In this follow-up piece from the launch editorial, Stewart discusses the state of the church in the United Kingdom and how Heal Your Land will stand in the gap to awaken the Church in this hour.
The church in the United Kingdom is in the midst of a crisis with attendance figures continually dropping. Declining attendance figures show the UK has given up with church and it is a picture of gradual continual decline which, if trends continue will eventually see the church disappear from the fabric of the nation.
That is the view you can easily get if you only read the top religious news headlines in the mainstream media. It is also a story the devil is quite happy to perpetuate as it helps to knock the confidence of some in the church that little bit more. The media love a negative story and they also love to bash the church, so when the two themes come together at the same time the media goes to town.
The truth is though, that whilst overall church attendance figures are coming down (and have been for quite a few decades now), that does not tell the whole story and nor are attendance figures a sensible metric by which to measure the strength of the church. If you look at the Church of England in isolation, it is obvious less people are attending those congregations and more people are identifying themselves as having no religious affiliation, that is of course only a small sector of the church.
There are many reasons for this decline: style of church might be a reason (black majority and Pentecostal churches have been growing at a high rate in recent years), or perhaps it has more to do with the direction the church has gone. After all, the success of the church is not (or should not) be a question of numbers, more the fervency of faith, scriptural basis of teaching and a place that believers are part of, not something they exclusively go to.
Whilst many churches still have good teaching, some have watered down the gospel to fit in with modern society. Others have a style of meetings and other associated activities which give rise to various concerns. The church service is now so often something put on for you, a show if you like or at best a participatory concert. You are encouraged to ‘get involved’ with activities that have already been organised, rather than being a part of it. You are encouraged to ‘come along’ to the Sunday service, but few (if any) concerns are raised if you decide to have other priorities that take precedence. This is not what the charismatic church came into being for. It started as a response to a need to have a much closer alignment with the early church, impacting our society and seeking an enlargement of the Kingdom, rather than what the established church had become: dry, stale, compromised and disconnected from its Jewish roots.
The truth is that without believers, the church does not exist. It follows that if people do not feel part of something, they are not connected to it and so place less importance on it meaning they are less inclined to prioritise it above other activities when church becomes just another optional activity.
Sixty years ago, attending church on a Sunday morning was normal and expected. Not to do so was frowned upon and your unannounced absence would probably be recognised. Now society has changed. We live in a much more secular society, one where church attendance is highly optional, even it seems for believers. The result of this is a church that is no longer a major part of our lives and no longer at the centre of the community. A church where it doesn’t matter if you are not part of a local church, because, that is your personal decision and after all, we’re all on an individual ‘journey’ and we dare not interfere with it. To be seen taking part in a leisure activity at 11am on a Sunday is normal for the world, but as Christians we are called to be in, not of the world. To be movers and shakers, salt and light. The church should be an expression of God’s love, not some sort of optional part of society that we do if we ‘feel’ like it. Believers should come together for the edification of one another, to praise God corporately and to share the gospel in our neighbourhood. When we start to accept optional church attendance, we lose sight of our purpose. We lose sight of our calling and often, too much time in the world isolated from fellow believers can lead to our losing sight of God and his purpose for us.
The church was never intended to be a ‘social club’. It should be at the centre of our walk with Christ, an essential element of our Faith. Of course, part of the problem is that it is now too easy to not go to church. Across the world, there are many nations where being a Christian is almost impossible, yet in Iran, in China and in Burma Christians come together to praise and worship God and to build up one another often risking their lives to do so. It is to our shame that given the struggles and risks our brothers and sisters take elsewhere in the world simply to meet together that we take such a casual approach to church.
Lack of involvement and the meaning of Church membership go some way to explaining the state of the church, but they are really just manifestations of far more serious symptoms. There are so many churches and so many in the church who have become so obsessed with being ‘relevant’, ‘accessible’ and inclusive’ that they have lost sight of what matters. They have lost sight of biblical principles and interpret the Bible through the world around them rather than interpreting the world around them through the Bible. This, combined with an increasingly secular society where the line between good and bad, right and wrong is blurred has led to many churches watering down the truth, compromising on their beliefs and teaching replacement theology. When we are asked what our view on abortion, or Israel, gay marriage, or euthanasia is, most Christians know what their instinctive belief is, (or should be) yet many do one of three things and none of them pleasing to God: