Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Four Keys for Churches to Survive the 21st Century

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We find ourselves in challenging times. Our culture is growing more and more secular. Christianity is shrinking in America. Many churches are in decline or are dying. Younger generations are leaving the faith. The fastest-growing group in America are the nones. These are people who claim no religious affiliation at all. We look around us and it is difficult to know just what to do. It is going to take leadership if we are going to make it. It is not going to be easy to navigate these waters, but this is the challenge before us. We cannot turn away. We cannot ignore it. We must be faithful in the moment in this moment.

We need to be prepared for what we face, so here are four keys to leading the church in the 21st Century. 

SOULS OVER TRADITION: We must care more about souls than our traditions. Every congregation has traditions. You meet at a certain time. You have a particular order of worship. You may have some type of dress code whether it is spoken or unspoken. You do things a certain way at your congregation and that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with tradition. Churches cannot exist without tradition. A decision is made one day about this or that and before you know it, your church has been doing it that way for 30 years. This is often how traditions get started. Most traditions are harmless, but we must understand that souls are of much greater value than traditions. It is not even close. If one soul can be won by giving up or altering a tradition, then do it. We are called to win souls and we should not allow a tradition to stand in our way.  

Most people understand this but it can be hard because we get comfortable with things the way they are. We like using hymnals rather than a projector. We get used to having midweek Bible study at a certain time. We like our minister to wear a suit. We don’t like change. This is human nature. We want to keep things as they are. This is ok when we are talking about Bible things, but when we’re talking about traditions, we need to be willing to change if it is going to help bring someone to Christ.  

TRUTH OVER CULTURE: We are born into a world that has been corrupted by sin. We are immersed in a culture that is often contrary to the ways of Christ. We have to deal with cultural forces from a very early age. They are all around us and we are influenced by them more than we realize. Why is the church facing the challenges it is facing? Why have things changed so rapidly? It is because of the culture in which we live. The culture is telling us one thing and the Bible is telling us something else. This causes friction. It causes friction in our lives, in our families, and in the communities to which we belong. We cannot escape unscathed. We are all going to feel it.  

We must choose truth over culture. We must stand with the word of God. We must stick with the Biblical answer on gender and sexuality. The Bible should form our morals and ethics. We must choose Jesus over the divisiveness of politics. We must choose the lamb over the donkey or the elephant. The people in the world need to know us as Jesus people above all else. The culture will disappoint, but Jesus will never disappoint. The culture will tell you lies, but Jesus never lies. The culture will lead you down a destructive path, but Jesus saves. Jesus is the truth. We must choose Jesus over culture. The church must decide to be a counter-cultural community that looks like Jesus, acts like Jesus, and talks like Jesus. We are the body of Christ and because of this Jesus should matter more than anything else.

LOVE OVER PREFERENCES: Jesus says,

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Many of us know this verse, but I’m not sure we always do a good job of following it. This verse should be hung in our buildings. It should be taught to our children. It should be professed regularly from the pulpit. Jesus says love is what Christians will be identified by. Love is what is going to set us apart from other groups and movements. People should look at us and be amazed by how we love. I’m not sure this is always the case. I’m afraid we often make a big deal of other things and love gets pushed to the side.

Why is this? I think it is because love is hard. Jesus defines love for us when he gives us the story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10. This story begins with a discussion between Jesus and a lawyer. They are talking about what it means to love your neighbor. This discussion leads Jesus to tell the story of the good Samaritan. Jesus is defining two things for the lawyer. He is defining “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus says our neighbor can be anyone, even someone we hate. Jesus also defines what it means to love. Love costs us something. It cost the Samaritan his time, his resources, and his money. He risked his life by stopping and helping the man. He used his oil and wine to care for the man. He placed him on his donkey. He took him to an inn and he took care of the bill.  

Love is sacrificial. Too often, we just give off the top and call it love. We go through our closets and we give away whatever we weren’t going to wear anyways. We see a homeless man on the street and we give him the loose change we have in our cupholder. This is not love. It’s a nice gesture. It’s a good deed, but it is not what Jesus defines as love. Love comes with a cost. We cannot just give off the top and call it love.

In Philippians 2:3, Paul writes,

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3)

This is what we are to strive for. We are to love one another. We shouldn’t be arguing over whether to sing new songs or old songs. Why? Because we love one another. We shouldn’t be fighting about what special days a person or church observes. Why? Because we love one another. We shouldn’t be concerned with what a person does with his hands in worship. Why? Because we love one another. If we’re going to take Jesus seriously, then we need to let go of our preferences and get serious about loving one another.  

MISSION OVER COMFORT: We are a church on mission. Do our congregations know this? Do they understand that God has entrusted us with a mission? Church is more than just what we do inside the walls of our buildings. Our mission goes beyond our walls and out into the world. If the doors of your congregation closed tomorrow, would your community know it? If not, then you should think about your mission in your town. We are called to be a light to our community and if our communities don’t know we exist, then we are not properly shining our light.

If our congregations are going to survive in the 21st century, then we must get serious about mission. This is going to be hard for some of us because we have grown comfortable with the status quo. Some members only attend Sunday morning and this is because that is all that is expected of them. Sometimes in leadership meetings, we can become overly concerned about what happens at our building and never once talk about our mission to our neighbors. If we are more concerned with our comfort than our mission, then our churches are doomed. We will not make it.  

Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. This is not a call to comfort. It is a call to sacrifice. Our goal is not to live the most comfortable life we can on earth. Our goal is to share the gospel with as many people as we can. This is what will change the world.  

We face great challenges in the days ahead, but we must remember that God has placed us in this moment and he has given us everything that we need to succeed. It is not about our strengths. It is about our reliance on God. We must turn to him. We must look to God for guidance in all that we do. We need to be focused on being a people shaped by the cross. The world is a confusing place, but if we show people the cross, then we can give them hope. We can be a light in a dark world. We can be a community marked by the love of Christ that offers a true alternative to the chaos in the world.

One Response to “Four Keys for Churches to Survive the 21st Century”

  1. Very well said, brother. Agree wholeheartedly. 😀


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