The Church in a New World

One thing that I find fascinating about the Star Wars movies is the plethora of fictional new worlds that those movies portray:  the desert world of Tatooine, the city-planet of Coruscant, and the lava world of Mustafar are three examples.  Each world has its own characteristics, both helpful and dangerous, and you need to know the characteristics of the world you inhabit if you want to survive and thrive.

We have not traveled to a far, far away planet, but we do live in a much different world than what we used to live in a few short years ago.  Things are very different now from what they were even 50 years ago.  And these changes have had an impact on the Christian Church.  Pastor Roger Haugen shared some observations at an Area Strategy Meeting in Swift Current, Feb 3 & 4.

In the “Old” World, the Church was at the centre of society and it had a valued role:  it trained respectable citizens.  Symbolically speaking, the Church “blessed” the Culture.  We were, after all, a “Christian” nation.  And the Culture “blessed” the Church.  It was important for the country’s citizens to attend Church worship services and all “normal” people did.  The “Old” World unofficially defined “Church” as a building, a pastor and enough laity to pay the bills.

But things are totally different in the “New” World.  Now, the Church is moved to the fringe of society.  The training of good citizens is no longer entrusted to the Church, our schools do it instead.  The Church co-exists in the Culture, but sometimes it needs to address the Culture, speaking out against immorality or injustice in the Culture.  The Culture tends to be either neutral about the Church or sharply negative.  To be a Christian in the New World means being “different” than the rest of the world and it is the “abnormal” people who go to Church.  The “normal” people do not.  Being a Christian also implies discipleship, that is, being trained in what it means to live as a Christian in a sometimes hostile world.

Old World Churches are struggling in the New World.  85% of North American Churches are stagnant or declining.[1] 12.8% of churches are growing by transfer growth,[2] which really isn’t an increase in the Kingdom, just a movement from one place to another.  And only 2.2% of churches are growing by conversion growth,[3] which is an actual increase in the Kingdom. In Canada, out of 30 million Canadians, 24 million are unchurched.[4] Church attendance has dropped from 60% of the population in 1945 to 15% in 2002.  However, Canadian lives are not void of spirituality.  In 2002, 84% of Canadians described themselves as spiritual.

What is needed is a change in our understanding of Church.  The New World Church is a missionary outpost equipping and sending Christians into the world.  A study of Evangelical Lutheran Church of America congregations that are growing found that they shared the following characteristics:

1. There was a strong sense of purpose. The people in those congregations felt that they were doing what God wants them to do.  They always localized God’s mission to their own community and they were always pointed out towards the world.

2.There was a willingness to change. The people were so committed to God’s purpose that they were willing to make whatever changes were needed to get it done.

3. There was strong leadership, both among the laity and the clergy, and there was a willingness to work together.

The study also found that all three of these characteristics had to be present in a congregation for growth to happen.

So I ask you these questions:  Are we strongly committed to carrying out God’s mission in our community?  Are we willing to make changes, even drastic ones, to make it happen?  Do we have strong leadership that are willing to work together to make God’s mission happen?

Sometimes during Lent, Christians give up something that they value or enjoy as a way of remembering what Jesus has done for us.  Could we start to give up our Old World ways for Lent?  I realize that going through change is hard.  But Jesus has already brought us through the greatest change that could ever happen to us.  He has raised us from the dead and given us life.  He has changed us from being objects of God’s wrath into being His beloved children.  He transformed us from enemies of God into a people filled with His Holy Spirit who only want to do what He wants.

That Great Transition was impossible for us to make.  Jesus has done it all.  And He will also give us the guidance and strength that we need to change from an Old World Church to a New World missionary outpost that trains and sends Christians into the world to be salt and light.

Change is not an option.  Change will come upon us no matter what we do.  But we can choose how we react to change.  And, with God’s help, we choose to be a New World Church so that more and more people will know the love of Jesus and have life in His Name.

(This article was written for the March 2006 edition of The Binder, the monthly newsletter of Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church, Swift Current SK)

[1] Leath Anderson, Dying For Change.

[2] Chuck Colson, The Body.

[3] Chuck Colson, The Body.

[4] Transforming our Nations.

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