© 2018 John Casimir O'Keefe

The Death of the Evangelical Church

I could spend days, months or even years discussing the stats. I could come-up with reasons why I think those stats are right or wrong and what they mean. I could add to the discussion all the surveys taken place over the past few years and spend time discussing survey size or who did the survey and what was their agenda. I could, but I won’t. Why? Because all that will get us nowhere. I’ve pounded the stats and surveys over the past and to be honest with you, I’m tired of having the same discussion. Besides, no matter what we debate, how we see the stats, who did the surveys one blearing truth always comes to the forefront:

The Evangelical Church [EC] is Dead.

It is, whether you like to think it is or not, dead in the water. If you do a Google search on “Churches for sale” you would get a result of 38 million possibilities. Granted, not all those sites actually have churches for sale, and many would have the same churches for sale – but, if we take only 10% you still have 3.8 million as a possibility, and if we simply take 1% of those, well you get the picture. The stats simply tell us the truth, but we need to ask another important question.

How did the EC Die?

You may not like my answer, but here goes: The EC self-destructed. I know, it sounds harsh, but I think it’s truth.

Keep in mind, this process didn’t happen overnight, it took generations. Generations of walking away from the teachings of Jesus and into a twisted understanding of the Narrative of Jesus; generation of excluding themselves from the hurts of those around them; generation of marginalizing others; generations of mixing church and politics; generations of missing the mark; generations of pushing people away.

How did this self-destructive mindset take place in the EC?

Here is how I see it:

For decades, the EC has tried to blame the decline in the church on those evil liberals/progressives. They claimed the decline in the mainstream churches was due to their liberal or progressive theologies, while never truly looking into the disruptive nature of their core values. They came to believe that the tighter they held onto their orthodoxy, their fundamentalism, their literal rendering of Scripture, their 1950s view of the culture, they would be immune to the declines. But in pointing fingers, and tightening the screws on others, the EC started to decline.

It’s impossible for the EC to reconcile their conservative faith with science, critical thinking, or the contemporary world. So, instead of trying to understand, they simply reject science and critical thought as evils of the contemporary world. The EC believes that science and critical thinking aren’t equal to a true faith they seek to uphold. You can see this in the way the EC pulled away from public education in favor of home schooling. With home schooling, the EC could control what their children learned, they could control the science, the history, the math. They ignored traditional experts and developed quasi-experts who wrote text books based on the doctrinal teachings of the church, and less on science, history or an understanding of culture.  You can see this in their desire to force the Creation Story into books on science, and how they white wash the Civil War.

This rejection of science, critical thought and the contemporary world caused many who once considered the EC home, to run away.

Whether it’s implied, or straight out stated, money is important to the EC. The EC spends more on building and salaries than it does in helping the poor. Now, I’m not only talking about the Prosperity Gospel, I’m talking about how the EC views money in general. We can see this in what is called The Protestant work ethic. Max Weber’s [a Calvinist] took the theory from the Calvinist [Reformed] theology centering on the idea that the more money you have, the closer to God you are; so, in their theology the rich are closer to God than the poor. We see this idea flowing through the EC. The EC see the poor as something to toss tidbits at in hopes they will simply go away. They see the poor as something dirty, something that needs to be moved away from their communities. Many in the EC would never open their doors to allow the homeless a place to sleep and connect as a community.

By ignoring the poor, many in the EC saw this as a direct violation of the teachings of Jesus. They’ve tried to get the EC to open their doors, but after decades of trying they gave-up and left.

Some have told me, “Well, we’re human. In our humanity we are hypocrites.” Which, if you claim to be a new person in Christ is a rather hypocritical statement unto itself; you can’t claim to be new, and still do the same old stuff. It’s kind of like moving to a new house and giving new people you meet your old address. Over the decades the EC has claimed to be on a faith journey where morals and family values were the center. Yet, many who left have done so because they have seen the EC sellout those values and morals for the sake of politics, cultural power and personal gain.

No matter what you think about your church, no matter how cool you think your Pastor looks like in skinny jeans and a plaid shirt, the reality is the EC is out of touch with the culture. Like it or not, the culture has shifted. People in the 21st century think differently than people in past generations, and the EC is unable to truly address this change. The EC has failed to speak into a culture that seeks diversity, acceptance, transparency and compassion. It failed to connect with those who see church as being out of touch. We can think of this way, the EC may have spoken to her grandpa, but it sure is not speaking to her or her needs.

If the EC is unable to see the needs of the culture why would anyone see them as relevant?

You may disagree with me, but the way Baby Boomers lead, won’t work in this generation. Boomers see their leadership role as a CEO, they’re the boss and you need to do what they say. This generation is looking for a leader who is open to others, open to other voices, open to sharing and being involved with the decision-making process. Now, I’m not talking about people who can speak well, look good, give a good sermon or write great books, I’m talking about true leaders, people who can inspire others with vision and compassion; people who are willing to get down and dirty by getting into the culture.

Over the past decades we have seen many of the EC CEO leaders fall because they have a closed mentality when it comes to leadership, and because of that EC leders cross lines this generation sees as inappropriate.

Many EC ‘leaders’ play it safe and will not address issues facing us today. Because they are so disconnected from the culture, they have no idea what a leader looks like in this generation. They ignore issues like justice, poverty, abuse, police shootings, abuse, violence and so much more. In fact, many EC leaders see these as “political” – yet, those same EC leaders will jump into bed with a political voice if they see it benefiting them personally.

Because the EC is disconnected from the culture, they can’t see what’s in front of their face. They still strive to define the world as if we lived in the 1950s. Given our cultural shift, many people are unable to attend Sunday Morning Services. But, in most cases, the EC has refused to move past the ‘scared 10am hour.’ They refused to shift to another day, or time. So many things are happening on Sunday Morning and the EC has no idea how to address this issue. They have tried with expensive programs and Paid Staff, but they missed.

Because the EC has become so irrelevant to the lives of many, the EC has been replaced with Volleyball, Soccer, Baseball and root cannel.

The EC has spent decades relying on Paid Staff to define their faith. They placed the responsible for sharing and developing others in their faith journey on the Paid Staff. Children’s Pastors are responsible for teaching Children about Jesus, Youth Pastors are responsible for the Youth, and Lead Pastors are responsible for the Adults. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Parents complain about their teen not “accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior” and blame the Youth Pastor.

Because of this the EC lost the ability to share their faith, to understand their faith, to live their faith and share how their faith changed their lives. They replaced sharing their faith with sharing their cool church in hopes the Paid Staff can close the deal. The problem is, that only works until another cool church comes to town, and people leave.

These are the seven reasons I think the EC has died, and if you can think of others – please add your voice in the comments.

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