I read an article here: http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0310/p09s01-coop.html that talks about the possible and probable collapse of the American Evangelical Church. I thought the article, written by a Christian for a Christian publication, was well-thought and quite likely, accurate. I highly encourage everyone to go and read the full article.
The American church, as we know it, it is losing a battle. If statistics are correct (and believe, me, I know they can be manipulated), the number of folks attending church is shrinking at a rapid pace. We are not winning new people to Christ, or those that are being converted are rejecting the notion of church as it is now.
I think it would be easy to blame cultural influences (standing on the outside of the world and judging it) or to say we need to look MORE like the culture (compromising and being more of the world than just simply in the world). I say, we need a radical re-thinking of what it means to be an American Christian. Please note that we are Christians first and Americans second. Christianity does not need to be defined by our nationality, our nationality needs to be defined by our Christianity. We need to separate our culture from our relationship with the Lord and see it with fresh eyes, going to the Bible for fresh revelation about what being a follower of Christ looks like.
There is so much wrong, wrong, wrong with the church at large, that it is hard to even know where to begin with a dialogue about the whole thing. However, let's just say that the American view that life is all about ME ME ME has permeated our churches. The American dream that says we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is just a bit "off" in my book. Those things are good, but not the BEST.....have those as rights, but not as the PURPOSE of life. Look up the terms "secular humanism" or "religious humanism" or even "humanism" and think about your own life....how much of our lives, including our involvement in church, is about what "I need" or "I want" and not about what the Lord wants, needs or thinks?
The end of the article has some really interesting things to say about what might come out of this "collapse." I think there are some real gems here, so I close with the end of the article:
Evangelicalism doesn't need a bailout. Much of it needs a funeral. But what about what remains?
Is it a good thing that denominations are going to become largely irrelevant? Only if the networks that replace them are able to marshal resources, training, and vision to the mission field and into the planting and equipping of churches.
Is it a good thing that many marginal believers will depart? Possibly, if churches begin and continue the work of renewing serious church membership. We must change the conversation from the maintenance of traditional churches to developing new and culturally appropriate ones.
The ascendency of Charismatic-Pentecostal-influenced worship around the world can be a major positive for the evangelical movement if reformation can reach those churches and if it is joined with the calling, training, and mentoring of leaders. If American churches come under more of the influence of the movement of the Holy Spirit in Africa and Asia, this will be a good thing.
Will the evangelicalizing of Catholic and Orthodox communions be a good development? One can hope for greater unity and appreciation, but the history of these developments seems to be much more about a renewed vigor to "evangelize" Protestantism in the name of unity.
Will the coming collapse get Evangelicals past the pragmatism and shallowness that has brought about the loss of substance and power? Probably not. The purveyors of the evangelical circus will be in fine form, selling their wares as the promised solution to every church's problems. I expect the landscape of megachurch vacuity to be around for a very long time.
Will it shake lose the prosperity Gospel from its parasitical place on the evangelical body of Christ? Evidence from similar periods is not encouraging. American Christians seldom seem to be able to separate their theology from an overall idea of personal affluence and success.
The loss of their political clout may impel many Evangelicals to reconsider the wisdom of trying to create a "godly society." That doesn't mean they'll focus solely on saving souls, but the increasing concern will be how to keep secularism out of church, not stop it altogether. The integrity of the church as a countercultural movement with a message of "empire subversion" will increasingly replace a message of cultural and political entitlement.
Despite all of these challenges, it is impossible not to be hopeful. As one commenter has already said, "Christianity loves a crumbling empire."
We can rejoice that in the ruins, new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born. I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, numbers, and paid staff its drugs for half a century.
We need new evangelicalism that learns from the past and listens more carefully to what God says about being His people in the midst of a powerful, idolatrous culture.
I'm not a prophet. My view of evangelicalism is not authoritative or infallible. I am certainly wrong in some of these predictions. But is there anyone who is observing evangelicalism in these times who does not sense that the future of our movement holds many dangers and much potential?