Less people are getting to church each week in the U.S. than ever before. Despite the upswing in televangelism, propagation of books and popular movements in church, more people are gradually checking out despite our best efforts to woo them back in.
In this blog, I’ve provided a lot of rationale for this drop-off: most of the time, it has to do with integrity, but other passages point to basic effort and prioritizing, and the dispensation of selfish motives. All in all, the problem is with Christians, not the world or atheists or gay marriage or abortion or the President or any other excuse we can come up with.
I hear a lot of people in my social circles talk about how this lack of growth is indicative that we’re on the brink of revival. I believe this is nonsense; this downhill trend is not new, and beyond a handful of cults and loudmouth hypocrites gathering people around themselves, it hasn’t prompted anything.
As much as every pastor and minister would love to believe that they can really invigorate the nation and shake up the city, their efforts will only result in mild temblors instead of ground-shattering earthquakes. Why is it so hard?
1) Many deceptive people are out there. (v. 4-5) This shouldn’t shock anyone, but droves of Christians — who will eventually be disappointed with the false gospel they’re presented — are buying it. The easy way to figure out if someone is a fraud or not is to check your Bible, but most people won’t, because…
2) Many are already being deceived. (v. 5) The trend right now is a too-good-to-be-true gospel, selling good feelings, encouraging a big emotional crescendo (mistaken for “the Spirit”), and promising a vaguely defined “blessed life” if the proper amount of effort is applied. But Jesus taught a broken life with the mindset of service and giving, secret prayer and worship, and joy in suffering. And it’s a lot harder to sell that, especially in America.
3) Being hated isn’t very appealing. (v. 9) Additionally, Jesus is pretty clear about how the outlook upon Christians from the outside will be negative. If it’s done right, those who follow Jesus relentlessly will be hated by some (but not all!) But everyone loves to be loved, and being loved by everyone means withholding the truth.
4) Many are offended by the gospel. (v. 10) The gospel of Jesus Christ requires people to acknowledge that they’re faulty. But they’d rather hear that God loves them no matter what, or that the human spirit is more powerful than any religion or god. Jesus is described as a rock that breaks people; but we must first die to ourselves before we’re reborn. However, if we love ourselves too much, we’re much less willing to make that sacrifice.
5) The love of many is growing cold. (v. 12) How bad is it getting? Just take a look at the number of class-action lawsuits filed in the U.S. (despite their diminishing success). Civil lawsuits are no better. Even Christian organizations are filing lawsuits. Isn’t there a better way to make a point besides wringing money out of people? The answer is clearly love, but that’s definitely the hard way to do it, and it might not bring about the precise results you want. Our love is only getting colder — and we’d rather get more mad then draw closer to the Lord and demonstrate His love to others.
In this list that Jesus reveals in Matthew 24, this represents the majority. It falls in line with this chilling realization:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Does all of this mean we should just quit? Obviously that’s a horrible idea — we must continue to strive in love, every day. But don’t be surprised if trends continue. Jesus said it’s exactly the way things are supposed to go down.