Friday, March 21, 2008

Do People Need a Church?

Attending Church No Longer Important for Many U.S. “Christians”

A recent study conducted by the Barna Group indicates that attending a conventional church is no longer a priority for a majority of self-identified “Christian” adults. According to the study, most adults view several other activities as a “complete and valid” alternative to “experience and express their faith in God” as opposed to attending church. This is a complete departure from traditional views for the past several decades in which U.S. Christians overwhelming held that involvement in a church was the single legitimate method of practicing their Christian faith.

The study includes the following data regarding the percentage of American Christian adults who consider various activities as a valid alternative to church attendance:

* 89% - engaging in faith activities at home with one’s family
* 75% - being active in a house church
* 69% - watching religious television programing
* 68% - listening to religious broadcast radio
* 68% - attending a special ministry event such as a concert or community service activity
* 42% -participating in a marketplace ministry
* 45% - interacting with a faith oriented website
* 42% - participating in live events via the Internet

The study further reveal a growing trend among Americans regarding the role of technology in shaping religious beliefs and practices. For example, 55% of adults report attending a religious service in a conventional church in the past month. During the same period 12% reported participating in religious activity on the Internet.

A companion study by the Barna Group reported that American Pastors and churches are reacting to these trends in different ways. For example, two out of three American Pastors reportedly viewed house churches as legitimate churches. But, only 40% of American Pastors say that they would recommend house churches to someone. A report based on the study states: “Among the pastors least likely to support the legitimacy of house churches were pastors who earn more than $75,000 annually; African-American pastors; and pastors of charismatic or Pentecostal churches.”

View the full article from the Barna Group HERE.

Analysis and Commentary

The trends reflected in this research study have significant import for Apostolic Pastors, leaders, and churches. Some Apostolic churches are addressing these trends by offering supplementary experiences such as "Home Fellowship Groups", and other types of cell groups or small group ministries. A growing number of Apostolic churches are offering videos (sometimes live) and podcasts of sermons or entire services on the web or via other technologies. Apostolic services, resources, and ministries are popping up on the Internet every day.

The main difference, however, is whether or not these types of activities are considered supplementary to a person's experience of being a member of a conventional church or if they are intended to be the full extent of one's faith experience and practice. It is one thing to sponsor home groups as an outreach or personal evangelism method. It is quite another thing for a person to consider a home fellowship group their sole source of religious practice. It is one thing for a church to podcast their sermons on a web site as a service for members to replay them or even to evangelize the unchurched. It is quite another thing for a person to consider listening to preaching via impersonal media the sole expression of his faith.

Here is the crux of the matter. People need a Pastor to whom they are accountable and from whom they can be taught the Word (see Acts 20.28; 1 The 5.12; Heb 13.17). People need a church to which they are connected for the purpose of corporate worship, instruction in the Word, fellowship, and mutual edification (1 Cor 11.18-22; Heb 10.25). God instituted and ordained the church. God instituted and ordained the five-fold ministry (Eph 4.11-12). He knew what He was doing.

Some will argue that the early church met in homes and other places and did originally not utilize buildings and large venues in which to meet. There is some truth to this, but it is often taken out of context. Obviously the church did have humble beginnings. In the earliest of times Christians were forced to meet in homes and other places due to financial constraints and persecution. But, the church always had God appointed Pastors and leaders to guide them and teach them. Furthermore, the Bible and history both dictate that these were not merely stand-alone, independent groups. They were part of a larger, organized body with recognized leaders with an accountability structure. They didn't simply "do their own thing".

Similarly, daughter works and home missions endeavors today exist in the same circumstances. Finances and group size dictate churches meet in homes, storefronts, hotels, schools, and other venues. But, they are still part of a larger body in which there is leadership and accountability (if they are, indeed, legitimate works). The goal of such startup works is to build a large and healthy body of believers, not to be a fringe group in order to believe and practice whatever they desire with no consequence or oversight.

In conclusion, it is important to understand these social patterns for many reasons.
  1. We must ingrain in our children and youth that they should love the local church and be a part of a legitimate assembly throughout their entire lives. This is God's plan. We must emphasize and demonstrate the advantages of being a part of an organized body of believers.
  2. We must understand the mindset of the unchurched and those who claim to be believers but are confused, mistaken, or deceived regarding the Biblical expectations for proper expression and practice of the Christian faith. We should endeavor to reach them and incorporate them into the body.
  3. We must continually fight off the spirit of the world. The mindset of individualism and independence in which our society is steeped does have some positive benefits. But, this same mindset also leads many astray and can lead one down the path of relativism. The church must be mindful of social trends and preferences and use them to our advantage when appropriate. But, we must never forsake the principles of God's Word in order to appear relevant or accommodating to our generation.

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