Monday, June 22, 2015

Are the church wars coming to an end?

In the four decades after WW2, religion in America resembled more of a horse race than a dynamic disciple making force. At its peak in the 70's and 80's, churches competed and battled each other to see who could be the biggest and most influential church in the city.  Blame it on the good old American competitive spirit, but today many Christians would look at this competitive motivation as sinful, selfish and off base. It's interesting to look back and see what brought on all this competition between churches.

After WW2, soaring birth rates, economic good times and a focus on normalcy and family converged to create a religious culture in America. Most Americans identified as Christians and so as new neighborhoods sprang up in suburbs all over America, new churches were in high demand. Denominations began building churches and adding the believers to their roles particularly in these suburbs. The process was simple, sort of the "you build it and they will come" method. You found land in a new area of growth, built a building, put a pastor in place, promoted your church brand, opened your doors and waited for the folks to come. The idea was that the better you advertised and better you did church, the larger your church would be.

Churches were in essence, a business and we were in the business of getting people in our church and money to meet our budgets. We operated like businesses and other churches were our competition. Ironically, churches within our own denomination were our biggest competition. I was on staff of one of the largest churches in the city during the 80's when we heard that a pastor of another church in our city had proclaimed that his goal was to bury us! His motivation for ministry was to have bragging rights as the biggest church in town. There was even a constant bantering by the pastors who openly criticized other churches and pastors from the pulpit.  And these were pastors from the same denomination!  Church wars were in full force.  

Evangelism was our cry but what really drove us was our desire to win the church wars and rise above all other churches. Some strategies were less subtle than others. My church had a high attendance day three times a year. Something just didn't set with me that we would be motivated to bring our friends to church to set a record!  Yet it seemed to work because we always had a big attendance on those days. 

This competition between churches seems to be coming to an end but as recent as three years ago I still noticed an almost paranoia about churches taking members away. I coached a pastor who had a great church facility in a prime location in a fast growing bedroom community of a major city. He had a declining attendance for three consecutive years and pointed the blame on the other churches in town. He bemoaned that it was difficult to grow because there was a new church plant in almost every public space in town. I asked him if he did a house to house survey of the neighborhood, how many of those families would be going to church on a regular basis. He admitted that probably one in four or five at best would be church goers. So I asked him, "What if you focused on those who weren't going to church, wouldn't there be plenty in that pond and more than enough to go around?"  I had to convince him that the other churches were not the enemy.  

As our religious culture has changed resulting in fewer Americans going to church, churches are focusing more on reaching the "nones" rather than competing with other churches over Christians. Part of the reason new churches are planting as non-denominational or without the denomination in their church name is to reach those who have been alienated from church.  Our enemy is not other churches who steal our members but the evil one who is drawing people away from God and the church!

So now as pastors have set their sights on the real enemy, instead of looking at the churches in their city as competitors, pastors are beginning to see other churches as partners in the real battle to restore faith to the next generations.  Sure there are still a lot of Christians who church hop and churches are still concerned about "closing the back door", but there seems to be an authentic spirit of cooperation now much more than competition.  

One great example is the Christ Together movement, networking with other churches of all denominations in their city to reach their city for Christ. In Christ Together Austin there are over 300 participating churches of all denominations working together ao that every man, woman and child multiple opportunities to see, hear and respond to the Gospel.  i wrote about it and some other examples of churches working together in my post about the new church culture.  Maybe churches are taking Jesus' pray for unity in John 17:20-23 to heart.

Go here to read about the Christ Together Austin movement of God to unite the church for a Kingdom purpose.  

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