A recent study by The Barna Group called “What People Experience in Churches” is quite troubling. “Practicing Christians” who attended church services at least once a month and indicated that religious faith is very important in their life were polled. Less than 50% of these indicated that “Attending church affected my life greatly.” Less than 30% indicated that church attendance made a real difference. Amazingly, 46% of regular participants indicated that church attendance had no affect on their lives either positively or negatively. Willow Creek’s extensive Reveal Study told us essentially the same thing: Their web site reports, “After five years of studying 280,000 in-depth responses from congregants in 1,200 churches across a wide variety of denominations, we have learned “Church activity IS NOT a blueprint for spiritual growth.”
My personal experience in two denominations over a period of 60 plus years affirms what these studies claim. Even churches that are good at helping people make a profession of faith are not very good at helping people grow into mature, committed disciples of Jesus Christ. We seem to been better at getting people “justified” than getting them “sanctified.”
I’m afraid this may be true because we have largely forgotten how to help individuals grow to maturity. This is especially unfortunate for us Methodist since John Wesley put so much emphasis on this very issue. Maturity (Wesley called it perfection) was at the very heart of Wesley’s movement. He took cold, spiritually sick church members, recruited them into small accountability groups, and helped them grow in Christ. He took those who were actually unwanted in the churches of his day because of their social status and transformed their lives through the same process. In addition, he reached many who had simply come to believe that the church was no longer relevant to their lives. Sound familiar?
The good news is that there are churches making mature disciples. It does happen in traditional churches. Perhaps it happens more often in places like twelve step groups, Walk to Emmaus, Cursillo, covenant groups, and some organic/simple churches. These latter churches are sometimes called simple because they focus on the core process of making disciples and are not involved in a lot of the other things that most churches do.
There is a great deal of discussion going on in the United Methodist Church today about the Call To Action. Some believe the recommended actions will reform the United Methodist Church. Others believe it will turn out to be another occasion for “shuffling the chairs on the Titanic.” Ralph Franklin, my college band director used to tell us when we face a problem, “Do something, even if its wrong. If it is wrong you’ll have plenty of people to let you know.” Perhaps the Call To Action will be something even if its wrong. And no doubt there will be plenty of people to point out its faults.