In my country there is a declining interest in church attendance over the last seven decades. Along with that there is a moral decline in our society. If you are a Christian, then the media appear to make you look foolish so things are bad.
People drop out of church. Many for the wrong reasons; because of sin in their lives, judgemental attitudes, unresolved conflict and even unresolved theological matters like the problem of suffering. I was talking recently to a close godly friend who made the comment that he would like a sabbatical from church going. I have found that a great number of Believers also drop out of going to church because they feel it is irrelevant and out of touch with God and reality. In some cases that is true so we desperately need a significant moveof the Spirit. Movements and institutions combine for lasting fruitfulness as demonstrated in the early church.
‘Do not forsake the gathering of believers’. Hebrews 10:25.
‘You cannot use new wine in old wineskins’. Matthew 9:17
Book of Acts of the Apostles.
There is a difference between ‘movements’ and ‘institutions’.
Over the centuries many powerful movements have arisen whether they be Christian or not, good or bad. One of the greatest movements has been that of the Christian church originating through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. By 4th century AD the Roman Empire was Christianised. Movements are established through vision, passion and commitment by a group of highly dedicated people. Today these effective movements follow in the steps of Jesus. They preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out demons, Luke 4:18 and Mark 16:17-20 etc. Even opposition and persecution do not quell the flames but rather act as a facilitator to further propagate the movement.
In many countries today Christian movements are growing with great influence as in parts of Africa, South America and East Asia. Where churches are declining, as in the countries where I live (New Zealand and Australia) they are largely lacking these powerful outpourings of the Holy Spirit that produce vibrant communities.
My observation is that people who drop out of church often lack passion and vision and after awhile are largely ineffective in Christian mission outside of their intimate circle of close friends. They are not reaching the world for Christ!
We need to acknowledge however that there are effective movements of churches that also reflect the New Testament church, even though their format and style is different in expression from the more mainline traditional church of today. Unfortunately we have to acknowledge that over a period of decades or centuries most movements often decline into ineffectiveness until there is a new touch of the Spirit.
On the other hand have the possibility of giving structure to movements enabling them to become more effective in the long term. Institutions are like the bone structure of the body. Without bones our bodies would collapse.
The institution of the early church was established through the formation of structures in the appointments of church leadership, Ephesians 4: 11,12. In Acts Deacons (meaning servants) were appointed to serve the people, and later Paul went around planting churches and appointed Elders to govern the churches.
The danger however with ‘institutions’ alone is that they can become dry and formal lacking the life of the Spirit. When this happens churches become lifeless and die even though there may be an outward expression of the church still operating. This is sometimes the reason why many good folk drop out of church.
John Wesley and others knew how to create effective structures to preserve their movements. George Whitfield in America who lived at the same time referred to his own work as a ‘rope of sand’ compared to John Wesley’s movement as it didn’t last.
What is the answer? It is a complex problem. However here are a few observation: Confess your need before God in prayer and fasting, don’t have a judgemental attitude towards others, repent of known sin. In some cases it is even right for an established church institution to close the doors of its building and resurrect itself in a more relevant way at another time. Ask God for wisdom as to how to create new ‘wine skins’ to contain the new life of the Spirit! It may mean that costly change is around the corner.
So then, the movement of the Spirit along with a good church structure is vital, but each on its own is simply insufficient for maintaining a long term deep work of the Spirit.
Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”. Praise the Lord!
‘Movements That Change The World’ by Steve Addison