Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Death of the American Church

Kites across the street from my house

(Thank you Dave N. for pointing me to the writings of Mike Breen.)

"If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century."
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In "The Obituary of the American Church" British church leader Mike Breen writes about three nails that are being hammered into our churches, signifying their demise. These nails are the original temptations Jesus faced: Appetite, Affirmation, and Ambition. Breen writes: 

"If our enemy gets his way, the American church could be taken out:

• A culture of CELEBRITY (affirmation)
• A culture of CONSUMERISM (appetite)
• A culture of COMPETITION (ambition)"

In the American church we have...


"The problem with many pastors is they make decisions, develop personas, and define success from the lens of what will make them famous (even if they don’t know it or see that they are doing this). So in American church culture, it’s pretty easy to become a celebrity: Grow a huge church. Now all in all, it’s not terribly difficult to grow to be a giant church if you have the right tools at your disposal...but that doesn’t mean the ends justify the means of getting there. For instance, though Jesus was a celebrity in his day, he was willing to say things that ran people off in droves. In fact, the book of Mark chronicles (from about the mid-point of the book on) how people left Jesus to where, at the end, virtually no one was left. No one wanted to be associated with him for fear of the consequences. That’s not something you see too often in American churches."

Celebrity-status-seeking pastors can:

  • disengage community and isolate themselves
  • this sets them up for moral failure
  • make decisions that are numbers-driven and not Kingdom-driven
  • give people a shallow understanding of the Gospel as opposed to a holistic one that leads people to discipleship
  • put the good of their church (their personal Kingdom) over the good of God’s Kingdom
In the American church we have...


"As pastors and church leaders, we do as best we can to provide as comfortable an experience as humanly possible, using every means at our disposal to attract people (and then keep them). So we tailor what we do around their wants and desires. That’s Marketing 101, right? The problem is at the end of the day, the only thing Jesus is counting is disciples. That’s it. He doesn’t seem to care too much about converts, attendance, budgets, or buildings. It’s about disciples. And by nature, disciples are producers, not consumers. Yet most of our churches are built around feeding consumers."

90% of your typical American church's time, energy, and resources are about attracting people. Breen writes: 

"Unfortunately, the means you use to attract people are usually the means you must use to keep them. In other words, if you use consumerism to attract people to your church, you will need to continue using consumer-oriented practices to keep them—or else they will find another church to meet their “needs.” But that consumer mentality is antithetical to the Gospel and to the call of discipleship."

In the American church we have...


"There’s nothing wrong with being competitive, but competition has become warped and twisted within our culture. And at least in the church, we are competitive about the wrong things. Much of the American church finds itself competing with the church down the road. “Are we bigger than them? Do we have more influence than them? Do we have the best/biggest youth group in town? Do people like to get married in our church building? Do people like our church better than theirs?”"

Listen to the truth of this: "Ninety-six percent of church growth is due to transfer growth and not churches striking into the heart of the enemy’s territory. That’s not a win! That’s a staggering loss. Furthermore, for many pastors, we don’t think we’ve won until we’ve won and someone else has lost."

So if my church is "growing" because people have left your church to "join" mine, then we have both lost, and we're caught up in some hamster-wheel numbers game. 

So what are we to do?

  • Sacrifice, which is the cure for Celebrity, Consumerism, and Competition.
  • Lay down what builds you up and give to others instead.
  • Look form anonymity rather than celebrity.
  • Build a culture of producers rather than of consumers. I.e., make disciples, since real disciples produce rather than consume.
  • Fight the real enemy instead of competing against one another.
  • Sacrifice what "I" and "we" want for the glory of God and the advancement of his Kingdom, regardless of our advancement or desires. 
Breen concludes:

"Clearly, this is what Paul was getting after in Philippians 2:6-11 when describing the attitude of Jesus as taking on the attitude of a servant, willing to sacrifice all acclaim and equality with God. It was a willingness to set aside and sacrifice celebrity, consumerism, and competition at the altar of the incarnation."