The American Church in Crisis

Posted on May 22nd, by Ken in Revelation 3:14-22. 1 Comment

It is said that the easiest person to deceive is your self. We tend to be the last person to recognize or admit that we have a problem. Studies show that we overestimate ourselves most of the time. This is certainly the case for the Church at Laodicea. Their perception and analysis of themselves is described as: “I’m rich! I’ve done well! I don’t need anything!” However, Jesus has a different assessment. Jesus says, “you don’t know that you are miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked” (v. 17). There is a huge gap between those two assessments. How could the Church at Laodicea not know that they were miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked? What delusions were they telling themselves to be so far off the mark? They are like a homeless man who thinks his cardboard box is actually a custom-built luxury home.

Most Christians I talk to think that American Christianity is the gold standard for the world. Many would even claim that America is a Christian nation. Actually, many Christians are surprised to find out that current church trends don’t support those facts. In a recent book, The American Church in Crisis, David Olson cites extensive research gathered from more that 200,000 churches in America. What we learn, among other things, is that 85% of churches in the USA are stagnate or in decline, that actual church attendance in the USA on a given weekend is about 17.5% of the total population, and that only 6% of nineteen to thirty year olds are attending church at all. Can anyone say “lukewarm”? Our situation is dire.
Contrast that with what is happening around the world for the last 30 years. Philip Jenkins, in his book, The Next Christendom, says that:

“Whatever Europeans or North Americans may believe, Christianity is doing very well indeed in the global South—not just surviving but expanding … Christianity should enjoy a worldwide boom in the new century, but the vast majority of believers will be neither white nor European, nor European American”

Christianity is spreading all over the global South – Africa, Asia, and South America, in particular. The largest churches and the largest bodies of Christ-followers in the world are not found in America. Has the American Church become like the Church in Laodicea? Do we think of ourselves as rich, doing well, and not needing anything, but in reality we are miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked?

NT Wright points out that a popular verse in this passage is actually taken out of context. It is verse 20, which reads: “Look! I am standing here, knocking at the door. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to them and eat with them, and they with me.” I have always heard this verse used to invite individuals to accept Christ into their hearts and become a Christian. That is not what this verse is about. This verse is about Jesus standing at the door of one of his Christian churches, knocking on the door, wanting to return to close intimacy with that church. Jesus, in essence, wants his Church back! I think this is true of the Church in America. Jesus is knocking on the door of the Church of America. Jesus wants His Church back. Can’t you hear Him knocking?

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  • Vicky Lorencen

    I do sometimes wonder if Americanized Christians think that we’re the ones who finally got Christianity right. Sure, it started it another part of the world, but we’re the ones who refined it, put it in a suit and tie, printed it some bumper stickers and handed it a leatherbound bible–the way Christianity is “supposed” to be.

    Thanks so much for sharing your perspective, Ken. Much appreciated.