Sunday I attended the closing worship service for a mainline protestant church in a busy part of the city. Certainly it had ceased to grow and the number of participants had declined but that was not because the church was not needed. It was because the church was not being presented in a way that is relevant to people of the 21st century.
This church was started in 1948 and grew just by inviting people to come. Back then the main way the churches related to the community was simply by having worship and Sunday School classes on Sunday mornings. You gained new people by simply inviting them and it worked! Churches grew all over the country by doing this. However, times have changed! The old techniques can work for some but not for most people today. The old techniques simply do not cut through all the cultural changes in this century. I’ve found that in order to help contemporary people find Jesus Christ in their life, they need to not just hear about it but to experience that life changing power. They need to experience the ministry and love that Jesus taught.
In the 10th chapter of Luke, Jesus made it clear that, to be his follower, we must care for and love other people. We must be like the Good Samaritan and stop and help. Churches today have given up that Good Samaritan ministry and too often just opted for having worship. Worship in some churches is stable and acceptable, in some it is profound and exciting, and in some it is entertaining. However most of the approach to worship today is still out of the 1954 model --singing the hymn and songs and saying the scripture. This is just not reaching new people!
The tragedy is that the best way to reach new people is by communicating the basic message of the gospel -- that being a follower of Jesus Christ allows you to be successful and happy. It works, but we have to deliver the message not in a guilt-driven pattern but in a way that shows how the gospel of Jesus Christ helps all of us in every day of our life. It helps us do parenting better, it helps young adults work through major adjustments, it helps retired people put their lives together after they no longer have a vocation, etc.
It is time for the Church to do ministry that reaches out and really helps people where they hurt, just as the Good Samaritan illustrates. We have to emphasize the results of following Jesus Christ. When people experience the love of Christ in their lives, they want to know more and want to spread that experience to others as well. This is how the Church will bring new people to Christ today. All of the worship, programming and ministry of any church must flow out of that understanding and that mission.