Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Futility of Fortress Mentality

In the past, people looked to churches for guidance, direction, and values. The majority of people in any given community ideologically agreed with churches even if they were not as active in those churches as they could have been. This is less true today. Churches increasingly find themselves out of step with the worldview of their communities. Therefore, fewer people than ever are listening to what churches have to say.

Churches that want to impact the changing values of their communities will have to prayerfully consider what changes they may need to make to reach those who hold to a different worldview. It is vital that whatever changes are adopted remain within biblical parameters. Biblical truth is always relevant in all time periods and all cultures. The challenge for churches then, is which things are open change, and what are bedrock values that simply cannot be changed no matter how out of step they are with culture. Since many churches are resistant to change of any kind, pastors and church leaders can expect significant opposition from traditionalists within their congregations when trying to implement those changes that are needed.

Many conservative Protestant churches have responded to the changing culture with a fortress mentality. Because these churches are determined to keep the changing culture out, they have encased themselves in a spiritual bubble that is rapidly shrinking. These churches refuse to consider any significant changes in methodology or practice, even though past methods and practices fail to communicate the gospel to the current culture. A number of recent surveys have shown young people are leaving those kinds of churches at an alarming rate. Researchers vary in the exact numbers, but most agree that between 61 percent and 88 percent of young people leave the church after high school and that only 35 percent return, usually around age thirty. Churches cannot continue to pretend that everything is all right. Christians who hide inside religious fortresses often assume they are more spiritual than the communities around them. A growing number of individuals disagree with that assumption.

Michelle Melecson lives in southern Vermont. As a Christian, she is deeply committed to her personal faith in Jesus Christ and is active in a Southern Baptist church. Michelle also considers herself postmodern in her worldview and finds that she often relates to postmodern people better than to traditional conservative Christians. On her Facebook page, Michelle says, “I am a human, and so I fail. I am a Christian, and so I let God pick me back up again. I believe that the key to happiness is to figure out what gifts God has given you and then take those gifts and do great things with them.” Michelle uses her gifts in a variety of ways but most enjoys working through civic groups that address specific needs in her community. She seldom sees churches meeting such specific needs, which is why she often serves the Lord outside the confines of the traditional church where she is a member. To Michelle, spirituality is about making a dierence in the world, not hiding in a spiritual fortress.

Michelle surveyed some of her postmodern peers about their feelings about modern churches, and Michelle’s friend Sheila said that some churches “feel more warm and inviting than other churches.” The lack of warmth that some churches display makes it a struggle for people like Sheila to participate in church. Michelle’s friend Becca said that in her experience, more than 50 percent of the churches she attended spoke “with empty hearts and empty minds, telling you to do this and that without any real commitment to what they are saying. They may talk the talk, they might even walk the walk, but they do not feel anything while they do it.” That lack of passion is also a deterrent to postmoderns. If the church is not passionate about what it believes, why should postmodernists be? Becca went on to say, “Churches are supposed to have people in them acting as good role models. However, this is not the case most of the time.” Like Michelle, Sheila and Becca are not convinced that everyone hiding behind the facade of religion is very spiritual. The fortress mentality adopted by some conservative Protestant churches is just not working. Such a mentality fails to communicate the gospel to postmodernists and also lacks warmth and passion, all of which are vital to reaching the next generation. Surely changes in those types of areas are well within biblical parameters and something churches should consider.

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


  1. Agree that something is definitely wrong, but not sure of the direction to take. I believe that when the Spitit is in our hearts, then it will be in the church and that warmth that people are looking for will be felt within the church. Wish I could say from my personal relationship with the Lord that I am contributing what I should to that warmth!


    1. How many people actually recognize that they are not bringing the spirit to church with them? I have been in so many churches that are good at doing church. With lovely, sweet, wonderful people in them, that are only good at church. They are not experiencing God in their own lives, being changed and transformed by the renewing of their minds daily or weekly. They are beautiful people in a spiritually dead church.

  2. So right on the money Terry! If we are going to reach VT, then our new and existing churches must wake up to this reality. Thanks.

  3. I am in firm agreement. We, as the church, have adopted an institutional mindset that "we have to go as the church with a church message" to impact our world. Therefore we have to plan, plan, plan. Often we never go. We forget that "as we are sent forth by the Lord and the church each day we are representing Christ, the church, and impacting our community for good because Christ is good." We are sadly "institutionalized" in our approach.

    We wish you Godspeed, Terry.

  4. Your observations on the "fortress mentality" are well articulated, Terry. My turn of phrase for FBC Montgomery is to hear and heed God's call to resist becoming a "fort that protects, instead become a factory that produces Christ-following disciples!"

  5. that's my evangelical pulse beat.
    great thoughts on "churchiness".

  6. We just had this discussion on being effective to our community last night at Church.The people in the secular do not envy the Christian walk ,why?

  7. I've often wondered...what would happen if our buildings were taken from us (or we gave them up willingly) and we went back to the way it was in Acts...thousands of house churches. Maybe one one very street...impacting their neighbors. There'd be over a million SMALL churches, NO mortgages (how much could we then give to missions?)..NO church FLUFF, just pure's an interesting thought.

  8. WOW We just discussed this Sunday as Part of my Pastors Sermon!