That's a provocative title, but I hope you'll bear with me. My question to you is: Could you demonstrate to the world by yourself or by the events and actions of your church whether or not Christianity is alive today or not? Is there anything that sets you or your church apart from any other religion in the world today? Its certain that there was in the Early Church! Is it still present where you are attending today?
To talk about this, I'm going to do a two part message. The first is designed to help you analyze why you are going to the church you are attending. It is a measure - primarily between you and God - of just where you are at today. You can also use it to evaluate churches you visit if you are just looking for a church in a new town or if you are a new believer.
After that's done, I'm going to talk about what I think is missing in the majority of the church today. While it is true that what is missing is not necessary for getting to heaven, and churches can survive without it, the growth of the Early Church will never be duplicated today without it. If you are a member of a mainline church who is suffering through declining membership, it is worth your time to read this message and pray about some of my conclusions.
I also include some warnings about some of the risks of growth by the wrong methods. It won't apply many places, but I felt led to add it for those places where the warning is needed.
Let's begin with the self-assessment.
I would like you to do a brutally honest assessment of yourselves concerning the reasons you are where ever you are in church today. I'm going to give a list of reasons why people typically come to a particular church. They are all valid reasons why people attend. Not all reasons will apply to everyone. There are no tricky reasons that I'm going to make out later to be bad reasons. I've tried pretty hard to make any of the wrong reasons that people attend church pretty obvious. If they aren't obvious, then you need to get your Bible out and do some reading.
Where there are several related reasons, I generally put the hardest one to admit to first. If you don't say yes to the first reason (and in a few cases I hope you don't), then a later reason in the category might fit better. Many are pairs of extremes. You will probably feel like you don't really fit either one, but analyze your heart and figure out how close you are to each edge mentioned. In some cases, you might honestly answer no to all the reasons in a particular category or yes to all the reasons in a particular category. That is OK.
I would like you to honestly evaluate your own hearts as you read each item, and then write down the score beside the reason if that reason truthfully applies to you today (or you feel it comes pretty close). Each reason has a different score. If you think it applies 75% and no other reason in the category comes close, you can write down a fraction of the score. You don't get to go on the other side of 0 if that doesn't apply to you though. Your possible score range for each question is 0 to the stated value, and I would really suggest that you generally stick to either 0 or the value printed.
Nobody but you and God will see your score, so you can be completely honest. I'm not looking for a "that sounds good - I'll vote for that one..." type of response. You need to honestly evaluate what prompted you to come today. If you're not attending now, but attended in the past, use that time as a basis. If you aren't attending now, then use this as a guideline for prayer when deciding where to attend next.
Then, as you go about this week, I'd also like you to think about what things on this list might have prompted you to come when you were attending church for the very first time. The reasons you came today are almost certainly different than the reasons a person who doesn't know Christ and is looking for a church home or who is a new Christian might give. Neither group of reasons are right or wrong. Each individual has different needs and expectations about church.
This is multiple choice. Feel free to vote as many times as the reasons listed truthfully apply. Remember that the list is just meant to reflect why you are attending the particular church you are at and not why you are attending church in general. You don't get credit for things that you wish you could see happening at the church you are attending. Only reasons that you have an actual expectation of having fulfilled this day (or at the next service or that have been valid in a very recent service) get counted. What happened in your church when your parents were alive has little relevance to today.
The list is long. If you're in a rush, the summary is at the bottom. But I sincerely hope you take the time to reflect on the list and do some introspection before rushing to the conclusions below.
- (+1) I have a special need for someone I know that I want to express to the body of Christians at church so they will pray for that need. I know that people at this church will pray for my friend.
- (+1) I have a special need for myself that I want to express to the body of Christians at church so they will pray for that need. I know that people at this church will pray for me.
- (-4) I came here because I like listening to other people's problems. It makes me feel good about myself.
- (+1) I came here because I want to hear people's needs so I can pray for them right then, but I won't remember enough of them to actually pray about them later.
- (+2) I came here because I want to hear people's needs so I will know how to direct my prayers this week.
- (+3) I came here because I want to hear people's needs so I can pray until they get a victory.
- (+4) I came here because I want to hear people's needs so I can quietly work through the church's bureaucracy and try to help meet those needs of people that God lays on my heart without drawing attention to myself.
- (-1) I came because I wanted to learn more about the Bible from the pastor. I either don't own a Bible or if I do, it mostly sits on the shelf all week. Sunday is the only regular feeding from the Bible I get.
- (+2) I came because I wanted to learn more about the Bible. I often study it on my own and can't learn enough about it.
- (+1) I came because the church is offering a special small group that says it will address my problems and situations. There seems to be one meeting for about any problem area any of my friends or I have.
- (+1) I came because the church is offering an interesting video series. I don't read well, but I understand things when I see them on TV.
- (+1) I came because the church is studying a Christian book I thought was interesting and relevant to me.
- (-1) I came because I wanted to learn more about whatever Sunday School lesson is next. I didn't care enough about it to take any time to study though.
- (+2) I came because I wanted to learn more about the Bible through a Sunday School lesson that I carefully studied this week.
- (+1) I came to learn at a local church because I can't afford to buy a bunch of Christian books or videos to learn from, I'm baffled by the Internet and computers, and church is basically free.
- (+3) I came because this church focuses on the Bible. I don't like churches that put their primary focus on studying other Christian books.
- (+1) I came to learn at a local church because I'm not sure I trust TV or Internet preachers.
- (-2) I came just to learn from the pastor because there isn't any other teacher I would trust to teach me except one ordained by my denomination.
- (+1) I came because I have a question about religion that I haven't been able to find the answer to, and I wanted to ask someone I knew was well versed in the Bible to see if they knew the answer.
- (+1) I came because I learn better when someone explains things to me.
- (+1) I came because I learn better when I can discuss things with other people.
- (-4) I came because I was appointed to be a teacher by the Sunday School Superintendent even though it really isn't my calling. I'm just filling a slot in the roster.
- (-2) I'm a Sunday School teacher, but I'm really just a facilitator. I read over the lesson, and try to make some comments, but mostly I just moderate what everyone else saying and try to keep the discussion flowing.
- (+2) I came because I have a good understanding of what the Bible says and I can give good constructive comments during classes to help fellow Christians understand the Bible better.
- (+4) I came because I have a good understanding of what the Bible says and am comfortable filling the role of teacher to impart that knowledge to the next generation.
- (+1) I came because I love to sing hymns in worship to God. I don't like those choruses, though.
- (+1) I came because I love to sing worship choruses in worship to God. I don't like those hymns, though.
- (+2) I came because I love to sing to the Lord. It doesn't matter whether it's hymns or worship choruses. It's all good.
- (+1) I came to listen to the special music that I knew was going to be performed. I love hearing people who know what they are doing performing for God.
- (-2) I came to perform special music because I'm getting paid to do it. If I had a better paying gig on Sunday mornings, I'd be doing that instead.
- (-1) I came to perform special music because somebody asked me to and I couldn't say no.
- (+2) I came to perform special music as a service to God to bless His people. I play anywhere I can because I love to bless His people in any way I can.
- (-1) I came because I love organ music and the church is the only place I can hear it. Christian radio plays stuff that almost sounds like rock and roll. We've got a professional organist who sounds great on an expensive organ. We don't have to worry about bad notes and don't need anything else. I don't see what people like about that modern style of music.
- (-1) I came because the church has modern instruments. Old organ music is boring. It may be able to sound like lots of different instruments, but there's still only room for one person playing. It leaves me cold. I don't see what people like about that old middle ages style of music.
- (+1) I came because I love to hear musicians playing praise music and using their talents for God instead of in the secular arenas. Drums and guitars fit right into worship. Everyone who can play an instrument can pull up a chair and find a spot. Pianos and organs are OK too. Whatever fits into the worship style of the people is OK with me.
- (+2) I came because I'm good at playing a particular instrument, and want to use my talents to give glory to God.
- (-4) I came to this church because they don't expect the people to ever participate in a time of praise. I'd rather just sit back and respectively listen to the pastor do his thing. I'll praise God at home where nobody can hear me.
- (-2) I came to this church because the people don't interrupt the service with any Amens, Hallelujahs, Praise Gods or other such things. People shouldn't do that.
- (+2) God has done terrific things in my life, from salvation to walking with me day by day. I get excited in a worship service because I can express my love for him freely in an environment where I won't be put down.
- (+2) I came because I love to praise God, and church is a place where I can raise my hands and speak out praises to His name in public without feeling embarrassed.
- (+2) I came because I love to physically demonstrate my love of God. There are banners that I can wave and I am free to jump and run as the Spirit directs (which will, by His nature not lead to confusion or distraction in worship).
- (-10) It's only worth coming to church on Christmas or Easter. Gotta show up for those special days.
- (-5) I came because they don't expect anything of me except to show up and pay my tithes. None of that witnessing to others stuff that some churches seem to think you should do. Leave that up to the pastor. In this day and age, anybody can hear about God in all sorts of ways. I don't need to give a personal invitation.
- (-3) I came because Christ said we shouldn't forsake meeting together as we saw the end times approaching. If it wasn't for that commandment, I'd be fishing.
- (-1) I came because the Bible says we should train up our kids in the way they should go, so I bring them. I wouldn't go if it weren't for my kids.
- (-2) I came because I have a job to do that they are paying me for. I wouldn't come if I didn't need the money.
- (-2) I came because I have a job to do at the church and I have to be there. If I didn't come and do it, it certainly wouldn't get done right (if it even got done at all).
- (+2) I came because I have a job that I love to do at the church and would do outside the church if there was an opportunity. I'm happy if someone else helps me out because I know that training other Christians is the right thing to do and the more time I have, the more ways I can find to help others.
- (-2) I came because I needed to get a copy of the bulletin to see if there were any meetings that were coming up that I needed to get on my schedule.
- (-3) I came because there was a scheduled meeting right before or right after church that I had to attend anyway, so I might as well go to the service.
- (+2) I'm a pretty good administrator. I come to this church because I can help organize things and let the pastor be free to preach, study, and meet people's needs without getting bogged down in the details of running a church.
- (-2) I'm missing something in my life. I feel like I've got an empty hole in my heart that needs filling. Maybe religion might be the answer. I picked this church at random to see if it would help fill the hole.
- (+2) I either noticed this church while I was driving down the street this week, saw an ad for the church, or saw the church website. They claim to have the answers and be a group that will help me. Something prompted me to find out when the services were and attend.
- (-1) I came here because I saw a lot of other people my age going to church there and I figured I could blend in.
- (-1) I came here because I feel I need to go to church and this one is close.
- (+1) I came here because I feel I need to go to church, and someone will bring me to this one since I can't get to a church on my own. This might apply to churches that are easy to get to with public transportation, have bus ministries, or just have willing Christians who will provide transportation for the young or old people who live near or far.
- (+3) I came because I met some Christians who helped me this week, and they asked me if I attended church. When I said no, they listened to what things I thought I would like about church services and what my experiences - both good and bad - with churches in the past were. They said this church would be a good one that matched my expectations. I got the impression they didn't care where I went but wanted to direct me somewhere I could get the help I needed and that I would enjoy.
- (-2) I came because someone who comes to this church invited me to come and worship with them. They assumed that I would like what they liked.
- (-1) I came because this is where my parents attended.
- (+1) I came because this is where my parents attend.
- (-1) I came because this is where I was saved and baptized.
- (-3) I came here because this is the denomination I was raised in and I think this church is the best one of that denomination in this town. I wouldn't think of switching denominations because we're the only ones that do it right.
- (-3) I came because it is of the same denomination I go to in my home town, and although experiencing new things on vacation is part of what it is all about, we can't have that when it comes to church.
- (+3) I came to church while on vacation because I love the Lord and because I want to help spread the good news of what God is doing in our part of the world with others if God directs and I have the opportunity. I like to help lift the faith of God's people and give glory to His name.
- (+5) I came because I felt that God was directing me here for a purpose and a time. I've never gone to this church or denomination before, but God must have some reason for sending me here.
- (-4) I attend the church on-line from my wireless laptop in my own bed on Sunday mornings. I never have to actually show up. If I feel like donating, there's a electronic donation link. I get all the benefits with none of the hassle!
- (-3) I came to this church because it broadcasts its services on the local FM band. I can drive my car into the parking lot, tune my radio station to match, and never even get out the car. How cool is that?.
- (-2) I attend this church via their TV service. I don't actually have to get out and do anything.
- (+4) I attend this church via their TV service, Internet ministry, or radio programs. I'm a shut-in and can't get out to attend services, but they are helping meet my spiritual needs.
- (-3) I came to this church because it had services at a convenient time. I need to have a late service because I'm out late on Saturday nights with my friends and I'm not conscious at 9:00 in the morning.
- (-2) I came to this church because it had services at a convenient time. I need to get done with church early. I don't want to waste all day in church.
- (-1) I came to this church because the services are short and to the point. You can get in and get out fast.
- (+2) I came to this church because I have to work during the day and this is the only church that offered a full service at a time when I could come.
- (+2) I came to this church because they provide all their sermons and adult teaching sessions on-line. If I have to miss a Sunday for some reason, I can still feel like I'm a part of the church and won't miss anything.
- (-10) I came for politically correct and worldly reasons. The denomination this church is a part of has elected people like me to positions of power, so they must approve of my lifestyle. It's good to worship God with people who feel like I do. The less Bible thumping the better.
- (-5) I came for politically correct and worldly reasons. Some of the other churches in town preach too hard a message. This church's denomination may still be hard line, but this church doesn't seem to ever preach anything against the life style I've chosen. If enough of us come here and start working, maybe we can elect some people in the hierarchy and get things changed. I can certainly fit in here without changing. The Bible wasn't written in stone after all. It should change with the times like I have. Salvation without repentance is OK with me.
- (+5) I came to this church because the things I learn here always challenge me to do better the next week. I know I have much to learn and I want to be a Christian that God will commend one day as being a good and faithful servant. I know that I fall down at times, but I'm trying to put my past in the past and move forward as I better understand what God expects of me.
- (+10) I came to this church because they say they believe in the Bible cover to cover, and actually preach, teach, and act that way to boot. I may feel uncomfortable at times, but in my heart, I know they're on the right track and I need to be the one who changes.
- (-3) I came to this church because it is the denomination I was raised in and I turned out all right. Surely nothing has changed in the last 20 years and it must be OK for my children (or grandchildren) too.
- (-2) I come because my husband or wife comes. It would look strange if we went to different churches or if I didn't go at all.
- (-2) I came because my parents make me. The second I get out of the house, I'm gone!
- (+2) I came because my parents want me to come. I love them and have discovered for myself why they think that the church and religion is important. It really helps me deal with situations I experience while growing up and gives me an anchor as to what is right and wrong.
- (+3) I came to church because they have great programs for kids and youth groups where my kids can interact with other Christian kids. The rest of the kids I know that go there seem to thrive and never get in trouble. They must be doing something right!
- (+3) I came because some of my relation started coming to this church. I can see the change in their lives already, so there must be something real there.
- (-4) I came for business reasons. All the powerful people in the city come to this church, so I want to too.
- (-4) I came for political reasons. All the powerful people in government come to this church, so I want to too.
- (-4) I came because I wanted to associate with the right economic class of people. All the wealthy people in town come to this church so I want to too. If I went to one of the less affluent churches, they might expect me to actually pay tithes or something!
- (-5) The flip side of each of the above three is - I came because I'm (the CEO of..., the mayor..., the Senator..., the President..., wealthier than Midas...). I wanted people to see me at church.
- (-4) I came because my favorite TV actor or actress goes to this church.
- (-3) I came here because I'm looking for a wife or husband, girlfriend or boyfriend. I want to find a good person and finally decided I would have better luck at a church than a bar or the Friday Night party on the plains. Religion is the farthest thing from my mind.
Pomp and circumstance, and the reverse
- (-1) I came to this church because they are always having some special speaker or group perform. I like being entertained as long as I don't have to make any decisions about changing my life at the same time.
- (-2) I came to this church because it's the biggest one in town and I can feel proud of that.
- (-1) I came to this church because it's the biggest one in town and I can hide.
- (+1) I came to this church because it's small and I feel I can get to know people.
- (+2) I came to this church because it's small and I feel I can contribute more to God's work.
- (-3) I came to this church because it's the oldest one in town with roots going back to Noah. History and tradition are important to me.
- (-2) I came to this church because it's the newest one in town. I'm a trend setter.
- (-1) I came to this church because it's brand new, operating out of a hotel on a shoestring budget, because I want to be at the cutting edge.
- (+1) I came to this church because I like the pastor.
- (+5) I came to this church because it's the only one in town.
- (+2) I came because a friend I know goes to this church. He/She always seems to be happy and in good spirits. I want some of what they have and they say it is all due to this God thing they've found.
- (+1) I came because my best friend comes here. I'm not convinced they're really different because of going to church, but I'll give it a try for friendship sake.
- (-1) I came to see my friends. I mostly only get to see them on Sunday because my life is so busy there isn't any other time during the week we can seem to to get hold of each other.
- (-1) I came to see my friends. I mostly only get to see them on Sunday because it is hard for us to get out and about at our ages and church is one time that we all make the effort. This could equally apply to old and young.
- (+1) My friends and I see, e-mail, IM, and call each other often, and going to church together is just a bonus. The primary reason I come to church is still to worship God.
- (-1) I came to the church because my friends said that if they got 60 kids in Children's Church, the Children's Pastor would swallow a live gold fish in front of the whole congregation. If we keep it up for two weeks, he's going to swallow two! (Insert other applicable gimmick here.)
- (+2) None of my friends go to church, but I'm so happy at this church, I'm frequently inviting them to come.
- (-3) I like the way old buildings look - the stained glass windows, the padded pews... I don't like sitting on the hard chairs that a lot of newer churches seem to favor.
- (+2) I came to this church because I'm handicapped and the newer buildings are easy to get around in for handicapped people.
- (-2) I came because they have the best parking, air conditioning, sound system, video production system, acoustics, et cetera in town.
- (+1) I came to the church because they were offering a lunch and that's the only good meal I get all week.
- (-1) I came to the church because they have great treats.
- (+1) I came to this church because they have a good nursery and baby care area. I feel safe about leaving my kids with people I don't know here.
- (+1) I came to this church because they provide a Children's service that is geared to my children's age level. The adult service always seems hard for me to follow. I don't think my kids could follow it.
- (+3) I came to this church because the kids get to sit in with the adults during the service. They all pay attention and seem to enjoy it. Nobody seems to get upset if babies cry. They don't lock them away in a special crying room.
- (-4) I came to this church because the format of the services is familiar. They do all the things I'm used to at the right times. I don't like surprises.
- (+4) I came to this church because the Spirit of God is in control. The pastor and the congregation are willing to follow Him if He leads them somewhere else, even if the pastor doesn't end up with time to preach. What God says is more important anyway.
The Holy Spirit
Character of the People
- (-5) I came here because I know that the sort of people who attend this church are all hypocrites just like me. I don't want to feel out of place or challenged to be better. I'm happy just the way I am and don't want to change.
- (+3) People miss me when I'm gone and call to see if anything is wrong. They don't focus only on trying to get new people into the church. They take care of the ones they have.
- (+2) I came because I felt the love that the people had for me and for each other.
- (+2) I came because I could feel the joy of the people as they praised and worshiped God.
- (+2) I came because the church is a peaceful place.
- (+2) I came because the people at the church have gone through a lot of the troubles that I have gone through and they are helping me work out my problems.
- (+2) I came because the people are gentle with me. I've had a hard life and I need some tenderness to be shown to me.
- (+2) I came because the people helped meet my physical and emotional needs. They were good to me when I was down and helped me get back on my feet.
- (+2) I came because the people seem so certain that God is willing to do what the Bible says He will do.
- (+2) I came because the people at this church don't make themselves out to be better than me.
- (+2) I came because the people at this church don't judge me. They say that everyone has made mistakes, including them, and that they will help me to get control of situations, problems, and habits in my life that I don't want to be a part of me anymore.
- (+5) I came because the Holy Spirit has given me all of these fruits. I struggle at times, but on the balance, I am able to show them to others most of the time. I want to be an example to others and to help others experience the joy and contentment I have in my life in this state.
- (+10) I came because the Holy Spirit has given me all of these fruits, and I'm able to walk them out every day. I want to be an example to others and to help others experience the joy and contentment I have in my life in this state.
Special Things Happening
- (-10) I came to this church because I'm sure I will never encounter any manifestation of the Holy Spirit here. It would scare me to know that God was really with His people today and was willing to take the time to talk to them and do things for them. I feel so far from Him.
- (+3) I came because I can feel the Holy Spirit's presence in the place when I drive into the parking lot. You can feel the expectant hush and energy when you enter the doors of the Sanctuary. There's nothing like that feeling in the whole world.
- (+2) I came because I wanted to hear God speak to the congregation with a prophetical word.
- (+2) I came because I wanted to hear God speak to the congregation with a message in tongues followed by an interpretation.
- (+2) I came because I needed to get a specific word of knowledge from God to give me guidance in how to solve a problem or because the church regularly gets words of knowledge from God in how to carry out its affairs.
- (+2) I came because I needed to get a specific word of wisdom from God so I would make the right choice in a matter or because I feel safe in a church that gets regular words of wisdom from God about resolving issues.
- (+2) I came because I have a health problem and I need God to heal it, right now. I know that people get immediate healing at this church.
- (+2) I came because I'm going through a difficulty and I need God to intervene with a miracle, right now. I know that people have had miracles happen in their life when they were prayed over at this church.
- (+2) I came because I feel safe here. There are people who are able to discern when things are going wrong and get things back on track.
- (+2) I came here because it is obvious that people have great faith in God and that he is still carrying out the promises I've read that He made in the Bible.
- (+5) I came because I've been baptized in the Holy Ghost and God has provided access to these gifts to me so that under His direction I can help others and bring glory to the name of Jesus. I only exercise a few, because I think they are multiple gifts and you have to get each one. I'm not seeking the tough ones that really put you on the spot. I'm satisfied with what I have.
- (+10) I came because I've been baptized in the Holy Ghost and God has provided access to these gifts to me so that under His direction I can help others and bring glory to the name of Jesus. I believe that the Holy Spirit provides the gifts as needed to any Spirit filled believer and that I have the authority to use any of them to help bring glory to God. Nothing is done for my benefit or glory.
Now, I realize that was a long list. I also realize that it only scratches the surface. I have probably overlooked many reasons and perhaps even your most important reason for attending church. I hope that you have been as honest as you can be.
The scoring obviously reflects my own beliefs and prejudices about why people should attend church. I'm not saying the score setting was perfect, but it was how I felt today. Yesterday, when I initially scored it, I felt a bit different, so today I adjusted and moved things around when I gave it a final edit. Tomorrow I might feel differently again. Regardless, you still came up with a score. How did you do? Did your score end up positive? Did you hit Super-Christian status or are you an Infidel (at least this week)?
Even the best Christian won't be at the top of their form 100% of the time. Sometimes, you will go to a church service without having the highest reasons. Sometimes, during some low seasons, inertia might be all there is to carry you through a particular service or keep you going from day to day.
Nobody should be down in the mud all the time though. Certainly, an entire church body shouldn't be down in the mud for any length of time, although tragedy can push even a whole body down in the dumps for a season. Look up, for your redemption draweth nigh!
Also remember, that with the exception of the majority of the +5, +10, -5, and -10 items that are listed (which tend to relate to fundamental good or bad traits of a church), the rest are almost all individual. Just because you feel a particular way doesn't mean the person sitting next to you would score the same way. The church may be fine. It may just be you that needs to examine your choice of church or reasons for attending. Let God be your guide.
To solve the problems of today's church, you need to look at each of the reasons why you go to church now. Compare these with those you might have had when you were making the first decision about where to go to church. Have they changed for the better?
Does your church provide any reasons why someone off the street might want to attend and get to know about Christ? Would they come to your church if you asked them or would they shake their heads and say you don't line up with what I know about the Bible (which might only be the most important highlights of Christ's walk on earth)?
What would God say about your reasons? He just might ask some day! Perhaps you need to have a conversation with Him about them right now. If you feel that need, then stop reading and have it. It might be the most important conversation of your life.
Satan is working hard
What, of all of these things, would have caused you to pick Christianity instead of Islam, Buddhism, or any of the other religions of the world? Know clearly that Satan is a great deceiver. In the above reasons, if you substitute the name of a foreign god or idol for God, substitute the equivalent alternate religious text in place of the Bible, and substitute the appropriate group name in the place of Christianity, many would apply equally in the eyes of most people in the world today. Remember that they are not yet Christians and don't know God from Allah, Buddha, or any of a host of other false gods.
This is in no way an endorsement of any other religion. But know this! The power of the living God is all that separates Christianity from another religion in the eyes of the world. If your church or denomination isn't demonstrating it, you are no different than a false religion to those seeking some higher truth.
Satan will fake the vast majority of things that I have listed. He will offer alternatives that seem good. Even the best and most well meaning churches offer alternatives. I run a website. I post sermons and teaching topics on it. You're reading one now. I post Bibles and out of copyright reference materials on it. If people want to read and study the Word, there are a host of on-line or TV based methods that will allow them to do that. Google or other Internet search engines can find a host of answers to any religious question you ask, Christian or otherwise. They might not be the right answers, but if you aren't well versed in the Bible, you might not see the difference.
The only thing that can truly set Christianity apart is what God is actively doing in His people and in His church right now. Sadly, most Christian churches aren't letting Him do much. They may be very active themselves, and indeed, all Christian churches should be active doing works to help the world and demonstrate Christ's love. But you will see all these things being done by other religions and non-religious groups as well. Perhaps we can share Christ when we do the works, but do we? Do we just go to the rescue mission once a month to help out, never sharing the Gospel with anyone? Works are good, but they are rarely a substitute for sharing God's message with others one-on-one. They will never substitute for the power of the Living God being manifest. Israelites were frequently happy with false religions. They were happy with the prophets of Baal till the fire from heaven fell.
1 Kings 18:39:
And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.
The vast majority of those who are not going to a Christian church today don't go because they don't believe there is a God. If they believe there is a God out there, they believe He has no interest in the world today. If they admit He does have an interest in the world today, they feel that He can be reached through any major religion out there. It doesn't matter which one you choose to believe, as long as you are sincere. They all look pretty much alike to a sinner.
They believe the Bible is just a myth, no different from the Greek, Roman, Norse or other legends. They see Jesus as possibly a historical figure that made some sort of difference 2,000 years ago, or maybe just a fictional account that was propagated by the early church. They don't see Him as God Incarnate and certainly don't believe any of the miracles happened. These ideas are lies, propagated from the pit of Hell.
The Church, with minor exceptions, certainly doesn't do anything to counter these lies in the world's eyes. We are living so far below what God has in store for us it is pathetic. When God does intervene and give us a miracle, a word of knowledge, a message in tongues and interpretation, we hide it within our local church and rarely spread the Good News abroad even within our own denominations, let alone the rest of the Christian church or the world. Wouldn't want to be seen as bragging, you know. How many Christians are setting at home studying their Bibles instead of getting involved in a church because they don't see any point? The Early Church experience that should be manifest in every Christian church in the world simply isn't there in most cases. Even many Christians say "Ho, Hum. Why Bother?"
What will change the status quo?
Why is this and how can this be? In many denominations, comprising mostly old main-line churches - the majority in number of churches if not in membership - the Baptism in the Holy Spirit has been downplayed as a one time, Early Church event that has no relevance to life today. One denomination even goes so far as to ban their missionaries from exercising the gifts of the Spirit. I am here to tell you that the Baptism in the Holy Ghost and giving God the freedom to use us through the power of the Holy Spirit is the one and only thing that will reverse the decline in Christianity today and start winning back the people who are increasingly following the false gods of this world!
It will also go a long way to cleaning up our own houses, both corporately and individually. Some denominations might find it a little difficult to promote unrepentant "Christians" to positions of power and authority or to embrace the world quite so tightly if God was speaking at their annual conferences and telling them to knock it off or He'd have to come down there and personally open up some ground underneath them!
"Let everyone who is for God stand on the right. Let everyone who is happy to follow this leader of the world stand on the left!"
If God was allowed to be as active today as He was in the Old Testament, a prophecy like that would petrify a lot of denomination's annual meetings. A few Ananias and Sapphira events wouldn't hurt either, although in today's sue over anything society, they might destroy the church completely.
The Great Commission and the timing
Christ gave His great commission, as recorded in:
28:19Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
, He also gave one other command:
1:4 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.
1:5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
A few verses later, he added:
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
His order was for His disciples to wait for the Baptism in the Holy Ghost before beginning their work. He knew that without God's supernatural help, the church would not survive.
The Baptism in the Holy Ghost was God's plan for His church then and it is still His plan today. The Holy Spirit has many jobs. He convicts mankind of sin. He draws people to seek salvation. He helps you when you study God's word. He comforts you when you are down. That is just a short list. All of those things are available to all believers (and in the case of convicting of sin and drawing to God to everyone in the world - sinner or saved), whether or not they have received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
The Baptism in the Holy Ghost
The power and courage to live victorious lives and to go out into the world and make a difference in people's lives required something more. It required the indwelling fullness of God through the Baptism in the Holy Ghost.
Look at the transformation in Peter's life that Acts 2 made. He went from a cowering disciple, denying that he was even a disciple and living behind a locked door to a speaker in front of huge crowds of people, boldly proclaiming the Gospel message at risk of his own life. 3,000 souls, whose hearts had been prepared to receive the Word by the Holy Ghost were saved in that day, and more were added daily as the newly Spirit-filled disciples taught.
That transformational power of the Holy Spirit is what every church so desperately needs and requires today. It needs to be working in every single Christian. The disciples were in the upper room praying for many days before Pentecost Sunday came. When Pentecost came and the Holy Spirit descended and filled them up, they burst forth to do God's work.
God is just as willing to give you your own personal Pentecostal experience today. It is a gift from God and is freely given. As with all gifts, it must be received to be of any use. Too many are rejecting the gift of God, whether out of fear, feeling burdened with the cares of the world, denominational history, or other reasons.
He isn't a respecter of denominations or people. He is just as desirous to have the Pentecostal power flowing through the Catholic church, Episcopal church, Presbyterian church, Lutheran church, Methodist church and any and all other Christian denominational organizations or Christian non-denominational churches. He hasn't changed. He wants to empower and equip all His church (that's all, y'all). He is still the same God, honoring the same promises He made 2,000 years ago. That His church has split apart and gotten out of harmony and unity over the years brings tears to His eyes. He wants all to be united in Him, with the same power that the Early Church had. He doesn't want any sinner to go to hell being able to claim that He didn't believe in the Bible because none of the Christians were living it out in love and power.
Your church won't be successful with just the fruit of the Spirit operating. It's too easy for the world to emulate. You won't be successful with just the gifts of the Spirit operating. It's too easy to offend or hurt others. You need both. That is why 1 Cor. 13 is between chapter 12 and 14. You need love to show Christ's love for the world through His church. You also need power to show Christ is and that the Bible isn't just a fairy tale told 2,000 years ago. It is 100% truth!
Years ago, a pastor at our church preached a sermon on 2 Sa. 6, where David was bringing the ark of the LORD back to Israel from the Philistines. It was quite a journey, filled with problems because the excitement of David caused him to initially treat the ark casually. He did get it right in the end, and came back with rejoicing and dancing that the ark was returned to Israel. That was the primary focus of his sermon.
I asked the pastor later why he didn't finish preaching that sermon. David's excitement offended Michal, Saul's daughter. She didn't think the king should behave so. He replied that he was doing it before the LORD. He said he would do even more things that she thought vile in worshiping and praising the King. Michal ended up being childless unto the day of her death as punishment from God for her attitude.
The image of retribution for being offended at people rejoicing in God's presence carries forward into the New Testament in other ways. When Christ passed by the fig tree that should have had figs since it was in season and found none, he cursed the fig tree. The disciples remarked at how soon it withered. Other examples show that God will give a fig tree more time to bear fruit on occasion, but it still risks being cut down if it doesn't bear fruit.
In other places the Father is explained as the husbandman of the vine, Christ. The branches that don't bear fruit on the vine are taken away by the Father. Those that bear fruit are purged so that they may bear even more fruit. In that same passage Christ says that the branch cannot bear fruit of itself. There is nothing that a church can do in its own power to bear fruit. It all comes from the vine.
While God wants everyone to reach this state of oneness with Him, not everyone in every church will reach that state in this life. Yet if even a handful in every church do, and the denomination allows them to work in the service as God directs, tremendous things will be accomplished for the kingdom. A church can continue to exist as a caretaker organization without it, but I firmly believe that Christianity needs to set itself apart from the other religions of the world, and the power of God is the way to do it.
Think back again to when the ark was taken from Israel and stored in a temple to a false god. When they came in the next day, the stone idols were on the ground! Satan cannot take any ground that we do not give up. Our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers. It's time to start fighting back in the Spirit instead of using human means. It is the path to success. Let God be with us and let us be doing the works that we see Him doing as Christ did, and we will have the successful harvests of souls like Christ did, not just in our local communities, but spread across the world! Don't risk having the Father prune you for not bearing fruit for the kingdom.
The harvest field
There are, in very rough numbers to keep the math easy, 80,000 souls in Natrona County and 80 churches. That's 1,000 people per church. I can guarantee to you that there aren't any churches on our community that typically run 1,000 on a Sunday Morning. It doesn't happen on Easter or Christmas in the vast majority of the churches either.
There are plenty of people out there that need to hear Christ's message. They need to experience the power and blessings that our Living God wishes to bestow on us. God doesn't want there to be a single doubt in their mind that God exists, sits on His throne, has sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins and has raised Him from the dead on the third day to sit again on the right hand side of God in heaven, just like the Bible said. Even those Philistines soon realized that God really did exist and started trying to actively get rid of the ark! It was just a religious object. See what a difference a billion Christians can make when they are truly walking with the Father. Make a difference in the world today.
This doesn't change either the faith that you need or the acceptance of God's gift of grace and salvation that you still must accept to get to heaven. It doesn't change the repentance you must walk out in your life after accepting His gift. What it does is impart an urgency to your message. It differentiates your church from the host of also ran churches (Christian and non-Christian alike) that Satan is muddying the waters with. It gives the other nations pause as they think of striking out against any nation where God is moving, just as the neighbors of Israel were afraid at times in the Old Testament when Israel was doing what they were supposed to be doing. Will you seek the baptism in the Holy Ghost to give you the power to reach your Jerusalem and Judaea for God? You won't reach the world without it.
David vs. Goliath
I am sure that God would prefer each of the 80 churches to share equally in His burden. But He is equally willing to just end up with two or three running services all day Saturday and Sunday to reach 20,000 each if that is all He can get and He is allowed to stay in control. It is generally safer to have 80 equal churches than a couple mega-churches. The danger of mega-churches is that the leadership has a tendency to get top heavy, driving the need for bigger and bigger in order to support the grand schemes and costs they come up with. Bigger buildings, more ministries in TV, Internet, and print. Soon, God no longer has the control He expects in His Church.
When Satan can take down a mega-church or mega-ministry it can be a knockout blow in a community. It's not as big a problem if every church in town is just as on-fire for God. The people can easily find another place to worship where God is in control. That isn't a blanket condemnation of big churches. There are some fine mega-churches around the world that God is blessing daily. The revival in Jerusalem after the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the upper room had that same explosive mega-church experience.
The problem with mega-churches is that there is another way to get big. A pastor where I once attended church said he could triple attendance in one week. All he had to do was to stop preaching the messages God laid on His heart. You can be sure he didn't take that path. Other sure fire methods to allow Satan to help your church grow...
- Consistently preach only what the people want to hear.
- Don't preach any message about sin. Someone might get uncomfortable. Be all inclusive. Pitch a big tent. Everyone is welcome and accepted in Christianity. Come as you are. There's no need to change your lifestyle.
- Never challenge them to live up to the Bible's standards.
- Never challenge them to read the Bible for themselves. You're the one who dispenses truth. Make sure you never cover the inconvenient bits. Keep the sermon topics safe.
- Let people pray a prayer for salvation in their seats. Altar calls slow things down and make people uncomfortable. Don't mention anything about repentance after salvation.
- If people are saved, don't disciple them. They might have a victorious life and not need you anymore.
- Never ask people to personally sacrifice. They might leave. It's easier to invite your friends if you know they won't be mad at you for asking later.
- Depend on high attendance and low donations along with outside sales of products rather than tithing to support your work. Make it clear that you are doing well and imply that by joining up with your church, God will bless you as well.
- Don't get all scriptural about things like fasting either. In fact, don't promote anything that would keep anyone from wanting to come.
- Don't let the sermons ever go long! I'd never make it on that one. Keep it bubble gum short, because of course people's attention spans are at a gnat's whisker length these days (unless it is a movie or football game on TV that they can stare at for two or three hours, uninterrupted).
- Never have long prayer meetings. In fact, don't plan on any extra meetings. Just plan for Sunday services. Nobody wants any more church than they have to have anyway. Leave the rest of the time free for focus groups that are only marginally related to a Bible study, but that will draw people in to your church.
- Only let your own people that you control and can keep on topic run services whenever possible. If a special speaker should be requested, make sure not to invite any special speaker in that might challenge the people. Pick safe popular leaders like yourself who will go with your flow and make you look good. Try to get singing groups that don't preach at all. Certainly never call it a revival meeting. People might get the impression that they're dead. Can't have that.
- Don't emphasize Sunday School. People should get their training from you. With a bunch of Sunday School teachers, who knows what might get taught. Some Bible might leak out.
- Always preach about the promises of God and the blessings that God wants to give to His people. Use your own leadership as an example. Never mention the conditions that God puts on many of those promises. Don't get me wrong... God is a loving Father and His promises are Yea and Amen, but you need to do your part as well. Sometimes He meets your needs in ways that are completely different than what you want. That's another sermon altogether (Whew, he didn't go there.).
- Write books. Become popular. Preach from the books instead of the Bible. They're cheaper for the congregation to buy and it enhances your bottom line. This is especially true if you've got your own publishing company. By the way, there's a very large pseudo-Christian denomination that uses its own book in just this manner. When they actually are exposed to what the Bible really says, they are amazed that it doesn't really line up with what their book says. Well, I'm sure that God knows what is in their book. But He's going to judge the world based on the contents of His book. What people, including me, have written or said won't amount to a hill of beans.
Be clear on this one thing. There has been great debate in the Christian church over what should form its canon of Scripture or what is included and what is not included in each denomination's Bible. There is a primary division between Catholic and Protestant. In general, all Protestant denominations have a 66 book Bible. The Catholic church accepts a few more books as canonical, so have a larger Bible than the Protestants. I believe The Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome had other books beyond what is generally accepted by the Catholic church today. In the early church there were many other accounts of the time of Christ written by various individuals which were considered and rejected as either uninspired (not given by God through the Holy Spirit), in direct conflict with the remainder of the Bible, or not adding anything new and significant to what was already included.
I do believe that God, through the functions of the Holy Spirit, is able to cause books to be written today expressing His truth. He works through words of knowledge and wisdom, and tongues and prophecy, just as He did in the Early Church. I do not object, in principle, to having one Bible with 66 books and another with 79 or 80. God is perfectly capable of increasing the number of books beyond even that number if He so chooses. However, they will all share one thing in common. The new writings will not be in contradiction with the rest of Holy Scripture. God is a God of harmony. If there is conflict between a writing and Holy Scripture, the specific writing must be rejected and anything else written by the individual must be subject to careful examination. That's just common sense.
If your denomination favors a book not in the Protestant or Catholic Bible and also includes the Holy Bible as a writing that is deemed to be God inspired, then I ask you this. How many times have you read your favored book, cover to cover? How many times have you read the Holy Bible, cover to cover? As a Protestant, I haven't read the Bible through as many times as I should have for my age. However, I have read it through more than once, cover to cover, in more than one translation. If you are following another book, but haven't yet read the Holy Bible, you need to read it. I pray that God will illuminate and make the meaning of every verse clear to you. Then weigh its truth against what your book says. If there are differences, you can be sure God didn't change His mind. Your book is in error and you need to find a new place to worship.
- Seek out popular TV shows where you can get some national exposure. But don't preach the Gospel message and offend the host, or you might not get invited back. Stick with promoting yourself and how God is blessing your church.
- If you're really good, start your own denomination.
- Most of all... never let the service get under God's control - He might condemn what you are doing.
Did he just say allow Satan to help your church to grow? Well, yes he did. If somebody is going to get saved, Satan wants them in a church where they can't do any more damage. If he can get one mega-church that he can shuffle people off to that really isn't affecting his work, the salvation may not be a win on his books, but he has certainly limited his losses. If that new Christian is going to invite people to church, at least have them invite people somewhere that they won't ever hear that they're a sinner and need to be saved. He'd really prefer they get tied into a TV evangelist or similar group so they aren't going to church at all. Much easier to distract them by getting them to start watching other things Sunday mornings. But don't doubt for a minute that he has a hand in at least a few mega-churches as well.
Many items on the above list may fit more closely with strict TV, radio, or Internet ministries than with a true mega-church. And I repeat what I said above. Many mega-churches around the world are doing great things for Christ. The criticisms above are not directed at them.
As with any church change decision, try to seek what God wants you to do first and foremost. This is true whether you are looking at a new big church, a new small church, or one that is just right! It is easy to be lured to particular churches either from your history or the perceived benefits they offer. Clearly larger churches do offer a greater array of benefits and may truly be where God wants you. He may also want you someplace where your presence will make a difference and you won't just be another Christian putting in Sundays among a huge mass of fellow believers.
Try to seek the Will of the Father and do what He tells you to do, even if your own spirit and heart are desiring other things altogether. His Will may even be for you to stay put and seek to constructively improve the church you are currently attending. That can be hard, but it may be His will. Seek first the kingdom of God. Put your own cares behind and all will work out in the end. If you seek to realistically improve your own attitudes about your current church first, it might even make it easier to make the correct choice if you do end up looking for a new church home.
To answer the question posed in the title, Christianity is not dead. God has kept it alive for over 2,000 years. In many parts of the world it is growing at a rapid rate.
It isn't any surprise that some of the greatest denominational growth is in denominations and churches where God is allowed to and encouraged to work and manifest His glory. But in many parts of America today it is on life support. It isn't bearing the fruit the Father would have it bear. Too many main-line churches are just existing, playing out their uniformly scripted Sundays until the last members have died before closing their doors and becoming museums. We need to take back the ground that has been lost over the centuries to Satan.
We are not able to do that solely by our own power. It has been said that Christianity is always only one generation from dying out. If the Christians don't get to work, God might stop it sooner and start over. There is an old saying that if you aren't a part of the solution you are part of the problem. This has never been more true than in Christianity today. Be part of the solution.
If your church is falling down on some or many of these areas, God wants to fix it. He wants to be the one in control. I guarantee that He has a plan for every single group of Christians meeting around the world today. He has a job that He wants to complete through you. He will do His part, as He is always faithful. We need to be doing our parts.
Start in prayer. If you haven't been allowing the Holy Spirit to operate in your church, you need to reread the New Testament. One of the first questions that Paul asked the Christians at Ephesus was
19:2 Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?"
They answered that they had not heard of the Holy Ghost. They only knew of John's baptism (baptism in water). Paul immediately laid his hands upon them, and the Holy Ghost was received with the evidence of tongues and prophecy.
It is needed just as much today as it was then. "Has my flock received the Holy Ghost?" should be every pastor's first question. Many congregations today would have to answer like the disciples at Ephesus... We have not been taught about it nor seen any evidence of it in our church. We need God's help to succeed.
Stand on all of God's promises. They are true and He is faithful. He really meant what He said. It's time to start trusting in Him and get back to our Early Church roots!