Death defying church planting
In Russell Moore’s recent article entitled Is Christianity Dying?, he proposes that the church in America, even the Bible Belt, is dying. Dr. Moore suggests that the tendency in evangelicalism is to make the church relevant to the culture. This has caused it to compromise biblical fidelity. He writes, “For much of the twentieth century, especially in the South and parts of the Midwest, one had to at least claim to be a Christian to be ‘normal.’ During the Cold War, that meant distinguishing oneself from atheistic Communism. At other times, it has meant seeing churchgoing as a way to be seen as a good parent, a good neighbor, and a regular person. It took courage to be an atheist, because explicit unbelief meant social marginalization. Rising rates of secularization, along with individualism, means that those days are over — and good riddance to them”. However, Dr. Moore does propose that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ will prevail and that “the gates of hell haven’t gotten any stronger, and the Light that drives out the darkness is enough to counter every rival gospel, even those gospels that describe themselves as ‘none.’”
The state of the church in America is indeed a troubling one. I confess that the current stream of news reports from the Charleston shootings, to the redefinition of marriage, to the grotesque murder and selling of babies has left me a bit jaded concerning the health of the church in America and its voice in these troubling times. However, Russell Moore’s timely article tapped into that internal hope that drives me each and every day to pursue this calling the Lord has set before me in church planting. Dr. Moore’s estimation of the church in today’s cultural climate is poignant, “Christianity isn’t normal anymore, and that’s good news. The Book of Acts, like the Gospels before it, shows us that Christianity thrives when it is, as Kierkegaard put it, a sign of contradiction. Only a strange gospel can differentiate itself from the worlds we construct. But the strange, freakish, foolish old gospel is what God uses to save people and to resurrect churches (1 Cor. 1:20–22).” I would humbly add to Moore’s comments here that church planting is the best means for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ to thrive in the midst of this growing cultural contradiction.
We have lost our sense of what the church is and what distinguishes it from the world. Again, Moore rightly defines what is pervasive in our southern expression of almost Christianity, “Almost Christianity, in the Bible Belt, looks like a God-and-Country civil religion that prizes cultural conservatism more than theological fidelity”. However, church planting gives a church planter the opportunity to enter into a culture/city free from certain traditions and preconceived notions of what the church is and build a it from the biblical ground up. It is also telling that church plants are 80% more likely to attract the unchurched or the de-churched in their communities. The “nones” that represent the fastest growing category in all major censuses are far more likely to enter into a small group of people seeking truth together in community than they are to darken the doors of the “institution” that created their distrust to begin with. Right or wrong, church plants have an opportunity to speak truth into the lives of unbelievers far more effectively than established churches. If what Dr. Moore is suggesting is true than I posit that a death defying church planting movement is our nation’s greatest answer to the question “Is the Christianity Dying?”