, have been so conditioned to think of "Church" as the activities taking place on the campus of a certain denomination that they are more likely to describe themselves as unchurched, even though they engage in worship, service, prayer, financial sharing, and discipleship activities through their alternative faith community."
What we're about to experience, according to Barna, will be the most massive reshaping of the nation's faith community in more than a 100 years.
THE RISE OF NEO-CHURCHISM
Relying upon national research conducted over the past several years, noted that although measures of traditional church participation in activities such as worship attendance, Sunday school, prayer, and Bible reading have remained relatively unchanged during the past twenty years, the Revolutionary faith movement is growing rapidly.
"A common misconception about revolutionaries," says Barna, "is that they are disengaging from God when they leave a local church. We found that while some people leave the local church and fall away from God altogether, there is a much larger segment of Americans who are currently leaving churches precisely because they want more of God in their life but cannot get what they need from a local church. They have decided to get serious about their faith by piecing together a more robust faith experience. Instead of going to church, they have chosen BE the Church, in a way that harkens back to the Church detailed in the Book of Acts."
BIG CHANGES IN THE MAKING
One of the most eye-opening portions of the research contained in the book describes what the faith community may look like twenty years from now. Using survey data and other cultural indicators he has been measuring for more than two decades, Barna estimates that the local church is presently the primary form of faith experience and expression for about two-thirds of the nation's adults. He projects that by 2025 the local church will lose roughly half of its current "market share" and that alternative forms of faith experience and expression will pick up the slack. Importantly, Barna's studies do not suggest that most people will drop out of a local church to simply ignore spirituality or be freed up from the demands of church life. Although there will be millions of people who abandon the entire faith community for the usual reasons - hurtful experiences in churches, lack of interest in spiritual matters, prioritizing other dimensions of their life - a growing percentage of church dropouts will be those who leave a local church in order to intentionally increase their focus on faith and to relate to God through different means.
That growth is fueling alternative forms of organized spirituality, as well as individualized faith experience and expression.
THE PASSION-DRIVEN CHURCH
In the effort to increase their obedience and faithfulness to God, Barna discovered that Revolutionaries are characterized by what he identified as a set of spiritual passions, specific emphases that drive their quest for God and a biblical lifestyle. Although these are areas of spiritual development that most local churches address, millions of adults who are the most serious about their faith in God were the ones least likely to be satisfied by what their local church was delivering in terms of resources, opportunities, evaluation and developmental possibilities. The consequence is that millions of committed born again Christians are choosing to advance their relationship with God by finding avenues of growth and service apart from a local church.
Asked if this meant that the Revolution he describes is simply a negative reaction to the local church, he suggested that most Revolutionaries go through predictable phases in their spiritual journey in which they initially become dissatisfied with their local church experience, then attempt to change things so their faith walk can be more fruitful. The result is that they undergo heightened frustration over the inability to introduce positive change, which leads them to drop out of the local church altogether, often in anger. But because this entire adventure was instigated by their love for God and their desire to honor Him more fully, they finally transcend their frustration and anger by creating a series of connections that allow them to stay close to God and to other believers without involvement in a local church.
One of the hallmarks of the Revolution of faith is how different it is for each person. "It would be wrong to assume that all Revolutionaries have completely turned their back on the local church," the researcher stated. "Millions of Revolutionaries are active in a local church, although most of them supplement that relationship with participation in a variety of faith-related efforts that have nothing to do with their local church. The defining attribute of a Revolutionary is not whether they attend church, but whether they place God first in their lives and are willing to do whatever it takes to facilitate a deeper and growing relationship with Him and other believers. Our studies persuasively indicate that the vast majority of American churches are populated by people who are lukewarm spiritually. Emerging from those churches are people dedicated to becoming Christ-like through the guidance of a congregational form of the church, but who will leave that faith center if it does not further such a commitment to God. They then find or create alternatives that allow that commitment to flourish."
How do most Revolutionaries justify calling themselves devoted disciples of Christ while distancing themselves from a local church? "Many of them realize that someday they will stand before a holy God who will examine their devotion to Him. They could take the safe and easy route of staying in a local church and doing the expected programs and practices, but they also recognize that they will not be able to use a lackluster church experience as an excuse for a mediocre or unfulfilled spiritual life. Their spiritual depth is not the responsibility of a local church; it is their own responsibility. As a result, they decide to either get into a local church that enhances their zeal for God or else they create alternatives that ignite such a life of obedience and service. By and large, these are people say they have stopped going to church so they can be the Church."
The Revolution: Challenges and Opportunities
While the Revolution brings with it some very promising qualities, an intense pursuit of godliness, new networks of believers supporting each other, heightened financial giving to ministry endeavors, greater sensitivity to the presence of God in the world, a greater sense of freedom to be a genuine disciple in the midst of a secular society, Barna also pointed out that the Revolution brings great challenges to those who choose that route.
"There is the danger of exposure to unbiblical or heretical teaching. There is the possibility of experiencing isolation from a true community of believers and the accountability and support that can provide. It could become easier to hoard one's treasures rather than giving generously. Some might find it more difficult to sustain a life of worship without a place or means of expressing that praise to God."
Barna contends that these are very serious challenges faced by Revolutionaries but that they are no more serious than the threats to the spiritual health of regular church-goers. As one who has serve inleadership in traditional church settings, I can recall several instances of cultic and heretical teachings that permiated our ranks and shipwrecked many a sincere Believer. Barna adds, "Objectively speaking, these are the very same problems that we identify among people who rely upon the efforts of a local church to facilitate their growth. We find plentiful evidence of unbiblical teaching in small groups, Sunday school classes and other local church venues. We know that few churched Christians give 4% of their income back to God, much less 10%. We recognize that most people attending worship services in a church sanctuary leave feeling that God was not present and that they did not personally connect with the living God through that experience. We have identified the relative absence of accountability within most congregations. So even though Revolutionaries face serious challenges in blossoming into the fervent God-follower they hope to become, perhaps the main difference is simply that they have a wider range of options for achieving their faith goals than do people who are solely focused on faith delivered through a local church. In either case, it is ultimately up to the individual to make sure that they have their spiritual priorities right, that they are investing themselves in activities that draw them closer to God, and that they stay focused on pleasing God more than themselves or other people."
How does the traditional Church view the Revoltionaries?
One man's Revolutionary is another man's Rebel. The explosion of Revolutionaries in the U.S. raises new challenges for people involved in ministry. "This new movement of God demands that there be new forms of leadership to appropriately guide people in their faith journey," Barna said. "It requires new ways of measuring how well the Church at-large is doing, getting beyond attendance figures as the indicator of health. And it demands that new tools and resources be accessible to a growing contingent of people who are seeking to introduce their faith into every dimension of their life."
READ ACTS 16:6-33, then ask yourself these questions (my own answrs provided for the sake od study and teaching):
vs 6-13 Questions
1) After two closed doors and then a vision, what level of expectation did Paul probably have as he sought to go into Macedonia?
(Confidence was most likely quite high)
2) In this century and culture, how were women viewed in comparison to men? (Subserviant; less than slaves?)
3) How many women do you estimate there were? (5 or so?)
4) Do you think Paul envisioned a greater crowd and success than God had arranged for on the river bank? (He probably had a different idea in mind)
5) How did Paul respond to the group he found? (He obeyed the Spirit)
vs 14-15 Questions
1) Do you think God was at work in Lydia's heart long before Paul ever arrived? If so, why? Why not? (Yes, because her steps were ordered and she was born for that moment in time)
2) Because Paul was listening to God he was led clearly to a group that was not his first choice. Agree or Disagree? (Agree)
3) After Lydia responded to Paul's message, how did they bring the Good News to her "household"? Did they hear the Good News that same day or later? (Through the women; Seems later - by Lydia and the other women)
4) When were they baptized? By whom? In what water source? (Silas in the river)
5) This group became a church, in God's eyes, in verse 15! Agree or disagree?
1) How successful did Pauland Silas feel in place of service to which God had directed them? (Felt low)
How did Paul bring the Good News to jailers "household?" Who was the jailer's "household?" (Jail ministry, Family, slaves).
QUESTIONS WE MUST ASK OURSELVES ABOUT THE ACTS 16 CHURCH...
This group became a church that very night in God's eyes...agree?
What does this story say about our expectations and view of Biblical success?
What are the minimum essentials, in God's eyes, for starting a church?
What role do relationship connections play in starting a Church?
What are the chances the jailer's household would have ever been converted and involved in Church if Paul had not taken CHURCH to THEM?