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Church Attendance Is Way Down

 

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports that only 17 percent of Canadians attend a regularly scheduled weekly traditional church service, and this includes Evangelical services.  Of this 17 percent, the majority attendees are older people.  Now that Iím 56 years old, Iím not quite sure when someone actually becomes an older person.  Anyway, what do these statistics say about the future of the  institutional church, especially in Canada since these are Canadian statistics?  Will it survive?  Or should it survive?

 

When I speak of the traditional church Iím speaking of any church organization that presently exists on many streets in North America , including both Liberal and Evangelical organizations.  These churches are at a crossroads, although itís quite possible that the Liberal church has already passed through that intersection.  Whatever the case, the institutional church can proceed in one of at least two possible directions in my thinking.

 

One direction, which seems to me is quite popular, is to look at society around us to see what is working in terms of organizational growth.  For example, we may observe the business world to see how it sustains itself and grows.  We then take their principles of success and implement them into our church life.  If it works for business, it should work for us, shouldnít it?  This pragmatic approach to church life is being used by many churches, whether they realize it or not.

 

One of my Bible College teachers fervently and continually told us that Christians should not be pragmatic.  To be pragmatic is to do things based on the premise that these ways of doing things work, and if they work they must be right. But just because something works doesnít mean itís the right thing to do.  For example, if a robber robs a bank and never gets caught, the robbery worked, but that doesnít mean robbing the bank was the right thing to do.  Pragmatic thinking isnít necessarily Christian, which leads me to the second direction in which the church can proceed.   

 

This direction is based on the premise that the New Testament has something to say about church life.  Iím sure youíre not surprised that this would be my choice of direction.  Of course if you donít view the Bible as inspired by God and authentic then youíd disregard this direction.  But since most Evangelicals claim to believe in the doctrine of inspiration or some variation thereof, itís only logical that Evangelicals use the Biblical approach to church life instead of the Wall Street Journalís approach for business.  I just donít know why we Evangelicals donít use the Biblical approach if we esteem the Bible as Godís Word as we say we do?   

 

If we do turn to the New Testament for understanding, then from a Christian standpoint we are not being pragmatic.  We are not simply doing things because they work but because they are right according to the truth of Scripture.        

 

Iím convinced that the Bible views the church as a group of dedicated individual believers who are joined together by the Holy Spirit and their association with Jesus. The church isnít merely an organizational structure.  Pre-conversion Paul was dedicated to the success of the Jewish hierarchical organizational structure and all that went along with it, but after meeting Jesus He left that all behind and considered it all rubbish. (Phil. 3:8)  The structure that Paul forsook was far from what God originally intended it to be.  Itís not that much different for us today.  I donít believe that Jesus intended the church to be what it now is in western culture.  Paul didnít teach that we merely exchange an old organizational structure for a new one.  He taught that all things in life become new for us once we meet Jesus, church life included.    

 

The New Testament has lots to say about church life, including, leadership, growth, structure, and more.  A quick reading of Jesusí letters to the seven churches in Revelation will clearly show how Jesus feels about church life. Iíll comment on this later.  Iíd suggest that if we donít do as Jesus wants,  He will do it for us, which according to Revelation isnít all that pleasant.

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