Saturday, March 23, 2013
The Fifties Church vs. The 21st Century - Guest Post by Dr. Gary Thompson
In the fifties there wasn’t much to do for entertainment in the rural community where I grew up. The little country church my family attended held a couple of revivals each year. A firebrand preacher was usually invited to bring the “messages” and folks would come from all around to hear him. For that week it was the best “entertainment” in the community. Even the unchurched attended. That’s why revivals worked as an evangelistic outreach. People came to know the Lord through these revivals.
For much the same reason, through the 1950s churches thrived by simply being there. There was not much competition on Sunday, even in our towns and cities. Cinemas, shopping, and sports events weren’t open for business on Sundays. Nothing else to do, might as well go to church! The church was the place to be.
But now it’s the 21st century. The church has plenty of competition. Cinema, shopping, television, the Internet, and a multitude of other activities are competing with the church on Sundays and every other day of the week. We can no longer just erect a building, put a sign out front that says church, and expect people to come.
But that should never have been our strategy for making disciples of Jesus. Those methods made church members, but did not always make obedient disciples of Christ. Jesus never called the church to be a social club where friends gather for a short while and then go home. This kind of church was described several years ago by Chad Walsh in his book Early Christianity in the 21st Century. “Millions of Christians live in a sentimental haze of vague piety, with soft organ music trembling in the lovely light from stained glass windows. Their religion is a pleasant thing of emotional quivers, divorced from the will, divorced from the intellect and demanding little except lip service to a few harmless platitudes.”
This kind of church was described even earlier by the great theologian Elton Trueblood. He suggested that many Christians have been inoculated by just enough “Christianity” to keep them from catching the real thing. My sixty plus years of experience in the church has convinced me that Walsh and Trueblood were right on the money. Very few people in America are atheist or even agnostic. They just believe God doesn’t have much to do with their life. Church members see themselves as “believers.” The problem is they believe in a Jesus that saves, but not the one who calls those he saves to radical discipleship.
The institutional, social club church of the 1950s will not survive the 21st century. But a church that takes seriously God’s call on our lives will thrive. When we feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger (rich and poor), give clothes to the needy, care for the sick, we will attract others who want to be a part of something that makes a difference. When we address life issues such as unemployment, divorce, addiction, and family conflicts, we will attract those who are hurting. When we provide a nurturing place for children and youth and help parents with the awesome responsibility of raising kids in a hostile world, we will attract new families.
When we take the gospel seriously, serving as faithful disciples, God will bless our work of service and our churches will grow in quantity and quality.
Do you agree the methods that might have been somewhat successful in the fifties are not making disciples in the 21st century. What do you think we should change?
Reposted from The Transformative Church website. Read the original article at: http://www.transformativechurch.org/2013/01/25/the-fifties-church-vs-the-21st-century/
About the author:
Dr. Gary Thompson is a retired United Methodist pastor. He writes adult curriculum for the United Methodist Church. His passion is helping the Christian Church more effectively fulfill its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ and helping individuals identify and fulfill their God-given personal mission.