I am reading a book by George Barna (church growth statistician and guru) called Revolution in which he argues that by 2025, only 33% of Christians will go to church. He believes that the trends towards ‘mini-movements’like house churches and more focused small groups (like a ‘spirituality and the arts’group) are becoming more and more the primary movers in believers’spiritual formation rather than the local church. He basically argues that the local church is not effective in the spiritual formation of its members and therefore may soon be close to extinction. People are no longer experiencing God in local congregations. From someone who has given his life in hopes that the local church is the primary builder of the Kingdom and the hope of the world, I am disturbed by his thesis. What thinkest ye?

11 thoughts on “Revolution!?

  1. i am disturbed too, but I do not believe that what is predicted need to be a definite. I believe that the death of the mega-church is at hand because many christians are looking for a more intimate church setting. An intimate setting can be filled by more than just home-churches. This research shouldn’t spur church leaders to give into trends, but rather reinvent their idea of what church is. The church that runs more like a business than a family is doomed to suffer. They are more concerned with bringing people in with their coffee shops and entertaiment style worship than with building relationships and nurturing them. When these church leaders stop being concerned with numbers and start working more towards meeting the needs of their fellow human beings, I believe the trend will change. There is no doubt though that the younger generation of believers is getting fed up with the seeker sensitive movement because it has sacrificed a lot of the mystery of the Christian faith for more modern conventions. That mystery is hard to accomplish in a home church, at least in my opinion.

  2. Fr. Neo,
    I am also quite disturbed with this book, and have had a few conversations with others about it and its hypothesis of where this “revolution” is headed. I think that Barna is possibly just running his mouth in an attempt to be cutting edge in the study of church movement (I’m sure his intentions are pure). But I would like to point out that the church has had many changes to its format over the centuries of its existence. Barna may think that the model of the traditional “evangelical” church may be on its way out, but to say that the church is being uprooted for something else is to say that Christ died for, not only the church, but for something else as well.

    As to the move towards smaller house churches or cell churches, I don’t see a huge problem with that keeping in mind that accountability with a larger body of believers is necessary. When one’s “church” is only based on the interpretations of a small number of minds it can lead to disastrous misinterpretations. I would hope that a house church would be included in a network that could hold them to a sound doctrinal structure, lest someone in a house church suddenly finds them self on an island being offered to drink red Kool-Aid.

    And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. ~Matthew 16:18~

  3. WIGIAT,
    I love it! Tell me more about the death of the mega-church. How are you burned out on the ‘seeker sensitive?’

    It sounds like you have an appreciation for the house/cell church. I know you’re interested in church planting, what would think are the biblical/theological non-negotiables of ‘the Church’ that the gates of hell will not prevail against?

  4. Sir Neo,
    As to the Biblical and Theological backing for the church that I hope for I guess I need to begin, first off, with Hebrews 10:24-25. I read that passage as a purpose of the church. …to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another… And though it may be a bit cliche (as if the word of God could be) I also rely on the accounts of the early church in Acts 2. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…praising God and having favor with all the people. And the lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.(Acts 2:42,48) Now, I’m not sure what the size of the church should be. Nor do I claim to know what church doctrine is the closest to the biblical example, but I do know that the early church wasn’t a mega-church, nor was it a traditional Catholic church. I guess, to my best knowledge, it was more like a house church. But whatever the form, I don’t think the church that Christ came and died for will be broken because Barna thinks that people don’t like the current establishment. The church shall prevail.

  5. In a body bag is the only way I’d be found in a “house church.” I truly don’t mean any disrespect, but a “house church” reminds me of some of the scenes from the “Calvin Becker Trilogy,” when the family would have a “church service” in their hotel room on vacation or at their “compound,” L’ARCHE, in Switzerland. In my estimation, a “house church” isn’t a disaster waiting to happen, but indeed the culmination of a disaster. Once again, I truly don’t mean any disrespect. I can get a little edgy at times, but I really think that the demise (if it’s true) of the “traditional” church is a bad thing.

    It’s interesting. Very near to my house is one of the largest and most influential mega-churches in the city in which I live. They basically run a show every week for the suburban masses. As “unfortune” would have it, I’ve experienced a few of their shows. The seats are nice and cushioned (and recline a bit!) and the stage (that’s right—not an alter or even a prominent lectern) is framed with big screens to facilitate singing songs like “Shine Jesus Shine” to music that’s anything but “otherly.” They are currently building a new sanctuary (I drive by it everyday) that appears, at least at this early stage, to be very traditional in presence. From the skeletal structure that I observe progressing everyday, I frankly think it’s going to be beautiful and quite “churchy.” I suppose the powers that be there are beginning to wonder about Wonder too.

  6. chris,

    i agree with your perspective. The thing that most irks me about many house churches i know of is that they were all created out of a fallout from a larger church and it is basically a gathering of “higher-than-thou” christians who are trying to create there own interpretation of how the church was intended to be without any outside input. I do not knock house churches at all because they serve a wonderful purpose in their own right, but they need to be in contact with a larger body of believers who will work the checks and balances of their theology. home churches fulfill some needs, but certainly not all of them.

    I have been convinced that the mega-church would die since I took a class on the philosophy and sociology of ministry. The professor relied heavily on Barna knowledge, and was convinced that mega-churches were just amazing. But mega-churches as a standard generally reach the 30-50 age group, if i am not mistaken. It obviously doesn’t appeal to all in that age-group, but it has a certain draw for those who were raised in the stricter churches of their era, and are drawn to the more upbeat laid back style of the mega church. But quite simply, and this is just my opinion, mega-churches are too big to reach people on a deeper spiritual and social level. That is probably why barna is convinced that house churches will be the thing, but I think he under-estimates the draw that the mystery of orthodox practices has on my generation.
    As to the seeker-sensitive movement, I have too often encountered churches that are just dying to draw in “customers” so they can shove their theological agendas down their throats. They have told me how to worship, how to study the bible, how to treat my husband, how to be a godly woman, when they themselves do not have any sort of life worthy of imitation. They don’t care about the individual. And any church where you are able to disappear in the crowd without anyone noticing spells danger to me because it doesn’t promote what I consider to be an essential in the christian faith, keeping one another accountable.

  7. We have already tried that experiment here in Chicago, its called the store front church . . . there is about three on any given block of any given main street in Chicago. It usually consist of one preacher who couldn’t get a pulpit anywhere else and two or three relatives who all think the same way they do. I would never say that God isn’t to be found in a store front church or that you can judge a congregation by its size, but
    my concern is this, the lack of accountability on doctrine, etc. Are we looking for churches that suit what WE think or are we looking for a place that will actually engage us in the process of taking on the mind of Christ and renewing our minds? Such a place is not always comfortable and can be downright painful at times. If small home churches do overtake the church at large it will be because our society has become so increasingly narcissistic that we make God over in our own image and likeness and refuse to worship anything else.

  8. I heard these fears and ocnversation in Fr. Neo’s sermon today. I’ve thought a lot about it myself. My wife and I belonged to a home church for a brief time, but we had been assigned there to absorb them into the Methodist Church where we, and their youth, attended. The absorption worked and became a vital adult study class. These house church people were dispersed from a large, liberal DC church (Church of the Savior) by their charismatic leader when he perceived that the core church had become unwieldly. Great and committed people.

    I think successful “church” comes from following Christ in the Holy Spirit’s leading. I think we need to attend to the quality of our discipleship programs so that our members have a strong, passionate faith with a doctrinal solidity that protects it from worldliness.

  9. All in all I am encouraged by the heart of what Barna is saying–that followers of Jesus will flourish and discover ancient-future forms of community. I was annoyed, however, at the times where he seemed to be pitting these “revolutionaries” against the “local church.” As someone who has been part of an intentional home church community for the last seven years, I must say that I love the church, and I have discovered who she is in a far deeper way than when I was a garden-variety evangelical.

    There are many, many people who are discovering Christ in living rooms around the world, and are taking the call to be church very seriously. For a survey of most of these folks on the web, go here.

  10. I find that I find Christ in my BSF class, or my reunion group, or in my church small group. But these are born out of the larger church. We go to church on Sunday to be communal. To worship with the whole body of Christ. It is the churches responsibility to bring people in, then get them into a place where they can experience God, wherever that may be for that person.

    There is great value in worshiping all together on Sunday. But that is not enough to satisfy the hungary soul.

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