BY JACOB DAHL
It’s no secret that there is a growing divide between the Church as we know it and the culture around us. We’ve experienced the increasing disconnect in Resonate Church, even over the last nine years. Some of the methods that produced incredible fruit less than a decade ago may need to be innovated very soon.
Tim Chester in Everyday Church reports,
100 million people in the US have no contact with church. Among this group are an estimated 13-15 million people who express a commitment to Christ and accept him as their Savior. This still leaves 85 million Americans who are unchurched and unbelieving. The number of adults who do not attend church has nearly doubled since 1991. Over 3,500 churches close their doors every year, and the attendance of more than 80% of those remaining has plateaued or is declining.
We are living not only in a post-Christian context, but in a post-Christendom context. Christendom is the formal or informal alliance of church and state that was the dominant model in Europe from the conversion of Constantine in the fourth century AD onward. The assumption is that Christianity should have privileged status in the cultural and political discourse of the nation. But Christendom is an increasingly spent force in the West. It’s fading fast.
Doing Christendom evangelism in a post-Christendom culture will not work. Most of the current dominant models of church and evangelism are Christendom models. Because we regard people as innately Christian in orientation, we think we can reach them through church meetings.
One thing is for sure: what got us here will not get us there. If we are pursuing new generations, new cultures, and new people: we must implement new strategies.
Andy Stanley says, that the Church is full of “old couches”—ideas that at one time in the past served a great purpose, but will not be thrown out. Even though they desperately need to be, because we’ve become endearingly attached to them.
The Church must pivot in its methodology now or it will lose this generation and those to come. That primary shift is this: we cannot assume any longer people will come to us—we must go to them. We need to do church and mission in the context of everyday life. We can no longer think of church as a meeting on a Sunday morning.
At Resonate, we don’t assume anything anymore. We don’t rely on advertising or free pizza or better carpet in our sanctuaries (because we don’t own any buildings in the first place). We’ve rejected wholesale the idea that people will just show up to church on their own. This may still happen in Nashville but not in the Northwest. The only way a nonbeliever with zero church background will ever step foot in church is because of a personal invite.
We’ve seen unchurched college students experiencing Jesus for the first time more than ever before, here at Resonate Ellensburg. A girl named Katie was invited by her friend to come to our fall retreat. There Katie prayed for the first time in her life. It was there, when she was sitting by herself on a lake dock, that she made Jesus her Lord. Another guy came to our retreat and had to ask one of our staff what sin was. He had literally never been exposed to the concept before. One of our staff girls said she was buying a friend and new attendee of her communion group a Bible for her birthday. This girl had not only ever owned own, she’s never read a single word.
My favorite story though is about a dude named Derek.
Derek plays on the baseball team at CWU. A Resonate Village (community group) meets in his dorm and his friend invited him to come check it out. He did and started coming every week. Eventually one of our staff guys, Ben, invited him to come to church. Derek was interested, but asked Ben, “So what do you guys do at church?”
Let that sink in. This is a new generation and new world we are living in. A college freshman in 2016 has no idea what happens at church. This is beginning to show us a new normal.
Derek actually enjoyed church when he came and kept hanging out with Ben and pursuing Jesus. Last week, Ben told us at a team meeting that Derek had just prayed to receive Christ that morning.
We need to wake up to the fact that Christians live at the margins. Our society has no time for the message of Jesus, and our allegiance to Jesus as Lord puts us on a collision course with the priorities of the culture. Being on the margins rather than in the center will require a change of perspective, a very different mindset.
Christendom was the aberration. Rather than assume we should have a voice in the media or on Main Street, we need to regain the sense that anything other than persecution is an unexpected bonus.
We are returning to an early church way of life, where exile is normal.
We have two ways of viewing the impending exile coming for the Church: threat or opportunity. As the culture around us gets darker, the light of the gospel shines brighter. The contrast increases. Hearts long for the hope of the gospel more than ever before. We cannot go back to the good old days. The only way is forward.
Our prayer is that Resonate Church and the whole of God’s Kingdom would leverage innovation and the brightness of the Gospel to continue pursuing those who don’t yet know Jesus. God calls all of us to His mission - to put on a jersey and get in the game. And we love getting to do that in new, strategic, and ever evolving ways.
So here are some questions to ask yourself and reflect on your effectiveness in the church’s pursuit of the lost:
How many nonbelievers’ phone numbers are in your contacts?
When was the last time you had somebody who doesn’t go to church over for dinner?
Do you tend to push people away who don’t behave like you, talk like you, or vote like you?
What “old couches” are lurking in your life or ministry?
In what ways does your church still operate in a “build it and they will come” mentality?
How is God calling you to live and lead with gospel intentionality daily?
How can the marginalization of the church actually be a good thing in your context?
How are you equipping your family or your church to integrate the gospel into everyday living?
Jacob Dahl was an average student at Washington State University, until God intervened in his senior year. He knew there had to be more to life and started to attend Resonate Church, joined a Village, and went on a spring break mission trip to Tijuana (where he met his wife, Jessica). God continued to transform Jacob, and called him into full-time ministry with Resonate. In 2014, five years after he graduated, Resonate was ready to send its first ever church plant to Ellensburg, WA and Jacob was the clear choice as our first Site Pastor. Today, not only is there a collegiate church thriving at CWU, they are preparing to send a team to Western Oregon University in 2017.
- Tim Chester, Everyday Church
- Andy Stanley, Leadership Podcast, “Lessons from the First 20 Years, Part 1”
If you connected with this story and want to speak with someone about it, email firstname.lastname@example.org.