The overwhelming evidence and ongoing discussion of the trending decline of attenders in evangelical churches continues to be a major discussion point in denominations who have built a financial economic dependence on numbers. I find the statistical reporting of the trends both insightful and confusing. As helpful as the data is in noticing a trend, it is, at the same time, disturbing to watch a publishing house behave more like a freelance salesman, telling anyone what they want to hear about a product that fixes everything that is wrong.
Before I’m completely misunderstood, let me say that obviously not everything a publishing house promotes fits this description and not everyone who works tirelessly for a publishing house is out to get money from the market. I imagine most really want to see transforming results come from their attempt to help the local church. I really believe this. I don’t blame the publishing house. I hold the local church to the fire, as it is, in this matter. She is the one responsible.
One of the most interesting observations I make of my ministry archives is that I can tell you places, events, preachers and publishing houses who spend a lot of energy and money to talk about the need to change. It gets communicated like this; “If we don’t do something different now, we are going to miss a generation completely with the gospel.” These are compelling words to a minister. They are words of desperation. They are used to motivate. But why is this coming from a person with a product to sale?
The day may be desperate; but why is it desperate? Is the bottom line slipping into the danger zone? Has the shelf life of the previous product come to the end of it’s life cycle ? Should the church treat her duty like that of a ski shop that puts last years model up for steep discount to make room for this years model? Should the church behave like a grocer who rotates the product according to the expiration date of the milk? I don’t fault either industry from doing what they do, I’m especially thankful that the USDA regulates milk shelf-life. These are good practices for a consumer based business.
Over four years ago I began to ask myself and my church to examine ourselves in light of Scripture. Ultimately, the questions were all boiled down to issues of sufficiency.
Is Scripture sufficient? Is it sufficient to instruct us in all matters of church life? When Scripture speaks to matters or church life are we diligent to do that? When Scripture appears silent on a matter do we have permission to yield to cultural norms and trending seasons of life?
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking on these matters. I’m thankful for the Lord’s patience with me and the long-suffering of the Lord’s people at Eastside Baptist as we attempt to let Holy Spirit teach us this all sufficient word of God, the Holy Bible. Then present it to this current generation as an all sufficient word for the next generation. We are committed to teaching biblical doctrine now, so that any generation to follow will know that this is important. Important enough to go against the trends of our day who are behaving as we once did, desperate to keep hold of a ‘market share’ in order to maintain our economic standard.
Perhaps if evangelical churches behave more like a dutiful mother instead of fun babysitters, there would be fewer people leaving.
There is a tempting lure to be declared by others as creative and greatly concerned for the youth in our day. Are we told in Scripture to be creative and think outside the box in relationship to the things of God? Is it unloving to put biblical doctrine in front of the Lord’s people, young and old? Or should we try to turn the trend around with the philosophies of men rather than being dutiful and obedient to our Lord. As for me and my church we will strive with enduring resolve to trust that the Lord knows how to build His church.
Plea to the Christian publishing house, please stop treating this church like a market share.