The Shrinking 40%

In the book, The Forgotten Ways, author Alan Hirsch identifies a problem that I've been wrestling with for several months now. He says that the way we do church is working with fewer people all the time. What does the way we do church mean? It means the model of Christendom that has been followed for the past 1700 years or so and that most of us are a product of is becoming quickly ineffective in today's world. I'm not talking styles of worship, high church or low church, mainline or independent, protestant or catholic. I'm talking about all of those churches combined. Just about every church in America can be described by three words: "Come to us." That is it. We put on amazing services and do everything we can to communicate truth to the people who make the effort to come to "the box" for worship.

Let me explain it this way…

The Shrinking 40% - these are people for whom the "come to us" model works. We can put on great weekend services, and 40% of the people in our community are still attracted to, or at least not repelled by, that model. For some communities on the left or right coast—this may actually be 20% or less. Hirsch believes it might be 35% for America overall. For our church in northern Indiana, we are still relatively insulated from the coastal influence—and we believe it could be around 40%. Whether the correct number is 40% or 50% or higher—there probably isn't a place in America where this number isn't shrinking.

The Growing 60% -- these are people who believe in God (whatever that means for them), have a respect for Jesus, and are on a spiritual journey, but they don't consider the church (as we know it) as a resource to help them take steps. And it is likely they never will. They pursue their spirituality through culture, friendships, music, TV personalities, their own study of the Bible, self-help books and more. Research indicates "young adults today are less church-connected than prior generations were when they were in their 20s. But…they're just about as spiritual as their parents and grandparents were at those ages." An even newer study published a couple weeks ago indicates if the current trends continue, "the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships," this according to Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In the group's survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they're "really more spiritual than religious."

Here's what I think we should do about the Shrinking 40% -- I think we should still create amazing church services and knock the ball out of the park on everything we do inside the box. Why would we not? It's working for a huge percentage of our community! We should do whatever works to attract them, introduce them to Jesus, help them grow in their faith, and motivate them to make a difference in the world.

But I don't think we can ignore the Growing 60%. Up until now, I honestly don't think I ignored them. I just didn't think about them. I'm a statistics guy, and it is the statistics (that I talked about earlier) which are waking me up to a missional problem. Now that I'm aware of the Growing 60% --I can either ignore them (and in reality tell them to go to Hell), or I can do something about it.

I don't even know what that means. I just know that as churches we have to figure out how to deliver the gospel of Jesus in a way that doesn't require them to come to the box. Because attracting people to come to the box is only working for a Shrinking 40%. And the Growing 60% will never be reached that way.

It's not either/or. It's finding the genius of the AND.

We are creating a conversation about this in November. You should join us. But don't wait until then—tell me your thoughts now.