We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Friday, December 13, 2013

On Not Keeping Up ("Decline & Renewal" IV)

In recent postings, I have been exploring a series of editorials on the theme of church decline and renewal that were posted earlier this year in Jason Locke's Blog, which comes out of the Churches of Christ tradition.  The series raises important questions from perspectives outside of the mainline, ones that can help mainline churches better wrestle with the shared issues of decline and renewal.

In the fourth posting of the Jason Locke's Blog series, "A Conversation with Lynn Anderson," the author, who is described as an "elder statesman of the Churches of Christ," offers a complex analysis of why West Coast Churches of Christ are in decline.  His opening words, however, start out with a couple of simple observations that sum up much more than just the decline of one group of churches in one region of the United States.  Anderson writes, "Churches are shrinking across the nation (with few exceptions), and not just Churches of Christ. Larger cultural trends are at odds of course, plus general recalcitrance among churches."

The reasons why any single church crosses over into the arc of decline are usually complex, having to do with history, pastoral and lay leadership, personalities, theology and ideology, local demographics, and so on through a long list of potential global, national, and local factors.  Lurking in the background, however, are two simple ones.  The times are changing.  And the churches aren't.  Or, more precisely, in the face of accelerating social and cultural change most churches and their pastors are not adapting effectively to the spiritual needs of today and are not anticipating effectively the needs of tomorrow.  The times are changing, and we aren't keeping up.  All the rest of anyone's analysis is commentary on change and the failure of churches and their leadership to change wisely and in a timely fashion.