“Who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

2 Corinthians 3:6


In a classroom, while getting my doctorate degree, my fellow students began to grouse about the drop in attendance in their churches. All fine and wonderful ministers that represented most of the various institutional churches; Catholics, Methodists, Baptists and Lutherans. In particular, one student complained, “Parents would rather take their children to a soccer practice than attend church.” She was right, there are many other activities on Sunday morning that compete with church. A trend that started in the late sixties and has directly contributed to a chronic decline in church attendance for nearly five decades.

“ In fact, it is doubtful that institutional churches will stay intact past 2030 without making significant changes.”

But the belief in God has not abated over this time, today ninety percent still believe in God and Christian’s who pray, stands at sixty six percent. However, according to the Hartford research institute, regular church attendance has fallen to twenty percent and continues to drop every year. In fact, it is doubtful that institutional churches will stay intact past 2030 without making significant changes.

As a former business person, I learned it is never good to grouse about your customer’s unwillingness to buy your product. It is far easier to get better and sell products your customer is interested in buying. The young pastor who was complaining about parents taking their children to soccer games instead of church, was right about recognizing the decline in the church, but wrong about her point of view. Simply, the institutional church has to get better or it will continue to lose more attenders.

Despite these difficult statistics one form of church is growing, the new age church. It is a church that isn’t affiliated with any denominations. It is independent of human doctrine and non-affiliated. The new age church meets in unusual places, garages, old warehouses and even in schools. They don’t have bloated bureaucracy telling them what to do next. Their ministers are not encumbered with rules on what to say. Their overheads are low and they can spend more of their donations helping others. The music is more contemporary and draws out the Spirit of God in a different way.

“The institutional church is stuck in the fifties and has only made minor changes to its formats.”

The institutional church is stuck in the fifties and has only made minor changes to its formats. It is not the wonderful ministers that need to change, the structure is no longer relevant. Most institutional churches have massive overheads to support decades old buildings. Usually, by far the largest piece of their budget. In turn this debilitates their ability to serve their community and the needs of the attenders.

The institutional church has become embroiled in scandal and not fully addressed the solutions. Catholic priests for decades have abused children and leadership has not always been aggressive in solving the problem. It is not just the Catholic church that has been embroiled in scandal, recently in Houston a Methodist minister was arrested who took millions of dollars from his parishioners.

The church has also become a political church, opining on issues that can be polarizing to its members. Instead of focusing on the message of Christ to “Love thy God and love thy neighbor,” the institutional church has become caught up in politics. While the new age church has stayed focused on its purpose to minister to and adhere to the two basic tenets of the Gospel, Love thy God and love thy neighbor.

A close friend of mine, Rich, recently set up a church, with the help of loyal donors. In a few years the church has grown from a few sitting in a rented space to over a hundred that can now support community ministry and pay for its pastor. Not burdened by history, politics or the suffocating costs of over-sized buildings, the church is growing remarkably. Why? Because of its adherence to the foundations of the new covenant. One that serves and is not served.

It is not that the mainline ministers don’t know how to do this, they can’t. Hemmed in by rules and regulations that don’t allow them to seek other ways to compete with Sunday soccer. These wonderful contributors to our Christian faith must ask first before they act. Only in the new age church do they have the freedom to select the right songs, pray the right prayers and help the members serve.

There are seven things the institutional church can do to fix this trend. They are:

  1. Limit the budget for building costs to twenty percent of total giving.
  2. Select music that is more contemporary and inspiring. Lead the service off with music that is designed to raise the Spirit of God in those attending.
  3. Set up Small groups that fit the make-up of the members. Let and help lay people lead these groups, even from their homes.
  4. Set up ways for the members to help their community. Serving helps members satisfy their desire to give and serve.
  5. Limit leadership of committees to two years, and allow for fresh voices to be heard.
  6. Set up interactive prayer chains.
  7. Preach the Gospel in a way that is tailored to the demographics of the membership.

While these seven things may seem very hard to accomplish, they are being accomplished in the new age church!

The institutional church needs to loosen its grip on what they own, which ironically owns them.

Paul in 2 Corinthians warned the church to not get caught up in the letter of the law, or institutional bureaucracy and politics. Instead to spread the Gospel with a heart led by the Spirit. Not to stay encumbered by rules and the will of the past, but to reach out to its constituency with a heart for God and serving others. Only in this place can the old church survive. The institutional church needs to loosen its grip on what they own, which ironically owns them.  Which will allow for a greater focus on mercy within its community. The new age church is a responding church that adheres to the heart of the Gospel. A model for the institutional church.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Ben White

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