Monday, May 21, 2012

Real Christianity is Growing

In my previous post I discussed why cultural Christianity is struggling in North America while real Christianity is thriving. In this post I want to expand that line of thinking a bit more by discussing one of the reasons WHY there is such a difference between cultural Christianity and real Christianity.

Many young adults with only a nominal connection to Christianity have watched as the concept of Christianity has been severely tested in recent years. Too many Protestant television evangelists became money hungry, and too many Catholic priests have molested children. People who have only a vague Christian commitment have distanced themselves from the church under these circumstances. Can we really blame the next generation for abandoning an institution that allows such things to happen? But is Christianity more than just an institution?

The total number of people who indicate they are Christians has naturally dropped as individuals who were on the fringe no longer identify themselves as Christians. The result is a statistical oddity where fewer people think of themselves as Christians, though certain types of churches are rapidly growing. As the culture has changed, the less-robust form of Christianity has imploded. On the other hand, true Christianity, which focuses on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ rather than on man-made traditions, is thriving.

Churches need to discover what makes some churches grow even though the culture is less Christian than before. Most church growth studies focus on mega-churches. While mega-churches can teach us how to do certain things, most churches are unable to do the types of projects or use the methods that mega-churches use. Therefore, we must find some smaller churches that are growing and learn what is causing them to grow. We need to study why small evangelical churches in Vermont are growing even though it is statistically the least religious state in America. We need to learn why churches in inner city areas are suddenly experiencing renewal and rebirth even as the community around them falls apart. Though we should never try to imitate what other churches do, because the context of each church is unique to that church, we can learn biblical principles and practical ideas from growing churches that we can adjust and modify to fit our own situations.

There are many bright spots on the spiritual horizon and by asking the leaders of those smaller churches what biblical principles they are following to reach their changing culture, we can learn to shine the Light of Jesus brighter in more places.

Even though there are bright spots of spiritual renewal on the horizon and the decline in Christianity may not be quite as sharp as statistics say, few Christian leaders in America would say that Christianity overall is growing. Something is obviously wrong with many churches. The problems lie mostly in the inability of the churches to connect with and retain the next generation. Postmodern young adults with only a nominal faith have wandered away from Christianity, and if the church does not do something about it, those young people probably will not come back.

We should commit ourselves to learning what we can do to apply biblical principles to our changing culture and recapture the next generation. Real Christianity has the answers to life’s greatest questions. Real Christianity does change lives. Real Christianity is relevant to all cultures and all time frames and all generations. But we must learn how to extract real Christianity from cultural Christianity in order for the church to start growing again. I will write about that in future posts.

Adapted from Terry Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.


  1. Great post, entirely agree, thanks for posting it!

  2. Great thoughts, Terry. Thanks for using the prod to make us think.

  3. Just playing the devil's advocate here; just because we have people coming to church doesn't mean that there is growth, unless we are measuring growth by numbers. I understand that numbers are important on one hand, but numbers alone don't tell the whole story.

    Also there is a growing number of folks who have left the established(denominational) churches and are fellowshipping with like minded believers in homes and other places. Some of these even have prefered "followers of Jesus" rather than the term "christian".

    Personally I believe the "true" church of Jesus Christ is alive, vibrant and growing, but I am not sure if it always looks like we think it should look like. We all claim that we and our church is among the true, but I often wonder if Jesus himself will claim us.

    In my 37 years of ministry, I have met very, very few people who had much of a problem with Jesus, but it is the institutional church and a whole lot of people who claim to know Him, but walk out their lives so different than Jesus did.

  4. i say about time for a leader to in-lighten the growth in church and addressing issue we have today. it about time we take back what the devil trying to do with the body of Christ and what we have been allowing him to do.the church so long has just preached instead of teaching and preparing,training us and that we have so many children of God standing with no knowledge of the walk! that we are such a mess !!!!we all not just leaders but all of us need to stop playing around with our souls and get back to reality and start letting God lead the church and let him have his way ,instead of us trying to control what we allow God do in the church, we have wanted our way so long we still are acting like it!!!!!!!!!when will we real men of women of God straighten up and stand up!!!!!!! dose any one think its time? Great words of thoughts Terry!!!

  5. I appreciate the the distinction that you have made between "REAL CHRISTIANITY" and "CULTURAL CHRISTIANITY"! The two are not the same. Real Christianity teaches the priority of Disciple Making and the need for obedience teaching to Christ's commands. Small churches can emphasis disciple making as well and maybe even better, in some cases, as large churches. Disciple making is about affective learning or Values Learning and this grows in relational community where the values of Christ are more caught than taught. Again Thanks For Sharing!

    Jay Moore

  6. Thomas, Chet, and Bob,
    Thanks for commenting.

  7. Dave,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree that most people think Jesus is great but are not so sure about the institutional church. I also agree that many Christians are now worshipping in ways that may not get counted in all the surveys, such as house churches. That is why I think REAL Christianity is not in as much trouble of cultural Christianity.

  8. Nicole,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree that far too many churches have not actually taught us how to follow the Lord in our lives. Far too many sermons are weakly prepared, weakly presented and produce weak believers. But when a church begins to focus on Jesus and teaching people how to have a relationship with Him, it changes everything.

  9. Jay,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree that disciple making is about affective values, not just transferring knowledge. Creating affective values is best done in relationship. Glad that you are holding up the banner on these issues.

  10. Look Forward to your future Posts on "Real Christianity". I am looking for ways to "Grow" our Little Church on the Backside of the Desert!

  11. Bill,
    Thanks for the encouragement. Hopefully, my future posts will live up to your expectations.

  12. "Postmodern young adults with only a nominal faith have wandered away from Christianity, and if the church does not do something about it, those young people probably will not come back."
    They were only nominal; therefore they were not actually part of Christianity. So far as I can tell, the focus needs to be on making sure that everyone who turns up on a Sunday knows exactly what he believes and why he believes it. The liberal experiment has crashed and burned; it's time to get back to teaching the Bible, unashamedly and uncompromisingly.

  13. Vincent,
    Thanks for your comment. You are correct that "nominal" Christians are most often not real followers of Christ. But are we to ignore them because they left the church? Or do we leave the 99 and go find the one that is still in need of the gospel?

    I agree that the liberal experience has crashed and burned, and from my perspective, this is a good thing.