Where Are We Now?—Part 16

CGGC Executive Director Lance Finley
CGGC Executive Director Lance Finley

I’ve spent several weeks exploring the idea of where we are right now in the CGGC, particularly as we anticipate looking forward into the future and discerning where the Lord wants us to go and what He wants us to do as His people. Some of what I share will be from a broader view – where the CGGC reflects what’s going on across the larger evangelical church in North America. At other times, the sense will be much more specific to the CGGC and where we find ourselves in this critical moment.

This past spring I’ve had the privilege of attending the annual gatherings in the Eastern Regional Conference, the Allegheny Conference and the Midwest Region Conference of the CGGC. Last weekend brought the Great Lakes Conference to Findlay and in August the Western Region will gather in Ft. Scott, Kansas. I’ve shared the following observations at these recent gatherings and felt like they were appropriate to share here over the next few weeks as we draw this series to a close. These are my observations as I have had the opportunity to interact with various churches and leaders across the U.S. and even around the world.

My third observation is simply that there is an enormous need for the Gospel in our culture.

Back in April I got to hear a presentation by Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. He addressed a couple thousand leaders, most of whom came from a Christian perspective. He asked this roomful of leaders to help address the present crisis in our country. He shared the following:

For the past three years (2016-2018), the United States has seen a decline in the life expectancy rate. This is both unprecedented and unexpected. The U.S. hasn’t seen a three-year decline like this since the early 1900’s. No other industrialized nation in the world is seeing this trend right now. It’s most surprising given that the two leading killers in our country, heart disease and cancer, are both trending downward.

Senator Sasse went on to share that the four causes of this downturn in the life expectancy rate have been traced to the following factors:

  1. Suicide
  2. Opiate overdoses
  3. Other types of drug overdoses
  4. Liver disease brought on by alcohol abuse

He noted that the demographic of those ages 25-45 are seeing the most rapid increase in the mortality rate.

He summarized his talk with the following statements:

 Community is in collapse in our culture.
We’re experiencing an epidemic of middle-aged death.
We need your help in the faith community to answer this crisis that
we’re facing.

The information shared by Senator Sasse resonates deeply with what I’ve observed in my own community as well as other communities across the U.S. We are facing a crisis of hopelessness that’s leading to some tragic results across our nation.

Early this year the Pinetops Foundation released their report entitled The Great Opportunity (http://www.pinetops.org/). Their research reveals the following information about the church in the U.S.

There are currently 340,000 congregations in the United States.
There are nearly 4,000 new congregations are planted each year in the U.S.
There are 3,700 existing congregations that close each year in the U.S.
This results in a net gain of 300 congregations each year in the U.S.
The U.S. population is expected to grow by 75 million people over the next 30 years (2050)

The need to keep pace with the increase in population and maintain church involvement at its present level requires that we increase our church planting efforts by at least 4,000 churches a year over the next 30 years.

They have identified a gap of at least 4,000 new works per year if we want to maintain our present levels of church involvement. Again, this is to simply maintain our present day levels.

I know the subject of new churches can be a controversial one at times. “Why do we need new churches when we can’t take care of the ones we’ve got?” Why don’t we revitalize the churches we have rather than start new ones that compete for our already limited resources: funds, people, staff, etc.?”

The truth of the matter is that the need in our culture is enormous. People desperately need the hope that is only found in the Good News of Jesus Christ! To carry that Good News to people, we need all kinds of work to help the church of Jesus Christ demonstrate and proclaim the Good News of the Gospel. We need existing churches revitalized and repurposed to carry out this great work. We need new congregations raised up of all kinds of shapes, sizes and expressions to meet the challenge of taking the Good News of Jesus to people who have a desperate need for His grace and mercy. It’s not about choosing one over the other, it’s about doing all we can to carry the Gospel to people whose very lives depend upon it. We need it all: new church plants, fresh expressions and other new works as well revitalized congregations, all committed to carrying out the work of the Gospel for the sake of the world and to the Glory of God.

The need is great brothers and sisters. Will we respond to this great need? This moment is our moment in history. Will we rise to the challenge before us?

Christ’s Peace,

CGGC eNews—Vol. 13, No. 23

5 thoughts on “Where Are We Now?—Part 16

  1. Wow. I can’t stop thinking about this… and the connection to poverty, racism, xenophobia, and everything else wrapped up in creating the hopelessness behind statistics like these. It’s hard not to think of it in political terms. It seems we are making america hopeless again – just like the early 1900s. Anyway, thanks for this piece, Lance. Good stuff, that should be put to good use.

  2. Dan,

    Like you, I found Lance’s summary of Ben Sasse’s address powerful.

    And, you are exactly correct. This information must be, as you say, “put to good use.”

    Nevertheless, the lesson of recent history is that the church today is a hot mess.

    It seems to me that the lesson of the last century is that the church is the problem, not the solution.

    The solution to the explosion of the sales of imported cars in the U. S. in the 1970s was not to produce more AMC Pacers. The problem actually was the AMC Pacer, and other cars like it.

    It will not be “good use” of this knowledge to plant more churches until the church changes itself.

    Truly, the culture needs Jesus. It needs the gospel…

    …it doesn’t need today’s church.

  3. This is a good and needed conversation.

    The need and problems are very real – they are real in our community where drug overdoses and suicides are effecting us. Not to mention broken marriages, purposeless lives etc.

    The two things that must be defined in this conversation – in my opinion – are gospel and church.

    To the extent that we don’t understand, communicate and live out this two faithfully, more churches will not make much of a difference, in my opinion.

    But when embraced biblically, they can make a life changing difference.

    The evangelical gospel has usually been something like, “Jesus died for your sins so you can be forgiven and go to heaven when you die.” In response to this, we expect people to want to worship (praise) God. Which is reasonable.

    The problem is -into the issues that Sasse brought up that effect us all – this gospel and this worship doesn’t generally touch these issues nearly as deeply as we think it ought to.

    From my perspective (the fruit of a teacher to some extent I realize) the solution to the issues we face in life is discipleship to Jesus. (caveat: I accept that counseling, mental health professionals etc are needed as well)

    Point being, from where I sit, ‘planting’ more worship services (if this is the ‘main’ thing of church planting AND existing churches) won’t make a very big difference AND most of the people who need this hope and change probably won’t find their way there.

    What we – and the world – and this people in tragic circumstances need – is communities of disciples of Jesus sharing the good news that the interactive relationship with the Lord is available to everyone now in the kingdom of God.

    We need communities of disciples to incarnate neighborhoods and workplaces and sports and hobby interests. We need these disciples to be real about the deepest parts of their lives and be truly committed to being apprentices of Jesus in every area of life.

    So, IF we’re talking about church planting as worship services, I predict little impact.

    But IF we are talking about communities of disciples getting real in the lives of people around them wherever we find themselves, absolutely

    For for me, Lance and Bill are both right. But both of these aspects are needed.

    We need to get deathly serious (because it is a matter or life and death in many cases) about discipleship where we are at now AND sending communities of disciples on mission to bring the good news to a wondering and often hopeless world.

    This, to me, is biblical, faithful ‘church planting.

    And, to Lance’s point, we need it.

    But we have to get it right. Or at least better than we often have.


    1. Dan M.,

      Well said.

      Your suggestion that, in the past, we’ve erred in planting, not churches, but worship services is insightful and important.

      When I described today’s church as a “hot mess,” it was for that reason.

      Peter addresses his first letter, not to the church, but to the “elect of God.” He tells those individuals that they are, among other things, “a royal priesthood.” And, of course, that’s how early disciples lived. Jesus followers were understood to be priests and they lived in the world as priests.

      In today’s church, that essential truth about life in Christian community has become, as Alan Hirsch would say, a forgotten way.

      In our body’s past, however, the priesthood of all believers was a core practice that bound us in community.

      And, you are correct in describing the false evangelical gospel: That Jesus died so that people can be forgiven and go to heaven.

      That precisely describes actual CGGC practice today, though we may protest that it doesn’t.

      Since our most recent efforts to plant churches began three or four decades ago, we’ve defined church planting as the creation of worship services in which a pastor/planter assures people that Jesus died for them so they can go to heaven.

      That gospel is empty and, most certainly, is false and, in the end, it gives no hope. And, our culture suffers from the reality that the church today doesn’t bring hope.

      Perhaps the tragedy that defines the CGGC’s failure since the 1990s, is that we still define making disciples in terms of preaching the false gospel that Jesus died so people can be forgiven and go to heaven.

      Our current definition of a disciple was created in the 1990s for the 35,000 X 2000 program:

      MORE AND BETTER DISCIPLES: 35,000 in worship by 2000.

      That is, a disciple is someone who contributes to a church’s average worship service attendance figure in a given year by showing up for worship.

      That program failed…is still failing us.

      Yet, that definition of discipleship, which we have never replaced, continues to define our practice…

      …and, also drives the manner in which we, in the CGGC, fail to bring hope to the hopeless.

      You say that we need to get deadly serious about discipleship. Amen. Preach it.

      Discipleship, not the creating of more churches, is how we must start.

      Our culture needs disciples of Jesus, not more worship services.

  4. Yes! The distinction between planting ‘worship services’ and planting ‘communities of disciples of Jesus’ is right on, imho. Thanks for bringing this into the conversation!

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