Once upon a time the church was a requisite member of the town square. Businesses didn’t open until after church was over, clergy were universally respected and Christian values were a given. The church was a cultural institution.
But no more.
Today when Christians claim that we’re a Christian society or turn to the Bible to justify moral beliefs, they forget that time has passed us by. The rest of society chuckles and says, ‘How quaint.’ Not because the Bible can’t be used to justify moral beliefs, but because some Christians think such beliefs are still widespread enough to be assumed. And they’re not.
Some Christians think that Christianity and the church are still a cultural institution. And we’re not. We’ve ceded that position long ago, and with it the stream of cultural Christians who marched through the doors of a church on Sunday morning because it was culturally expected.
Recognizing this shift (which is hardly new), we need to realize two things:
1) Communication becomes essential.
One of the greatest reasons the church needs to learn how to communicate today is because we’re no longer a cultural institution. People will no longer go to church on Sunday because of cultural norms. Our message is no longer general knowledge. Which means churches must communicate in order to reach a disinterested populace.
We can’t wait for people to come, because they won’t. We can’t assume people know the message of the gospel, because they don’t.
2) This is good news.
The church has become lazy. Riding on the waves of cultural Christians, the local church hasn’t been innovative. There’s been no challenge, no threat, no need to get out there and actually do the work of evangelism.
Losing our status as a cultural institution offers the church freedom. We are either free to fail, or free to be creative.
This is the challenge churches have struggled with for decades as Sunday morning attendance has dwindled. Some churches came to terms with this long ago and radically revamped their approach. These are the churches that are experimenting and innovating. Some churches recognize this shift but have failed to act.
The question is what are going to do: Cling to our lost status as cultural institution and dream of how it once was? Or sing a new song and reach out to a world in need of salvation?