My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past, present, and future might say to those of us who follow Jesus. Last week I looked into the revelations from the ghost of church past (see the links at the end of this post). And this week we’ll hear from the ghost of church present (here’s Part One).
A Non-Missional Response
The ghost of church present already revealed that the U.S. is a mission field. So, how has the church responded?
By and large, the church hasn’t responded all that well. Here are two statistics that I originally saw in Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay:
- “Roughly half of all churches in America did not add one new person through conversion growth last year.” (Lost in America by Tom Clegg and Warren Bird, page 27)
- “In America, it takes the combined effort of eighty-five Christians working over an entire year to produce one convert.” (Lost in America, page 29)
I think we need to let those stats sink in for a minutes and not rush past them.
First, half of the churches in the US don’t see any conversions in a year. There should be some disclaimers, of course. Many of these churches are small, rural, and in Christianized communities. But not all of them. And of the half that did have new converts, I wonder how many of those are really just biological growth, that is, the children of Christian parents. Are we reaching out into our communities to the unchurched, dechurched, and antichurch?
Second, it takes 85 people working for 365 days to lead one person to Christ! Firstly, this paints a funny picture. It’s hard not to imagine a large and cumbersome committee of stodgy Christians trying to work together to save one soul! Secondly, and more to the point, this isn’t saying that 85 people intentionally worked together for the conversion of one person. The researchers simply took the total number of believers and divided them by the total number of new converts in a given year. Thus we are left with the rather shocking fact that the vast majority of us are not actively engaged in making new disciples.
Here’s the point: there’s a massive mission field right outside the walls of our comfortable church. Right. Outside. The. Walls. And we aren’t responding.
Well, that’s actually not true. We are doing some things.
- We’re preaching sermons. This is a good thing. In the New Testament we see a repeated call for folks to proclaim the good news. So, yay us! Often we preach sermons that challenge our people to be a witness where the live, work, and play. Again, yay us!
- We’re running programs. We have courses on evangelism that we either create ourselves or buy from an expert. We have programs like Alpha, which are awesome! People have come to know Jesus as savior through Alpha and programs like it for decades now.
- We’re supporting explicitly missional efforts. A few of our churches are realizing that we’re not doing a great job, so a few of us start funding missionaries who work right here in the US. It could be through church planting or through an organization like InterVarsity, but some of us are investing in missional efforts.
- We’re actually engaged in missional activity ourselves. I use the “we” in that statement very loosely. Why? Because my guess is that so very few of us, myself included, live missionally on a day-to-day basis. In fact, many of us are so insulated by our Christian sub-culture that we may have to try really, really hard just to have contact with a person who does not know Jesus yet. But there are a few rogues out there living like Jesus did.
The truth is that the statistics show that what we’re doing isn’t really working. Why not? Well, in my humble opinion we’ve focused too much on preaching and programs and not enough of funding missional efforts and being missional ourselves. Our hearts are right but our actions are a bit skewed.
What do you think? How do you see the church responding to the reality that America is a mission field?