7 Things Churches No Longer Do (But Should)

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Our changing cultural values continually affect our spiritual lives and often shape our church experiences. Today’s churches aren’t immune from social trends and factors, and here are a few traditional practices that are becoming extinct within faith communities:

1. Discipline:

In a spiritual climate that’s extremely sensitive and wary of legalism, any type of authoritative action taken by a pastor or church can be highly explosive — often interpreted as aggressive, controversial, and hurtful.

Previous church models of authority and discipline have been so abused, and have such a bad historical reputation, that many Christian communities have simply abandoned the practice of church discipline.

Combine these factors with an overwhelming selection of churches to attend — where any type of discomfort can result in parishioners leaving to go elsewhere — and you can understand why spiritual leaders are reluctant to enforce any type of accountability.

2. Testimonials:

With the rise a megachurches and the advent of media-savvy services that leave little room for informality and spontaneity, many congregations no longer practice the valuable experience of verbalizing — and listening to — people’s personal testimonies.

There’s no longer the opportunity for people to communicate what’s happening in their lives — whether good or bad — in corporate church services anymore. Publicly professing what God has done for us, and openly sharing our struggles has become increasingly difficult within church contexts. Grieving, rejoicing, and simply living life together involves vulnerability and intimate communication, but this has often been sacrificed for the sake of logistics and comfort.

Real life is messy, awkward, and inefficient — but church services rarely are, and this is worrisome. Christians have become afraid and uncomfortable with being honest and transparent — simply because it’s become such a rare experience.

3. Corporate Prayer:

The Bible commands that believers pray together, but churches are moving away from praying during major service times and are instead reserving it for much smaller and more informal venues. Prayer requests are now almost exclusively reserved for bulletins, church websites, and prayer chains (facilitated by phone and email), but we shouldn’t abandon praying together as a corporate body of believers.

A lack of communal prayer has had some disturbing consequences. For example, the next time you’re at church, look at the prayer request lists are accessible to the congregation — 99 percent of them will be physical ailments. Then look at what’s missing: nobody will share about marital problems, depression, fears, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, domestic violence, and addictions — we’ve lost the ability to be spiritually transparent within our spiritual communities.

4. Challenge:

For similar reasons to not practicing discipline, churches avoid really challenging believers to go beyond their comfort zones. Discomfort is seen as something to avoid at all costs for fear of alienation and scaring away parishioners — so few are brave enough to authentically push congregants towards higher levels of maturity, especially when the price could mean lower attendance numbers.

5. Academically Teach:

Churches used to be innovative leaders in education, but now all “higher level” teaching is seemingly reserved for Christian colleges and other higher educational institutions. Local churches have outsourced their responsibility for deep, academic, and complex teaching related to the Bible, theology, philosophy, and doctrine — often trading it in for superficial entertainment.

Yes, some of Christianity’s most important principles can be simplified, but Christians are losing the ability to know how to do word studies, read Scripture within context, understand the historical roots of our faith, and comprehend basic foundational principles; it’s no longer being taught within churches.

6. Sacrifice:

Growth is the new idol of the church. It’s supposedly a sign of God’s favor and reflects the spiritual maturity of a community, but it’s caused a serious lack of sacrificial giving. Churches often see their bottom line as the top priority, and secular business models have hijacked the values and overall mission of many churches.

Resources are diverted towards expansion rather than mission, and the gospel is sacrificed for the sake of sustainability and profitability. Churches will never admit this, but you can always see where true priorities lie by following the money.

7. Practical Ministry:

Churches have become epicenters of sermons and pastoral instruction, and this isn’t bad as long as it inspires people to take action and is complemented by real-world application. But this is where most churches fail: they’re great at explaining the gospel and talking relentlessly about it — but are horrible at actually carrying it out.

With a fear of discomfort, and the extreme busyness of our culture, churches have stopped emphasizing practical ministry. Participating in church now means attending weekly services — but rarely requires anything beyond that. What if churches required their congregations to go out into the world and be missionaries, sacrificially, humbly, and passionately loving others just as Jesus did — practicing what is actually being preached?

Today, many churches are guilty of being too safe, convenient, and comfortable. But enjoyment isn’t the overall purpose of going to church. It should often make you feel uncomfortable and uneasy — and not in an abusive or guilt-ridden manner — but in a way that emulates the life of Christ.

 

This blog post is currently being published here on Sojourners (Sojo.net)

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16 thoughts on “7 Things Churches No Longer Do (But Should)

  1. Brianna Siegrist

    Hi! I agreed with every one of your points. Regarding prayer: I JUST said almost the very same thing to a friend of mine. Why are all of our prayer requests about healing, and usually for someone outside of the church? Do we have no needs? Or are we embarrassed to bring them to light? Or are we unwilling to put God to the test- to say out loud what we need that’s actually personal, in case God would look bad if it doesn’t happen?
    A lot of these things seem to correlate with a book I’m reading- “Not a fan” By Kyle Idleman.
    But that’s not all I want to say. I had another conversation with a writing friend of mine who is a woman, and we were discussing why so many theology books by women are ONLY read by women. We came to the conclusion that men’s theology books are often written about the church at large, but women’s theology books are usually meant for personal application. I wonder if it’s because women are taught that we shouldn’t teach the church at large… or if it’s just that as women, we think more relation-ally rather than broadly. At any rate, as I read this article I proved my own point. I immediately, upon agreeing with your points, thought, “But what does this MEAN, how does this translate to my personal actions and life?” HA!

    • Stephen Mattson

      Thanks, Brianna! Yeah, that’s definitely a valid point regarding the women authorship related to theology! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I agree with everything you’ve said here but the comments regarding prayer request really stood out to me. This is becoming a lost tradition in many churches today. I believe it’s partly due to the size of some churches and having an open discussion time of prayer concerns will not fit into the show time of the tightly scheduled services of today. The other is because I think there is still a large concern by fellow Christians to “share” so openly and transparently for fear of being judged by others because it seems so overwhelming to discuss such personal needs to such a massive audience. I think it’s great that the mega churches are at least drawing the lost in, but if not done carefully, the intimate relationship among fellow church goers can get lost. Our home church is still pretty small and every Sunday, hold a time for open prayer requests. It’s one of my favorite parts of the service. Sometimes I know ahead of time if there is a need I want to share with everyone and other times it is done because the Holy Spirit moves me and I love having that option. You’ve brought up great topics for all churches to consider in your post. Well done!

    • Stephen Mattson

      Thanks, Laurie! Yeah, it can be hard for Christians to open up during prayer and really be honest…but it’s worth it in the end!

  3. This is good. I think your observation about churches being growth driven explains the absence of most of the other things on the list, which don’t fit a pragmatic growth paradigm.

  4. This is very good, Stephen. However, I am unsure how some of the more intimate things would play out in a larger church. Being intensely introverted, there is no way I would feel comfortable sharing anything like sexual abuse, addiction issues, etc. in a group of people I’m not sure I can trust. (As we know, not everyone sitting in a pew is a trustworthy sort.) Do you not count smaller home-group settings as being a valuable part of the functioning of the larger congregation? It is only in those settings that some of us are able to display transparency.

    By the way, I am not trying to be contrary here. I am honestly interested in your answer. (And I am curious, are you an introvert or an extrovert?)

    You have some excellent points here. Our churches are in danger of becoming so watered down as to be unrecognizable as Christianity. Grace and peace to you.

    • Stephen Mattson

      Thanks for sharing, Rebeca! Excellent point. I’m an introvert, and this is a huge struggle for me…even in small communities. I would like larger churches to start offering more platforms/options for–intimate–prayer requests and confession–maybe smaller siderooms where people can go to (with various people inside to pray, etc–obviously you don’t want to put people in compromising positions with just one-on-one…but someplace with a smaller number of people, but still access to privacy and trust and a place where people can feel comfortable sharing). Many churches have prayer people at the front or sides, but even that is uncomfortable for people because they still have to get up and ask for prayer in front of hundreds/thousands of people.

      I think small groups are essential, too. I’m part of a small group that helps in much of these areas, but I still would somehow like larger churches to get creative and provide opportunities for people to open up even within ‘normal’ service times…there’s no easy answer! :)

      • I agree there is not an easy answer, but I like your thoughts on the matter. I hear of so many people feeling an emotional disconnect in their fellowships (I’d be one of them) even in healthy churches. I wonder if it is partially my age group, or perhaps simply a byproduct of those of us raised on ever-increasing technology. Hmmm.

        Thank you for your thoughtful response. May your week be blessed!

  5. #2, #3, & #7 get my Amen. I wish you could hear the prayer time in the village church we visited during our last week in Ghana. The pastor directs the topic, and then the people all pray at once, because they’re talking to God—not each other. Then he claps his hands once or twice and moves to another topic. It’s spiritual, efficient, reverent, and inspiring.
    I’m all for traditional group prayer and bearing one another’s burdens too. Not much opportunity in many churches to even know another person’s need.
    Thoughtful post Stephen.

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