Where in the world is the church going?
Do you ever wonder where in the world the church is going? I do. I recently entered ‘Future Church’ in Google search and I was inundated with articles about what the church will look like in in 5, 10 or more years. I was introduced to cyber churches, virtual reality churches, the death of consumer Christianity and the rise of serving – giving - discipleship churches, simplified churches (that don’t cause burn-out through over-commitment - that complement rather than compete with believer’s lives), micro churches, liquid churches, missional churches and etc.
It seems clear that the current total of over 45,000 denominations worldwide is not sufficient to either satisfy believers nor attract the unchurched. Churches are declining right across the Western world; some say by up to 10%, since the turn of the century. The church has to change!
This avalanche of new types of churches is an attempt to reverse the decline and re-instate the popularity and growth of the Christian church. The tools that help create the imagined future church include social trends, demographic data and cultural changes. Research and resource organizations like Barna, Pew Research Centre and many others, offer a range of information and tools to aid churches in their quest for relevance and their passion to reach their communities for Christ.
But are we looking in the right place to find the answers?
We’ve had over 50 years of the Church Growth Movement which claimed its methods would grow churches based on research, sociology, analysis, etc. But in this same time period Western church declined dramatically!
You may have heard the story of the Fido Dog Food Company: ‘The sales manager of the Fido Dog Food Company grasped the podium firmly as he prepared to speak to his salespeople at their weekly motivational meeting. In a voice loud and clear, he shouted, “Ladies and gentlemen of Fido Dog Food Company, who's got the best packaging in the country?”
As expected, everyone cheered, “We do!”
The sales manager continued, “Whose got the best, most dynamic, most aggressive sales force?”
“We do!” came the enthusiastic reply.
Finally, the boss asked, “Then why is it we're number seventeen out of a total of eighteen dog food companies in the country?”
Silence. People cleared their throats, searched for windows to look out of, played with their pencils.
Finally, a squeaky voice at the back of the room broke the silence with the memorable words, “Sir, it's because the dogs don't like us!”’
Relating to this story is not difficult for Christians. We are losing favour with the people. They don’t like us, or feel any attraction to be with us. They elect not to come to our meetings. Of course, cultural relevance is important. We have to adapt our meetings, presentations and style – even our clothing – to be culturally acceptable and attractive.
As General Booth once said, ‘We need continuity of principle but adaptation of method.’ The methods have to change to reach every generation. For example, in Booth’s era the brass band was an innovative approach that suited the people. But that simply would not work in the 21st century. Now, it’s the rock band and electronic equipment that appeal to the unchurched. Moderns want variety, participation, sights and sounds rather than the unmitigated dullness of an hour in an outdated and irrelevant church.
But is being ‘all things to all people’ sufficient? Are attempts to be contemporarily relevant enough to bridge the divide between the church and the world. Are we on the correct track here?
Revival is the answer?
Revival-minded believers tell us that our only hope is a fresh awakening, like those we have had throughout history. The church needs reviving, because that will result in dynamic meetings and powerful evangelism. They are absolutely correct! What we need is a new Pentecost, the manifest presence of God, awesome acts of power from on high. We can all agree this is our greatest need – but is it enough?
What has happened after God has invaded His church with His awesome presence? Yes, the churches were revitalised; yes, many were converted, but then the fruits of the revival steadily dissipated and the churches relapsed to their former state. When this once-revived church realised how far they had fallen, they cried out to God for another awakening and God, in His grace, poured out the Holy Spirit again on a new generation – and so the cycle continued. The truth is that the churches were not organised or programmed to conserve and continue the work of the God. The old wineskins were not able to hold the new wine of God’s Spirit.
Church history since the Reformation is almost identical to the 400+ years of Israel’s history recorded in the book of Judges. This is an account of incessant apostasy which incurs divine chastening, courtesy of Israel’s enemies. This, in turn, provokes ardent prayers for God’s visitation and deliverance, as God uses anointed leaders (judges) who overcome the oppressors and restore the land to peace.
This recurring cycle of disobedience, foreign oppression, cries of distress and deliverance, could be a prophetic picture for His church today. Israel’s experience was affected by independence and personal preference. ‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.’ (Judges 21:25). There was no blueprint to follow, no king to lead them, no proven models to imitate.
Could this describe today’s church? Could this be why there is so much division and so many denominations and groups? Is it possible that we are in this predicament because everyone is doing as they see fit? Good questions!
Thankfully, we can follow the story in Scripture and see the positive solution to their dilemma. The ultimate goal was to return to the pattern that God had given them and scrupulously follow God’s instructions. David was God’s choice to activate God’s will. He was divinely led to bring Israel under God’s sovereign leadership and he received specific details of how to build the house of the Lord (Solomon’s Temple), even down to the fine details. As Moses did in his day (Exodus 25:9), David was called to follow the pattern God showed him (I Chron 28:19).
David restored divine worship, divine leadership and divine rules for living. Everyone embraced the King’s leadership and plans. Subsequently, the nation rose to an unprecedented level of prosperity, power and influence.
Is this a prophetic picture for us today? Does God want us to return to His pattern of His church? Does God want us to restore the church to the pattern revealed in the New Testament? Is it possible that both revival and restoration will take us to the heights of power and influence in the world?
New Testament Church Restoration
This writer believes that God’s plan for the church is restoration – to re-instate His divine pattern for the church in the last days, before His return. It’s a good thing to seek God for revival but God intends revival to lead to restoration. Each of the many historic outpourings of the Spirit has (usually) resulted in a change in the doctrines or practices of the church. In my revival research I have noticed that revivals are either caused by restoration or produce restoration – not in totality but at least in part. Each revival seems to highlight at least one aspect of church restoration.
Restorationists, (of whom there are many and numbers are increasing rapidly around the globe) believe that when the church follows the revealed Church principles and practices found in His Word, God will unleash His blessing upon our world. They believe that when Jesus returns the church will be ‘without spot or wrinkle,’ (Ephesians 5:27). We might say ‘without adolescent spots or wrinkles of old age’ Just perfect!
‘Restoration is closely related to Revival. On the crest of each wave of revival is that which God is restoring at that time to His Church.’ Nate Krupp
John Robinson (1576–1625) a 'separatist' and Puritan leader, was a great restorationist who couldn’t agree with the unbiblical practices of the Roman church, neither could he approve of the Church of England who held on to many Roman beliefs and practices. He became a Puritan who sought to restore the church from within. He was the pastor of the "Pilgrim Fathers" before they left on the Mayflower and Speedwell for America in July, 1620. At their departure he said to the departing company, "I charge you before God and His blessed angels, that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow the Lord Jesus Christ. If God reveals anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth by my ministry, for I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His holy word .
As you explore these pages may the Lord give you fresh revelation from His Word!
In this new Restoration section we will include articles such as:
1. The Biblical Basis of Restoration
2. Why does the Church need restoring?
3. What is a New Testament Church?
4. Restoration through the centuries.
5. How to become a restored New Testament Church?