(I am including a link to a sermon at the beginning of today’s post. John Mark Comer does an amazing job of describing the condition and mission of the Church in our current age. I will refer to his sermon toward the end of my post.)
I’ve heard it said that 65% of families have not yet returned to church post-Covid. Church leaders are guessing many of their congregants have shifted forever from in-person-church to virtual. One thing seems definite—this is a before-and-after in the timeline of history, and we are looking at undeniable change.
Last week my oldest son’s family joined us for an afternoon on the lake. While the little ones were temporarily mesmerized by their boat ride, we adults were able to enjoy a rare conversation of relative depth. Grant and his wife are both graduates of the Christian school where all five Anderson boys were students. Our sweet little Maisy started preschool at her Daddy’s alma mater on Monday…yes, we’ve come full circle; it seems like yesterday I was toting a baby and a toddler through those preschool hallways. Yikes. So, with his own daughter in mind, my son wondered out loud about today’s graduates. How many are actually transitioning from Christian school to young adulthood with vibrant faith, authentically following Jesus? Maybe a half dozen from each class? I’m not sure what inspired this guesstimate, but even the suggestion was sobering.
And then, a couple of days later I was riding to a bridal shower with my mother-in-law, when she added to the gloomy forecast. Saying something about the current days being the low-point in her own life’s history, referring again to the state of the church.
Hold that thought. Switching gears for just a moment to another, seemingly unrelated story.
A couple of weeks ago I was with my sister when she said something that struck both of us as laugh-out-loud funny. “Hey! I read a book this summer!!” My sister—an extremely devoted follower of Jesus and passionate reader of scripture—does not, generally speaking, like to read books. She went on to tell me about a recent exception—a book that mysteriously showed up in her mailbox. And—“If it had been anything else I would have set it aside and never given it another thought. But this one captured my attention. It’s the history of a missionary school in the Twin Cities…have you ever heard of Bethany Global University?”
Actually yes. LOL. I work there, sort of…
Gina had unknowingly read (and thoroughly enjoyed) a book about the university which just happens to house one of the campuses of Hand In Hand Christian Montessori. (I am currently a teacher at another HIH location.) The Bethany campus has also been the meeting site for a curriculum-writing team of which I’ve been a part for the past two years. And…this week during HIH inservice I’ve met a dozen or so wonderful Bethany Global interns, including my own classroom assistant, a brilliant young man named Kyle (yep, same name as my husband) who is proving to be invaluable as I swim in the deep end of back-to-school.
All of that to say—Gina loaned me her copy of the Bethany Story, and I just finished the last chapter this morning. Still shaking my head over this timely connection.
Now back to the topic of today’s post…
Toward the end of Gina’s book, there’s a relevant paragraph, which I’ll quote:
The world has radically changed since Bethany began seventy-five years ago. Although the world’s population has tripled, the number of Christians has remained a constant 34 percent. This means that even if every person who identifies as Christian truly knew the Lord, there are almost three times as many non-Christians as there were seventy-five years ago.
Maybe I’m an incurable optimist, or maybe I tend to read these kinds of things backwards. But what strikes me as a read this paragraph is… Doesn’t this mean the number of people who follow Jesus has also TRIPLED in seventy-five years?
Hold that thought.
Now. A sermon. The one I linked at the start of this post. Which, if you choose to listen to it—and you should—is another sort of Church history lesson. In a nutshell, Comer suggests this…
The Church was born out of suffering (persecution/martyrdom) and against all odds it has not only survived, but thrived. NOTHING has EVER been able to extinguish the flame of this movement of genuine followers who have committed their lives to devotion to Jesus. The Church (Capital C) CANNOT be defeated. In fact, suffering for Jesus (something we Westerns have a hard time imagining) has always led to mind-blowing growth.
Yes—times are changing for church (small c) in our current context. Comer talks about this, too. He talks about followers of Jesus practicing hospitality, getting to know their neighbors, breaking bread in their homes. In fact, the way he describes the the possibilities for the next era of the Ecclesia…Greek for “gathered”…translated (big C) Church…is not only optimistic—it is downright exciting!
The Church is not dwindling, although it may be moving. (The Ecclesia has always been, first and foremost, a movement.) The Bethany Story made this observation, too. While Christianity was once primary associated with the West, it is currently exploding in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Places where suffering might be more of a given.
I’ll never forget a word picture I read years ago in Randy Alcorn’s Safely Home, a fiction story about the Chinese church. It was an image of glass being crushed, and—the crushing only multiplies the pieces. Churches that suffer tend to grow the most.
Change in the church—small c—is inevitable.
And the Church—big C—is alive and thriving and following Jesus like never before.