Jeff wrote a good post about "disenfranchised" Christians today. In it, he categorizes three types of disenfranchisement from the institutional church (IC):
Without over-generalizing (because I know it's more complex than this)--I can basically see three approaches that disenfranchised people sort of fall into:
For me--not to sound too diplomatic--I resonate with all three in some way. I have been wounded (but didn't really leave because of those wounds); I have been increasingly out-of-place in institutional systems; and I hunger for something more authentic. But of the three, I think I lean the least to number 3, and the most toward number 2.
- There are the ones who have left because they were wounded or abused, and are currently opposed to IC because they view the system as corrupt.
- There are those who have left because they simply became disillusioned, bored, or felt out of place within the system. These tend to view IC as irrelevant and have left to find something else to fill their hunger.
- There are those who have left because they have theological issues with IC in general, viewing it as a departure from original, New Testament Christianity. They deem the current systems as un-Biblical, and are looking for something they believe is more authentic to the Scriptures.
I haven't been wounded by the IC (a few scraped knees, perhaps, but nothing like the spiritual abuse I've read in other blogs). I would say I fall mostly between options #2 and #3 and like Jeff lean most heavily on #2. The comments so far on his blog seem to all resonate around the second option as well.
I think the US is becoming "post-Christian" like Europe already is. If you spend much time in (northwestern) Europe you'll notice that most churches, outside the famous cathedrals and other tourist draws, are struggling along with real low attendance. Many church buildings have been completely repurposed (it is weird buying used books or looking at art in the sanctuary of a former church, and even weirder to eat there). There are exceptions, of course, but church simply doesn't seem relevant to many people there. At least not the building, not the historical IC.
I think that's coming here. In fact, it's happening right now, as we watch. And I don't think it's something that can be stopped, nor necessarily should be. As Jeff goes on to say:
If something is mandated in Scripture, it is a principle that shouldn't be strayed from. The fact is, most of of the IC structure is based on methods, many of which seek to fulfill Biblical principles. But they are only methods. The principles don't change; the methods can, and should change. When we exalt methods to the point that they are more like principles...that spells religion. If a something isn't working, you don't hold onto it just because it's convenient or comfortable. You change it for something that works better.
Organizations come and organizations go. There are not too many trade guilds any more, although at one time they ruled industry and much else in northern Europe. The world changed, economics changed, and they became mostly irrelevant. There are still a few, but for the most part they are of a bygone world. I think there will always be some role for the IC, too. Some people simply like structure. There are symbols and systems of learning that probably should be preserved. Once in a while a really "high church" service can be quite uplifting and moving.
But as Jeff emphasizes, as an effective method the institutional church seems to be losing ground rapidly, especially among the young, and it's not something that PowerPoint slides and a rock band in the worship service is going to fix. How are ya gonna keep 'em down on the pew when they've seen Facebook? Everything now is about collaboration and not just locally but worldwide, instantaneously. It's a peer-to-peer world, baby, and hierarchical, denominational, performance-stage-and-audience-seating IC doesn't seem to work real well in that model. How can IC handle a generation that can generate a gathering in half an hour using text messaging and Twitter? Is it ready to be a part of organic "worship events" that could arise from people wanting to get together now? Right now?
This is similar to an epiphany I had about eight years ago when talking to a friend about 15 years younger than me (so I was 40 and she was 25 if you don't want to do the math). We were talking about cell phones (this was before I had one), and she said two things that really struck me. The first was she saw no need to have a phone in the house - "I thought you wanted to talk to me? So why are you calling the building where I sleep?" sums it up pretty well. Her second point was that no one in her generation left voice messages (this was before texting really took off in the States). "They can see by their missed calls list that I called and they'll call me back if they want to." Here I was, part of a generation that was just getting used to voicemail and suddenly I found vmail was obsolete. Let the machine keep track of it all! Why waste time saying "I called" when they can already see that?
Similarly I am really beginning to think scheduled worship may be obsolete. It made sense in an era where there were limited communication mechanisms and people needed time to ride in from the farm, perhaps, but now days why should any group of people wait until Sunday if they feel the need and desire to worship together right now? Why can't worship "just happen"? Is the IC ready for that? I think not. Because it's still in the "worship takes planning and bulletins and practice to put on the show for the audience" stage. But with blogs and social networking and American Idol and everything else, I think people want to participate more and more. I can see a group of 20-somethings, if they haven't been already turned off from Christianity completely by the static models presented to them as they grew up in IC saying something like, "Hey, let's have church tonight!" and everyone goes and texts and emails and blog posts and Twitters and it happens. I for one think that would be awesome. And I don't see that happening within the bounds of IC.
Anyway, I'll tie up this long and barely intelligible rant. Go read all of Jeff's post. It's worth it.
[And I nominate the word to define the opposite view to all of the above to be "antidisenfranchisementarianism" (especially cool 'cause it's longer than antidisestablishmentarianism, which is a related topic, since one can perhaps trace the start of the IC's decline to disestablishmentarianism, if not before).]