If there is one question that comes up regularly in our local churches it is, “How do we stop the decline in our beloved church?” This question comes from a place of concern from people who have been members of their church for many, many years, have wonderfully blessed memories of days past when the church really touched their lives in meaningful ways, and believe it can impact lives positively again, but are concerned about what the future of their local church may be.
Church Consultant Thom Rainer suggests five reasons for the steady decline: 1) the decline of Cultural Christianity within which people often joined local churches for the social, economic, and political benefits, 2) the exit of the builder generation born before 1946 that is/was fiercely loyal to the institutions in which they participated, 3) migration from small towns and rural areas to the cities, 4) faster church transfers as people shop for churches and often join the megachurch down the road, 5) slow response to change and fighting over minutiae in the face of change. (See Rainer’s blog post at thomrainer.com on September 14, 2016)
At CHUMC, we have seen a couple of other major and related factors in CHUMC’s history: 1) white flight following the integration of the schools and 2) rapidly changing demographics in CHUMC’s immediate neighborhood. These factors have led to the steep decline of our beloved CHUMC.
In recent years, CHUMC began to address its reality as a neighborhood church in a rapidly changing neighborhood. Through Holy Conversations, you discerned the importance of focusing on those now in the neighborhood and in partnering with Chapel Hill Preparatory Academy to mentor the children there. This discernment helped fuel a deeper commitment to Project Transformation and the launch of the Hispanic Ministry led by Pastora Idalia. CHUMC also formed a relationship with the German International School of Dallas who rents space here during the week.
CHUMC also remains a proud part of Farmers Branch with a desire to share with all people God’s love. In a city that will be growing significantly in the coming years, the harvest is plentiful.
The seeds are planted for CHUMC to be a thriving, multicultural local church, but it will require effort along with a focus on evangelism. Without the lure of Cultural Christianity, local churches have exponentially fewer people walking through the door looking to join a church. Thus, evangelism is tantamount to the local church being what it is called to be. In fact, it always was. The benefits of Cultural Christianity simply lulled us to sleep, and, frankly, the decline of Cultural Christianity is a positive. If people joined local churches before because of the personal benefits rather than an encounter with the love of God and a desire to love God and neighbor, discipleship may have trended toward shallowness.
As we seek to recommit to the call to “go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything (Jesus has) commanded you,” and to “preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” there are some clear steps we can take to reverse the impact of the decline of Cultural Christianity:
1) Get to know new people and invite them to participate in the Church – You have neighbors, coworkers, club members, etc., who you may not know well but as our Bishop Mike McKee says, “God longs to introduce you to people you do not know so you can introduce them to the God who already knows them and loves them.” This is most important work and the Advent and Christmas seasons are among the best times of year to try and give this a shot once again or for the first time.
2) Reshape how we connect with people we serve – the way local churches often provide services to people is transactional. They receive the service the local church provides and that is it. We need to pursue relational ways of providing the services we provide that connect us with one another on a personal level and provides a bridge to Jesus.
3) New Spaces for New Faces – This is the missional emphasis of the North Texas Conference which acknowledges that the local church campus and Sunday morning worship is not where we are most likely to reach new people in the age beyond Cultural Christianity. We will need to keep our eyes open for ways to build community and make disciples off-campus.
There is hope but it will take effort. We have addressed our CHUMC’s contextual reasons and Rainer’s first reason local churches are dying or are in decline. In future newsletters, we will discuss the remaining reasons. But, for now, keep your eyes open. Who is God longing to introduce you to today?