The end result of a church’s focus must not merely be a bigger or better church, but a transformed community. The end result of a church’s mission statement must not be the church itself, but a broader community impacted and changed. As we consider serving and impacting the world around us, it is wise to understand the context in which we find ourselves.
Last year, Ligonier Ministries enlisted LifeWay Research in an effort to determine what Americans believe about God and six other essential doctrines. The results were recently published by The Gospel Project in a new eBook called, The State of American Theology: Know the Truth, Loving the Church, Reaching Our Neighbors. While some of it is encouraging, much of it is sobering and warrants our attention. For instance:
- 71% of Americans believe an individual must contribute his/her own effort for personal salvation
- 56% believe their pastor’s sermons are not authoritative over their life
- 52% of Americans believe worshipping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church
How should we respond to these stats?
The Gospel must be our focus
When more than two-thirds of Americans believe they must contribute their own effort to salvation, we clearly have a culture that does not understand the essence of the Christian faith. We do not have a culture that has a basic understanding of the Christian faith, but one that needs to be convinced of its relevance. We have a culture who does not understand the core message of our faith – that Jesus Christ has done for us what we could never do for ourselves, that He has rescued us, that He has suffered in our place and satisfied the wrath of God on our behalf. We must realize that every single week people come to our churches without an understanding of the gospel. What an opportunity!
The Word must be central
Fifty-six percent of Americans believe their pastor’s sermons are not authoritative, so clearly there is a missing conviction that the Word of God is faultless among more than half of the people who attend church. We must put the Word on display in our churches. If the Word is not central in worship gatherings, the worship gatherings are a waste of time. Knowing a time would come when people would long to gather without hearing the Word declared, the apostle Paul told Timothy:
I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and because of His appearing and His kingdom: Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new (2 Timothy 4:1-3).
The itch to hear something new causes many to turn from the soul-sanctifying, timeless truth of God’s Word. Our people don’t need something new; they need consistent feeding on the old, old Story.
The beauty of Christian community must be celebrated
Because more than half of Americans believe that the church isn’t an essential part of their worship, people come to your church every week who think “it’s not that important.” Many have confused a personal faith with the misconception of a “private faith.” The Christian faith is personal, but it is not private. The more we are personally transformed, the less private our faith is. They need to hear that the Church is the beautiful bride of Christ, not perfect but clothed in His righteousness. They need to be invited to participate with other believers, not merely associate with them on occasional “drop-in” church visits.
Download the free eBook
I would encourage you to view the research yourself and download your free copy of The State of American Theology: Knowing the Truth, Loving the Church, Reaching Our Neighbors from The Gospel Project. In addition to the research, this eBook contains helpful articles on theology, the gospel, the Church, and Christian living from R. C. Sproul, Ed Stetzer, Elyse Fitzpatrick, John Piper, Trevin Wax, Sinclair Ferguson, D. A. Carson, Trillia Newbell, Alistair Begg, and many more. Get your copy here.