There is a question I cannot get out of my mind. I have been thinking about it incessantly over the last several months because something I have never seen or heard about before has happened in these months. Here is that question:
Why did so many people check out of church in a time of crisis?
I am not talking about physical attendance because there have been good reasons for people to engage digitally in a time of pandemic. Even when taking into consideration the need for some people to remain physically distant, church attendance and engagement is down. Instead of a time of crisis leading people to seek God in more intentional ways, the reverse happened.
I was 18 when 9/11 happened, and even in our small suburb of Indianapolis, church attendance swelled in the weeks following the tragedy. Even teachers hostile to the gospel thanked my classmates and me for spending time in prayer during the day of 9/11. Throughout our history, that has been the norm. In times of crisis, people turn to God and His church.
But not this crisis. Why not?
I have pondered that question with many people, and have found it is easy for me (and others) to use this to justify conclusions we believe to be true See…this is proof I have been right all along! That’s not helpful.
I am not sure we are ready to understand why in a time of crisis people are no longer interested in turning to the church. In reality, this continues a long-standing trend in the United States of decreased church engagement. People who used to come to church every week now only come twice a month. People who used to come twice a month now don’t come anymore. Those trends were in place long before the pandemic, and it appears the pandemic has expedited those trends.
If you are a Christian, compelled by the reality that Jesus is King and He is the greatest gift to our world, what are we to do to reverse these trends?
That question we can answer. Read any book on renewal in the church, and there are many good ones (Why Revival Tarries by Leonard Ravenhill, Dynamics of Spiritual Life Richard Lovelace, God Sized Vision by John Woodbridg), and they all say the same thing. They all say we have to start in the same place. A starting place summarized well by Mark Sayers in his book on renewal, Reappearing Church:
Renewal comes when we are sickened by our false gods and the broken promises of our impotent idols and ideologies. When we are shattered by our striving and pathetic attempts at saving ourselves, we fall into the arms of Christ to be remade without caveats and compromises.
In other words, renewal starts within the church when I get fed up with my attempts to save myself. When I finally become overwhelmed by the gospel and throw myself in front of Christ for Him to do whatever He wants with me. Renewal and revival starts within our church NOT with others, but with me.
Renewal starts with me.
That is why – despite pandemics, decreased church attendance, or whatever has driven people away from church in a time of crisis – I am not concerned. I am hopeful. Church, we still have every resource we need in order to see a fresh conversion to the gospel in our own times.
We have Jesus, and He is still in the remaking business, and always will be. He wants to remake us after Himself. Maybe the real question is – do I want that?