Decline of Christianity


Question & Answer

Q: By Leon

I attend two large and growing church’s (weekly attendance 1500 +/-). In summer it is “bible based” Baptist, and winter a United Methodist Church. Down the road from the Baptist church is a former Episcopalian church, now a Mosque.

Why are some Christian Churches growing in numbers and outreach? Is there any room to find agreement and move on with the work of Jesus Christ ?

A: By Brian McLaren

Dear Leon,

Thanks for these important questions. Regarding the first question about why some Christian churches are growing, beware of anyone who gives you a simple answer. There are many factors influencing why some churches grow, others hold steady, and others decline and disappear. But based on my experiences, churches that grow have at least three things in common:

1. The members treat each other well. If a congregation is full of backbiting, unresolved conflicts, and distrust, people coming in will “smell it in the air” and look elsewhere. The qualities of love, kindness, warmth, and welcome are not sufficient causes for lasting growth, but they are necessary conditions.

2. The members simply can’t shut up about their church. They are so inspired on Sunday that they want to talk about it on Monday at the water cooler or on Facebook. Not only that, but they honestly feel, “My friends’ lives would be better if they could be part of a community like ours,” so they invite them out of generosity.

3. Visitors almost always come because of #2 – a friend who welcomes them. But visitors only become members when existing members welcome them, include them, make space for them, and involve them. Churches that are warm to each other (#1) aren’t necessarily warm to newcomers.

There’s a lot more we could say, but I think any list of reasons for growth would begin with those three.

As for your second question, I think there is definitely room to “find agreement and move on with the work of Jesus Christ.” But here’s the problem: churches are about many things beyond, or even instead of, the work of Jesus Christ. And frankly, many churches aren’t clear on what the work of Jesus Christ is. Is it telling people that God will torture them in hell forever if they don’t join our religion? Is it becoming the chaplaincy for a political party or economic ideology? Is it resisting change and always wishing for “the good old days” and “the old-time religion?” Is it preserving a European subculture? As I’m sure you know, all of these possible reasons for existence have a big pull in many congregations.

That, of course, raises the essential question: what is the work of Jesus Christ? If you ask me, the answer is clear: to learn to love God, neighbor, self, and the earth wholeheartedly. And that’s my dream: that more and more of our churches would rediscover love as Christ’s prime directive (and Paul’s too – remember 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 5:16?). Imagine what would happen if our churches became schools or studios of love, and that all who joined us became a more and more loving version of ourselves?

If we agreed that love is the point, I think that everything would change. Yes, we’d still have our differing viewpoints, but we would consider it necessary, not just to be right, but to be loving, as Christ was.

~ Brian McLaren

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author
Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is a passionate advocate for “a new kind of Christianity” – just, generous, and working with people of all faiths for the common good. He is an Auburn Senior Fellow and a leader in the Convergence Network, through which he is developing an innovative training/mentoring program for pastors, church planters, and lay leaders called Convergence Leadership Project. He works closely with the Center for Progressive Renewal/Convergence, the Wild Goose Festival and the Fair Food Program‘s Faith Working Group. His most recent joint project is an illustrated children’s book (for all ages) called Cory and the Seventh Story. Other recent books include: The Great Spiritual MigrationWe Make the Road by Walking, and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? (Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World).
Brian has been active in networking and mentoring church planters and pastors since the mid 1980’s, and has assisted in the development of several new churches. He is a popular conference speaker and a frequent guest lecturer for denominational and ecumenical leadership gatherings – across the US and Canada, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. He has written for or contributed interviews to many periodicals, including Leadership, Sojourners, Tikkun, Worship Leader, and Conversations.
A frequent guest on television, radio, and news media programs, he has appeared on All Things Considered, Larry King Live, Nightline, On Being, and Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. His work has also been covered in Time, New York Times, Christianity Today, Christian Century, the Washington Post, Huffington Post,, and many other print and online media.
Brian is married to Grace, and they have four adult children and five grandchildren. His personal interests include wildlife and ecology, fly fishing and kayaking, music and songwriting, and literature.

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