I had a church planter visit a class earlier in the semester. He shared with us some very startling statistics on the decrease of church attendance in America. In some places, it was quite alarming. As the church something needs to be done. But what? This church planter discussed his denomination’s plans to plant so many new churches in the next decade or so (I cannot recall the exact figures). This is great in theory but maybe only in theory. Does the presence of more churches necessarily equate with church attendance rising? To paint a poor analogy, let’s take a look at the plethora of Starbucks within cities. The first few that go in are to keep up with demand. But Starbucks continues to build more and more to the city and eventually, the Starbucks are not attracting any new customers, but rather stealing from and competing for current customers at one location or another. In church circles, we would call this sheep-stealing. And to me, the problem does not seem to be because of a lack of churches within cities (I currently reside in a town with 5000-6000 people and more churches than I can count and just for good measure, another one was started within the past year or so). Essentially, the idea is that because these churches are being shaped and conformed to reaching ‘target audiences’ (I dislike this term). Translated, this means that churches are being formed by the likes and dislikes and the members. Church and worship becomes about the benefits it may bring to themselves whether that is a family, happiness, or their favorite music being played in the style they prefer in the service itself. It becomes such an inward-turned church. It is all about what WE want church to be.
But maybe the problem lies within the churches we have already have in place. (I truly do not hate the church. I would have to agree with St. Augustine when he said that the church is a whore, but still his mother. I simply mean to point out that it is easier to blame the decline in church attendance on the lack of churches rather than the lack of love within our own church). Rob Bell gets at the heart of this issue when he poignantly asks who would be upset if churches were outlawed in our towns. Would it be the whole community? Or would it only be the people that attend that church? Maybe if our current churches display the new humanity, if we show the life of the Spirit by the way we live not only inside the walls of the church but on the road when the guy talking on his cell phone cuts us off, or when somebody sneaks ahead of us in line at the supermarket. Paul does call us the body of Christ – the church is the place where God is embodied and thus made known to the world. I don’t know if the myth that more is better will pan out for the church planting movement. But I do know, that it allows us to take the focus off of what we are currently doing in church and maybe that is where our attention is truly needed.