An article in Christianity Today caught my attention some time ago. The editorial comments on Willow Creek Community Church's recent study highlighting a surprising find -- their style of church has been less successful at meeting the needs of more mature believers.
I read the article with great interest as I had been struggling with the mission of "church" for some time. In early Christianity, church was meant to teach those who had made a public profession of their faith and those who had expressed a significant interest in making a public profession. The elements of the church service served to edify the believers so they, in turn, would be the hands and feet of Christ and evangelize the world around them.
Some churches today have moved away from this model and are focused on being places of evangelism and less on teaching. In other words, they are geared (for the most part) toward new or non-believers. Has our world/culture changed so dramatically that it calls for such a shift? Is the classical church model no longer effective in reaching a lost world? Are both Biblical?
I love this quote from the book, Reclaiming God's Original Intent for the Church, which makes an interesting observation:
"During a time when Christianity was outlawed and Christians were the outcasts of society, Christianity grew. And it grew without big-screen presentations and air-conditioned church buildings with comfy seats. Without seeker services. Without evangelistic crusades and programmed gospel presentations. Instead, Christians met in secret to worship together. In fact, deacons guarded the door to screen people attempting to come in."
Christ told us to go and make disciples of all nations. He did not tell us to go and make Christians, but disciples -- there is a big difference. I have seen a huge disconnect when people accept Christ to when they become a mature, faithful believer. It is almost as if it is supposed to happen by osmosis! It is rare to see an intentional outreach effort to build a new believer into a strong and dedicated Christian.
This is the problem I have witnessed with many church models -- they bring you in, but there is no intentional method for walking you through what it means to be a Christian. If you are lucky, you may meet a wonderful person who can mentor you, but this is rare. It is no surprise that we have a fairly large, functionally illiterate (Biblically) generation of Christians (the author of this blog included). This is sad because if a believer does not have a proper foundation for their faith, things become more difficult later in life, especially when we face a crisis or a tough question (such as the accuracy of the Bible). On top of this, challengers of the Christian faith are becoming more and more sophisticated in their arguments.
I have become drawn to this raw and intentional Christianity. And fortunately, I believe my family and I have found it. I have learned more in the past 6 months than I have since I became a Christian as a child (the lack of understanding almost caused me to fall away from church later in life). The confidence to speak with others has also grown. It took finding a church with a new (or maybe old?) way of teaching...and a pastor who wasn't afraid to discuss what many think are complicated topics.