I return again with more reflections on Michael Spencer’s, “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.” In speaking about why the collapse with occur, Spencer gives the following as his third reason.
Evangelical churches have now passed into a three-part chapter: 1) mega-churches that are consumer driven, 2) churches that are dying and 3) new churches that whose future is dependent on a large number of factors. I believe most of these new churches will fail, and the ones that do survive will not be able to continue evangelicalism at anything resembling its current influence. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.
Our numbers, our churches and our influence are going to dramatically decrease in the next 10-15 years. And they will be replaced by an evangelical landscape that will be chaotic and largely irrelevant.
For the sake of brevity I think I want to reflect on parts 1 and 3 from above, because we know that there are plenty of dying churches out there and we have a pretty good idea why they are dying, and I don’t want to beat a dead horse, or a (dead church for that matter).
We fell into this mess quite by accident back before I was even born, somewhere amidst the mega-church movement. Consumerism within the church is common place, so much so that we don’t really notice it much until studies come out with scary numbers showing how many long-term church attendees don’t actually become disciples of Jesus. One of my litmus tests for consumerism is looking for how frequently the church in question promises to provide a service or good to the respective church attendee. If the conversation revolves around what you get out of participating in this program, or that Bible study, then chances are consumerism has snuck in. Instead we need to form ourselves around the Good News and the person of Jesus who invited his early followers to regularly die to themselves and follow him (Lk. 9:23) As a colleague of mine put it, “How about we invite new people to come, join our community, and die?” Not quite the catchy marketing slogan we might be used to, but at least it doesn’t promise something that will end up leaving us feeling just as empty as before.
3) New Churches-old failure
I think it’s too early to make the call on this one, but I will say that I’m a bit more optimistic than Spencer. In the ecclesial circles I run in (Missional Community, organic, small), there’s a growing vitality and some strong multiplicational growth. I think that if things stay on track, and if these groups trust Christ and not systems to grow their number, the type of exponential growth that the church saw in the second and third centuries could follow.
What do you think? Is the critique against consumerism valid? Have you experienced any new faith communities that are growing out of authentic discipleship and not merely programmatic marketing?