Freelance Jesus: Church vs. Outreach
The current framework of Christianity is failing.
First a few disclaimers:
1. I am not advocating against spiritual community. In fact, I think we need much more of it — outside of the church.
2. I will never be convinced that the way spiritual communities functioned in Biblical times is still relevant. I believe Scripture must be responsibly interpreted in order to find practical applications for our modern time.
3. I love Jesus.
Church attendance is dropping in the United States. Statistics vary on how rapid the decline is but you don’t have to look far to find a church struggling to stay afloat. Most any religious leader will tell you that our country is becoming increasingly secular. From marriage equality to Roe v. Wade, the church has been on the wrong side of history. In a world that is rapidly advancing, the dated framework of Christianity is becoming increasingly obsolete.
So what makes the church so different from other modern movements? The “church” itself.
Christianity has a long tradition of weekly services. Modern evangelical churches commonly offer 3–4 weekly services including Sunday school, Sunday worship services, mid-week services, and/or prayer groups. The die-hard Christian, who prides themselves in their devotion to their congregation, could potentially spend between 4–8 hours within church walls every week. I know it’s true because I’ve lived it.
In all fairness, modern churches do offer community outreach. Picnics, clothing ministries, addiction recovery meetings, and food pantrys are quite common. However, congregation participation in these programs is overwhelmingly reduced in comparison to weekly services. In order to participate in every community outreach service their church offers, the die-hard Christian would need an additional 2–8 hours/week to do so.
Growing up as a missionary’s kid who attended a Christian school has given me a good perspective on church. I’ve attended several churches in my adult life and found that Christians devote far more time to weekly services than they do to weekly outreach or ministry. Church leaders are stretched thin trying to keep outreach ministries from dying due to lack of congregational participation. To combat this growing problem, many churches have made their outreach ministries bi-monthly or even monthly events.
That’s completely backwards.
What would church look like if the money spent on heating the sanctuary every week was spent on a community project? What if weekly services became a monthly event? What if we only did ministry? What kind of church would that be? Such radical thinking is met with scoffs and excuses yet this lack of adaptation is precisely why Christianity has become irrelevant in modern society. Despite any good intentions, it is a self-serving framework.
Hope for Christianity is in blending the line between church and outreach. That can take on a lot of different faces; whether it’s a bare-bones community group helping out their neighbors or teaming up with community leaders on social issues. Whatever the case, people want to feel like their time is spent doing something that really matters. As a whole, current generations don’t find that in church services, and rightfully so. Christianity’s relevance will continue to decline until the church prioritizes time spent serving others over time spent serving itself. That’s where conversations start, people grow, and hope is found. Call it sacrilegious, crazy, or complete overkill, but it’s a lot closer to living like Jesus than a Sunday service will ever be.