Redefining Church for the Culture

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Is Church That Important? Surveys by Gallup and others have shown that on an average Sunday 40% of Americans say they attend services. When compared to actual attendance records, that number may be half was pollsters reported. That’s right – as few as 20% of Americans may be in a church service on a typical Sunday.  

What’s more, it is not uncommon for churches to have membership roles that are twice, three times, four times or even more their actual attendance. A church of 500 may have a weekly attendance of 150. What does that say about the importance of membership – both to the missing members and to the church leadership?

Perhaps church leaders have not done such a good job at defining what the church is and why it is important. Perhaps we have allowed the culture to define “church” for us. If so, then the world and our fellow church members have a pretty mixed up idea of just what it means to be part of a church.

I remember watching Dana Carvey perform as the Church Lady on Saturday Night Live. I’ll admit that Carvey is a funny guy, but his humor was based on a judgmental, out of touch, prudish, and hypocritical stereotype of what a church member looks like. Admittedly, this stereotype was derived from the fact that there are people like this sprinkled throughout churches, but the vast, vast majority of faithful church members are nothing like this – nothing at all!

Add to this the fact that church members, Christians, and ministers in particular are overwhelmingly depicted as bigots and/or idiots. Again, the entertainment culture not only attempts to get a laugh at the expense of Christians but intentionally or unintentionally portrays followers of Jesus in a negative light – effectively defining for the viewers what they should think about church people.

Then, of course, there are the yahoos from the hate-spewing Westboro Baptist Church who routinely line up to protest the funeral processions of soldiers killed in the line of duty. Their signs paint a one-sided view of God, of God’s people, and of the church. We cannot stop them from using the term “church,” but we cannot ignore that even though their depiction of church bears little resemblance to what we see in the New Testament it does affect how people outside the church define it.

Admittedly it’s not always those outside the church that can give us all a black eye. Some of you well remember the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart episodes. And there are the scandals in the Catholic Church involving improper behavior from priests. There is no shortage of stories of failure that we could site. We know about them; the world is fully aware of them. And there is not excuse for them.

Now here’s the crux of the matter – are we content to allow “church” to be defined by the non-Christian culture or by believers who have fallen? Should not those who love Jesus and love His church not do everything possible to redefine “church”? To proclaim a biblical definition of who the people of God are? To live in such a way as to push against the image our culture has of Jesus’ church? I hope you answer to those questions if “yes.” If so , we who value the church must be intentional and determined to both understand what it means to be in the body of Christ and do all we can to redefine it for our culture.

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