The Future of the Church

The Future of the Church

October 20, 2019

I want you like at this picture that Joel Logan took of our church not long ago.

When we look at our church from this vantage point, we have an entirely different perspective than when we are just walking around on the ground level.

Now use your imagination. What if our drone could go even higher, and we were able to see every church in Jefferson? How about every church in Jackson County?

What if we had access to a Satellite that was able to pinpoint every church in America?

Along with this Satellite, what if there was a supercomputer that stored information about every church and from those statistics we were able to analyze patterns of behavior about why people attend church, why people don’t, who is attending, and who is not?  Would that information helpful to us as we try to grow the church?

There’s no supercomputer on a Satellite looking at every church in America. But we do have access to information gathered through reliable polling services like Gallup, the Barna Group, and the Pew Forum that helps us understand what’s happening in our culture that’s affecting how people are responding to the gospel, some of which I will share with you this morning.

The Apostle Paul understood the context of the Greek philosophers that inhabited Rome. When he arrived there and noticed that they had a monument to an unknown god, Paul used that as his starting point to say, “Let me tell you about this unknown god. His name is Jesus.”

Paul used the context of his culture as a starting point in sharing the gospel.

The future of the church hinges on two things: our ability to know and understand the gospel and our ability to know and understand the culture in which we live. That has always been true.

If you understand your culture, but you do not understand the gospel, you are lost and separated from God. If you understand the gospel, but you do not understand your culture, you know and love Jesus, but you don’t have a clue how to share Jesus with a lost world.

It’s important for us to understand both.  So let me help you understand a little of what is happening in our culture.

In 1956, 71% of Americans said they were Protestant Christians. Today, that number is around 30%.

What happened to that 41%?

Americans are not converting to other religions. Increasingly, Americans do not identify with any religious group.

Some of these are people grew up attending church, but no longer see the faith of their youth as a viable part of their lives.

Others never had a Christian base and have never seen God as a viable source of comfort or strength.

Even though these people do not identify with any Christian body or group does not mean they are atheists.  Many will say that they pray and believe in God.

A lot of people still worship God but prefer to do that in their way, without the church.

These people fall into a category called the “Nones,” N-O-N-E-S, because they check “none” when asked what religion they claim to have.

That does not mean they are not spiritual.

Rarely do I do a funeral for those that would identify themselves as “Nones” where there isn’t some hope for joining God and loved ones in heaven.  They may not have been affiliated with the church, but they still want to go to heaven.

It’s important to realize that “no affiliation” or “no identification” with a church does not mean there is no interest in God. “None” doesn’t mean “no interest” in spiritual things.

Some people have had a bad experience with a previous church. Sometimes churches wound people, and people never return.

Some people have developed a lifestyle that has left no time in their schedules for church attendance. They are traveling most weekends, and some of people work on weekends.

Others grew up in a home where their parents never took them to church, so they do not have a clue what church is or why it is important to faith.

Some people are in the process of searching for a church but have not found a church to call home. https://pushpay.com/blog/church-attendance/

There are many reasons people are not churched. It’s our job to engage the unchurched about faith issues.   However,  let’s be honest, Christians are less likely to engage in discussions about faith than we are about politics.

Why is that?

Many of us are afraid that someone is going to ask us a question about our faith that we cannot answer.   We struggle with parts of our own lives, but that’s normal.

For five years, I was an adjunct religion teacher for Brewton Parker College. I taught Introduction to the Old Testament, New Testament, and World Religions on a rotating schedule. The classes were three hours long, one night a week for 15 weeks.

I studied each Friday on my day off for six months to get ready to teach my first class. I was very nervous when I stood before my first class of students.

I thought, “What if a student asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to.”

I had to get over that quickly because I realized every class had at least one brilliant student that was going to ask something I didn’t know.  Even a student that wasn’t so bright could do that.  And when that happened, the world didn’t stop if I didn’t know the answer.

But I made a contract with the students that there were answers to their questions, and if I didn’t know it, we would always learn together. Humility was the key. I didn’t act as if I knew it all because I didn’t.

People are not turned off by what we don’t know. They will accept our humility. They are turned off by our arrogance and defensiveness.

If the “nones” are ever going to take a step toward Jesus and the church, most of us have to take a step toward them. We have to be people who care about them.

People must see that our faith and our church make some noticeable difference in the way that we live our lives. A good witness just tells others what Jesus means to us and how Jesus changes our lives.

Specifically, they need to see that our faith makes enough difference that we care enough to notice them, engage them in conversation about faith issues, and that conversation is not always about trivial matters.

Sometimes, we need to move conversations toward deeper issues.

The records of conversations we have of Jesus show him moving conversations toward faith matters.

Sometimes, others gave him an opening to talk about faith issues. When he asked a woman at a well for a drink of water, she said, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

That’s all the invitation Jesus needed to begin a faith-based conversation.

There were other times that Jesus initiated the conversation with the purpose of talking about faith issues, as he did with Zacchaeus, a hated tax collector that lived in Jericho.

Zacchaeus would fit in this category called the Nones. He would not have been a faithful Jew that attended Synagogue. That didn’t mean he wasn’t curious about God.

When Jesus came through Jericho, Zacchaeus climbed up a tree to get a view of Jesus because Zacchaeus was so short. No one was more surprised than Zacchaeus when Jesus stopped and looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5b NIV).

That meeting with Zacchaeus changed his life.

Zacchaeus ended up giving half of his possessions to the poor. He committed to Jesus that if he had cheated anybody out of anything, that he would pay back four times the amount.

9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

The church is a group of redeemed sinners who gather to worship God. After we complete our worship, we scatter to serve God and to share the love of God with others.

The future of the church is dependent on our willingness to be witnesses to God’s grace in our own lives.

14How then can they call on the One in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:13-14 NIV)

There will always be people that are inclined toward religious belief but don’t see any importance in belonging to a community of faith. Over the last 25 years, this number has grown, but not significantly. https://pushpay.com/blog/church-attendance/

Our job is to be Jesus to these people. Our job is to befriend them. Our job is to engage them in conversation.

Some people that are looking for a church home will come when we build a new worship center, but this will not be what solidifies the future of this church.

Buildings don’t solidify the future of a church.  Buildings only enhance the ministry that’s already happening inside the hearts of the people in a church.

Our job is and has always been to return to the pages of the gospel and to preach Jesus.

Jackson County is exploding with growth. We are the tenth fastest-growing county in the nation. God has uniquely positioned us to be prepared for this growth.

The future of this church resides with you and with your resolve to share Jesus with a lost world, and with your willingness to see that we follow through with our vision, which ambitiously seeks to reach into our community and county with the gospel.

Writing from prison in crisis-ridden times, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words in 1944, the year the Nazis took his life:

“The church is the church only when it exists for others….The church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men [and women] of every calling what it means to live in Christ, to exist for others. In particular, to take the field against the vices of hubris, power-worship, envy, and humbug, as roots of all evil. It will have to speak of moderation, purity, trust, constancy, patience, discipline, humility, contentment, and modesty. It must not underestimate the importance of human example” (Letters and Papers from Prison).

We don’t just exist for ourselves. We exist as a church for the thousands of people that are coming to Jackson County seeking a church home. We exist for all the mission agencies that we support as a church.  We exist for all the people that have yet to be baptized or discipled.

If someone asks, “Why is FBC adding more space?” One answer is that we are building with faith that in time, God is going to fill up both the traditional and the contemporary services. It may take ten years. It may take twenty, but God can do it.

We exist to share Jesus with a lost and dying world.

If we wait until we need the space, we’ve waited too long.

If city planners waited to plan for growth after people came here, they’ve waited too long.  If subdivisions waited until people moved here before they developed, they waited too long.

We are not building for ourselves.  We are building for those who have yet to come.

We are building for those who pass by Washington Street every day and never know why we exist.

We are building for the Nones who are spiritual but do not worship in a church.

We are building for anyone who seeks to know Jesus, who seeks a Christian community, who wants to know more about how Jesus changes a person’s heart like he changed the heart of Zacchaeus.

If we want to be relevant now and in the future, it’s still as simple, but as difficult as telling people that “Jesus loves them, this we know, for the Bible, tells us so.”