Thursday, January 25, 2007


Relevant magazine currently has an article up about the release of George Barna's Revolution in soft cover.

This book first came to my attention last November when I was looking for something that might grab my father's attention to buy him for Christmas. Barna is a well known Christian pollster and is always tracking trends in the church.

Here's Relevant's take on the key message of the book:
Barna’s research has identified an unsettling trend: Increasing numbers of Christians have become fed up with the Church and are not taking it anymore. This may not sound like news to some, except for the fact that these people do not seem to be your typical "bedside Baptists," but passionate followers of Christ. In fact, Barna sees them as the leaders of an entirely appropriate revolution, which he likens to the Reformation itself. He paints an urgent picture of the situation:

Existing churches have a historic decision to make: to ignore the revolution and continue business as usual, to invest energy in fighting the revolution as an unbiblical advance or to look for ways of retaining their identity while cooperating with the revolution as a mark of unity and genuine ministry. My current research suggests that the latter approach will be the least common.

Pollsters are very good at identifying trends, and often at putting their finger on the problem based on the data. I don't doubt that there are people pushing at the constraints of "church", but I think it's more helpful to ask why. And not in a sound bite. Comparing the current situation to the Reformation is pretty dramatic. If things are truly that extreme, why don't we see it more evident?

This is not to say that I don't agree that there is a growing group of people who aren't satisfied with how things have always been done. I know I am. I'm tired of prayer meetings where we don't pray and worship times when we don't worship. I'm tired of the expectation that church is a social obligation and nothing more. I'm tired of lowest common denominator small groups.

What I disagree on is that what's happening is a unified revolution. I think people are walking away for a variety of reasons and not one thing that everyone's getting wrong. I don't think one person can write one book that will sweep the nation and fix everything. Churches aren't responding well because (at least in my case) what's wrong is so fundamental they don't know how to address it and a radical response is out of the question.

I also don't agree with Barna's conclusion that the answer is to sit outside the church armchair quarterbacking and picking and choosing the small bits we agree with. Christianity isn't a hobby. You're not picking out the country club that best fits you. Christianity isn't something you do in isolation. We're called to be in community. If the North American church isn't working then we have to figure out what is a better response to the teaching of the Bible.

The Reformation? Probably not. A time to look what being a passionate follower of Christ looks like? Absolutely.

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