Okay, okay, okay, we get it: church attendance is declining in America. Millennials are leaving the church in droves. Boomers find the paradox of their liberal lifestyles and their conservative values in too much tension to live as potential hypocrites. Xers need to do, and the rock band worship and oft surface level theology of the evangelical American church doesn’t hold their attention. But it’s time that we tell the other side of the story – the side of the story that talks about how winning often leads to losing.
The sheer truth of the matter is, the decline of the church in America today has little to do with today. While we love the idea of thinking that we are in-the-now kind of people, the facts are that our past far too often predicts our future. The success of the American church in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America is what’s wrong with American Christianity today. We are losing members, parishioners, and people of every age demographic; however, lets be clear: we are losing them simply because we were so successful in inculcating culture with our values, that by and large, our tried and true messages, simply recycled, lack an embodied prophetic of how to be and act in an entirely new world.
The truth of the matter is, if we as Christians will dare to appreciate the way in which culture reflects some mirror-darkly version of our former #winning selves, then our capacity to engage in a new era of being Christian in the world can emerge. And, what is more, maybe just maybe we will begin to speak more repentantly about how the church got it wrong on some things.
Ultimately, far too often today, the American church plays the victim. Unfortunately, we are not victims, we are simply the people who preached loving your neighbor and people began to do it. We are a people who preached share your possessions, and we became a people who did it. We are a people who strove to fight for the dignity of every person, and people have began to legalize it. We are a people who stood up for religious freedom, and people have began to practice their religion openly, freely, and safely.
Church, while we would all love to sing those modern hymns of moral and political superiority into eternity, our triumphalism must be replaced by a humble spirit of engagement with our neighbors and citizen partners in the new age. After all, if we do not like the world that has emerged, we have no one but ourselves to blame.