Part 1 of this blog post series can be found here.
As a second time doctoral student, a Doctor of Ministry student this time, I obviously care about the future of the church. What comes to mind is something that Bill Hybels said closing out one of his great annual leadership summits. He said:
Wow. Right!? Because I prayed that prayer long ago, I committed my life to work to build His church. Whatever that looks like. While I have had a few detours and disappointments on the adventure to do that, I have no less commitment to God and His church. But in praying for insight and reading some things in school, the dramatic changes happening in society and their impact on the church has me wondering who is paying attention.
Church planting is all the buzz now and that's great. But I think some planters and even some traditional pastors who already have what is deemed a "successful church" should consider the changes that are impacting churches across the U.S. and put their minds together on how they can prevent more people from being "DONE" with church. The reality is, that many are already "done" and still going because of family habit, socializing with friends, etc. Don't kid yourself. People on the fringes exist in your dope church. Thus, I think the changes I mention should be taken into account in all decision making for the church.
Here are the next two changes that are impacting the church right now. :
#3 People's Opinion of Relevance has Changed
Many people feel the church has lost its “it” factor, it’s relevance in the eyes of the world. This has come about because people (both on the fringes and involved hard core volunteers) believe that the church cares more about themselves (as in their own survival) then the daily living of people who make up the church body or the community where they find themselves. People are tired of being asked for money but not seeing more community outreach. People are tired of seeing "missions" offering going across the seas but not to their own backyard. People are tired of seeing the Pastor with the "more than they need home" and the third luxury car in the drive way and no increase in the money going into community engagement.
In addition, many people feel that the church simply is not as important to their daily lives as it once was. They find church to be more time consuming and more drama filled by church goers interested in preserving a political stand than admitting that the gospel has many sides and it is neither a republican or democratic. It’s important to note that although many feel the church has lost its relevance, they are still very much hungry for spiritual things. People leave the church because it is no longer relevant.
#4 People's Hunger and Understanding of/for God and Community has Changed
Many are leaving the church is that people are not impressed with the glitz. They want more of the God that is preached on an experiential level. Jacobson writes:
Sure, we now have vast menus of amazing church activities, entertaining events, targeted ministries, well-crafted sermons, flashy presentations, and professional pastors with impressive seminary degrees. But when an unbeliever walks into a church, is he hoping to witness spectacular music and dazzling productions and be won over by compelling arguments or is he looking for real evidence of the living God? Shame on us if all we have are stories about the miraculous things God did for previous generations of believers, yet nothing but lame excuses for why he seems semi-retired today. Who could blame an unbeliever for turning around and walking away unconvinced? 
Imagine that! People can’t find God in church! Church should be a place where people driven by the love of God, embrace the outcast, serve the widows and orphans, love the unlovable, and gives refuge to the immigrant. It should be a place where power is rejected, gender and race is irrelevant, and where the most coveted position is the position of servant. Yet more and more people feel they see and experience the exact opposite as they get “more involved” in the life of the church.
In addition, they want more relationship with the pastor and with others who are also seeking more of God. So many people are tired of doing life on their own, tired of plastic relationships, and are looking for deep, loyal, and authentic communal relationships. This should be a central goal of churches– building community. But not the kind that most want to force together in a “life group.” Christianity was never meant to be lived out in the context of isolation, but rather in the context of community. When people can’t find community, can’t plug-in or access meaningful relationships, they split in hopes they’ll find it somewhere else. When a church learns to do community well, it is a life-giving experience. When churches fail to build community, church just becomes another item on the to-do list and eventually one realizes they may not be alone but they are lonely.
The feeling of being excluded, by definition, creates an intense loneliness. Being one of the only people living raw and authentically in a quest for community, is a lonely feeling. Being the one person who can’t, in good conscience, sign onto the same statement of faith that the group has or back a particular presidential candidate, is a lonely feeling. Watching cliques form as an outsider, and watching people who rise to esteemed positions by way of church politics, is a lonely feeling. People leave church because they don’t see God but do feel lonely.
It is important to notice something before some of you judge 'these people.' These people have not given up on God, they have simply given up on the institutional expression of church. Many of the people interviewed for much of the research I have read share that “they didn’t stop doing things to advance what they believed to be the work of God; they stopped doing things to advance the work of the church. They’ve opted for relationship over structure, doing over dogma and creating with rather than creating for.”
Paying attention to these changes that are impacting churches and with perhaps a renewed heart for discipling and mentoring, the traditional church still has a way to be preventive against this current. As Packard so eloquently stated, “The question is not whether the church in America will exist in 25 years. The question is entirely about what form it will take.” Pastors, planters, leaders...what are you prepared to do? Do you even care to do anything?
Richard Jacobson, Unchurching: Christianity Without Churchianity, (Unchurching Books, 2016), Kindle. 1938-1947.
 Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope, Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith. (Colorado: Group Publishing, 2015), Kindle. 411-412.
 Ibid. 437.