According to one study, less than 18 percent of the American population attends church regularly. Another study reveals that about 1.2 million people are leaving the church every year. That translates to 3,500 people per day. How can the American church engage with those who are leaving the church or who are already outside the church?
Create a Place for the Holy Spirit
Throughout history, when churches opened the doors to the move of the Holy Spirit, thousands were saved, baptized, healed, and activated (Acts 2). These thousands did not need to be convinced or coerced into joining the church—they joined of their own accord. On the other hand, when churches shut out the Holy Spirit, they tended to turn to forms and rituals and their congregations tended to dwindle. The Holy Spirit is often the most uncomfortable Person of the Trinity and the temptation to contain His move is a real thing.
People aren’t leaving the church because they aren’t spiritually minded; they’re leaving because one person of the Trinity is missing. The interest in spirituality and the supernatural is growing in America, not dying. Americans are seeking substance and that substance is found in a living, dynamic God.
Every human being has an innate desire to belong. If that place of belonging isn’t found in a church, people will find it elsewhere. Community doesn’t automatically happen, especially in the increasingly culturally diverse churches of today. The local church must actively facilitate small groups or home groups where people can build relationships with a core group of people on a regular basis. These small groups and social groups can also become places outside of the four walls of the church where people from the local community can connect and engage. It’s a less threatening environment.
In larger churches, it might be necessary to evaluate whether there are any social groups that are being left out of the small group structure. For instance, churches usually have places for families and youth groups, but is there also a place for singles, single moms and dads, and divorcees? The number of unmarried adults in the American culture is now more than 50 percent of the adult population. Smaller churches may not have the resources to create a group for every social group, but a real effort should be made to find out who is in the congregation and the community and to determine what kinds of social groups might be beneficial.
Create Practical Answers to Solutions
What are the social problems in your community, and how can your church become a part of the answer? For instance, in Redding, there is a large problem with drugs and alcohol. In response, we have developed a Celebrate Recovery program where people can be healed of the things that are keeping them stuck in cycles of addiction or emotional pain. Is there a network within your church for taking care of the practical needs for those in crisis? Do you have teams of people who serve at the local shelter or community service center? When people have their practical needs met, they are more capable of becoming thriving, contributing members of the church and community.
There may be people leaving the church, but churches and networks that incorporate all three of these very important values are growing. The Foursquare church is one such place. Like Aimee Semple McPherson, we must be committed to engaging the spiritual, emotional, and practical needs of our culture.