Why are Churches of Christ Shrinking? - Part 1: A Left-Brained Fellowship in a Right-Brained World

Why are Churches of Christ Shrinking? - Part 1: A Left-Brained Fellowship in a Right-Brained World

For followers of this blog, you know that most all of my posts deal with larger kingdom and cultural issues. The Missional Outreach Network has readers from all different denominational backgrounds, and I want to bring people together through Christ and his mission.

However, if my non-Church of Christ readers can indulge me, I want to post a series dealing with some issues in my fellowship (Churches of Christ). Specifically, I want to seek to address the issue as to why Churches of Christ are shrinking--seeking both your thoughts and to provide some analysis and insights. 

First, just an acknowledgment of the fact that we are shrinking is a huge step. For years, somehow we took solace in the fact that our numbers in the US were constant--despite the fact that, as a percentage of the US population, we were already in rapid decline. The US population was growing, and we were not. 

In more recent years, the Christian Chronicle (our non-official official newspaper for Churches of Christ) has woken us up to cold reality. Not only are we declining as a percentage of the US population; we are shrinking numerically as well. We are a fellowship in decline. Maybe not declining as quickly as the mainline denominations that we have pointed towards, but still, like them, declining.

As long as we were "holding our own," we could just keep doing what we had always been doing, "holding to our principals"--not changing anything--and waiting for the world to change and come around to our point of view. If you are staying about the same, well, that is not good, but it does not put you in a crisis mode that prompts organizations to change or die. But now, as we slowly, painfully, begin to acknowledge that we are dying, we now are perhaps more willing to look at the causes of our death, with the hope perhaps that a cure can be found.

There are numerous reasons for our fellowship's decline which I hope to discuss in this blog post series. But the reason that I want to put forward today is this: we are a left-brained fellowship in a right-brained world. 

Churches of Christ in their current, visible form were birthed in the 1800s during the height of the "modern" worldview. This was the age of Reason. We were skeptical of emotion, which could lead us astray. All that stuff at Cane Ridge, where people were looking for expressions of the Spirit as confirmation of their faith, which could include barking like dogs and the like, led nearly half of our fellowship to disbelieve that the Spirit of God worked at all outside of the written word and that there was no indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Shocking to deny, for without the Spirit, we have no eternal life.

But it was a print medium world, so this fit into the times. This print medium world allows one to take the word of God off on one's own to read and study outside of a community--which leads to individualism. It was a world that worshiped the scientific method, and we began to apply this method to Scripture, believing that if we just all used the same method (hermeneutic), we would all come to the same result every time. Reason and scientific study of the Bible and knowledge would lead us to all come to agreement and thus unity. (I was reminded recently by a preacher friend that our motto for decades was "Come, let us reason together.")

(Notice that unity was not based upon Christ and the Spirit or the seven "ones" of Eph. 4, but upon agreement on all of the issues. This is an impossible task, proven to be impossible for flawed humans by our history. But I digress.)

So our worship services and Bible classes were designed to give out information and prove points. We wanted to educate people--not shape them spiritually or transform them or disciple them. We did not have Spiritual Formation or Discipleship ministers. We had "Adult Education" ministers. We had preachers who dispensed information and proved their points. It was assumed that education equals transformation. 

Fast forward two hundred years to today. We are now in an Apple based, image and icon based world. A world of pictures and videos. A world of music and surround sound. A world of 75" plasma screens in homes and jumbo trons half the size of football fields. I live in Dallas and took the Cowboys stadium tour. There I found out that the owners of the Phoenix Suns came out to the stadium to play video games at $500/minute on the humongous video screen there. Apple is now the highest valued company in the world, beating out Microsoft. This is not just symbolism. It is reality. We are in an Apple based, image based, icon based, experienced based world. This is the world that those 35 and under in particular grew up in, though it extends up through Gen X (and even partially into the late Boomers).

And these younger generations come into our worship services looking for an experience. And what do they get? A lecture. Information. Someone trying to build a reasoned argument and make their points. And they just don't get it. It does not speak their language. We are speaking Mandarin Chinese to them. (Actually Mandarin Chinese is an image-based language. So with the growth of China, we will become even more image based and Eastern in our thinking. Think of a picture or image. By its nature, it evokes more emotion and feeling and passion. And when younger generations enter into this throwback, print based world, they feel that our worship services are empty, dead, and lifeless. It does not move them. They can't wait for the exit.)

Older generations showed up to hear a sermon. The rest was nice, but was almost viewed as filler for the main dish. And in growing churches that are reaching younger generations, they most all have great preachers. Preaching (that is culturally relevant) still transforms and moves people. 

But what our fellowship fails to realize is that if you were to take that same great speaker--let's say, Andy Stanley, or if you prefer, Mark Driscoll, or whoever of that generation that floats your boat, and you were to plop them down into most of our churches, that church would not explode. The younger people would not, by and large, come. Why is this? Because they are not looking for a sermon--though they want to hear a moving one when they hear one. They are looking for an experience--an experience that matches their world. And we are by and large offering an experience of what life in the 1800s is like. Bible classes that educate, and sermons that give knowledge and prove points. In a world in which knowledge is ubiquitous (ever heard of the Internet or Wikipedia?) and everyone is sick of people arguing about who is right. 

Let's face it. By and large, we view the thousands of dollars that are spent on lights, video screens, and cameras in other fellowships as a waste of money. As seeking to "entertain."  We look down on those churches as being superficial. (Part of this is that during the split with the Christian church, they got all of the buildings and all of the money. So our people are inherently suspicious of these kind of expenditures as being "liberal" or superficial. But like so much of our heritage, most people don't realize why they think these things.)

And yet, churches that are doing this are growing--not only reaching lost people, but retaining their own kids. They actually come, want to come, enjoy the experience, and bring their friends. Young adults will camp out and plan their year around the Passion worship experience, but would not ever show up at a lectureship. Look around at the lectureships in our fellowship. There are a lot of older people, and almost no one under 30, despite there being incredible speakers there. 

I recently toured a church in our fellowship that just redid their auditorium. They had an incredible set up. Three huge screens, incredible lighting, stadium seating. I immediately thought two things: 1) this must have cost a lot of money--we could never afford this; and 2) I would love to preach in this atmosphere, because it would be incredible. It would be experiential. It would resonate with younger generations--and a lot of right-brained people in Boomer and above generations, who have never felt that we have spoken their language.

So, what does this mean we should do in Churches of Christ? Well, if we want the same results, I would advise us to do nothing. If we want to see our kids continue to leave in droves--and recently, Randy Harris said at Elderlink that he was afraid that we were going to lose all of our 18-35 year olds--then don't change a thing. When someone tries to dim the lights or show a video or have a praise team or give a testimonial and people complain and threaten to leave or stop giving, then give in. That is what has happened in congregation after congregation in our fellowship. And the Millenials don't complain. They don't make a fuss and stomp off mad. They are very polite. They just leave and say (to themselves), this is not for me. 

And the sad thing is, not only are we choosing to not reach lost people because of our refusal to not give an inch on these issues, but we are choosing to send our kids and grandkids away to at best another fellowship, at worst, the world. When push comes to shove, we would rather keep church the way that it has always been than to make changes that would help us reach or retain these generations. As one of my preacher friend says, "In almost every case in all of our churches, tradition trumps mission."

What if, instead of viewing these things as a waste of money and a threat to our church tradition, we viewed them as "speaking the language" of the people in our mission field? Is that not what missionaries do? We would fire a missionary who went overseas and never learned to speak the language of the people that he was trying to reach and who did not work through their cultural norms and cultural values. But somehow, we forget that we must do the same thing here in the US. 

So here are a few things that could be considered to create a more experienced based worship service.

1. Use video throughout. It is a Youtube world. Video has picture and music and tells a story. It is the language of today. Use background music in these videos. It is the least that we can do to be culturally resonant.

2. Use a three projection screen setup. The standard setup for an experience based event is a three screen setup. The main, center screen projects the speaker/worship leader--and people will usually look at this screen more than the actual person. The other two screens project pictures, moving images and the like. And if you really want to create an experience, then add additional screens on the sides. 

3. Dim the lights in the audience and brighten the stage. This can create the experience atmosphere that many are used to and looking for.

4. Use testimonials. Interview people and have them tell their stories. It is an Oprah world. Millions recently watched Lance Armstrong sit on the couch and talk to Oprah. People will line up to hear other people's stories.

5. Make preaching biblical, culturally relevant, and applicable. Remember, people are not going to be wowed by our exegesis. They can find this online or on their own study Bible. What they will be wowed by is a person who models a godly life, who speaks their language, and who can tell them how to live this biblical truth out in their daily lives at work, in their homes, with their family.

6. Use "pre-worship" music and "post-worship music." Music is ubiquitous in young people' lives. Playing this before and after helps them have a more memorable experience.

7. Engage the body, mind, and heart in worship. This is imminently biblical. Remember The Greatest Commands song? We do not just worship God with our mind. We worship him with our body and with our heart and emotion. Be joyful. Clap. Shout for joy. (We sing about shouting, but don't ever do it.) Have a praise team or worship leader that models this, for passionate worship is contagious. And give people permission to really engage their whole being in worship for God.

8. Emphasize community. Facebook and Youtube have created a world of sharing, a world that longs for community. It is a basic part of our humanity. Remember, in the creation account, everything that God created was good. There was only one thing that was not good. It was not good to be alone. Community can be emphasized in our assemblies not just by having coffee, though great coffee is expected in a Starbucks world. Community is emphasize by sharing stories of God's work amongst his people throughout the week. By displaying Twitter feeds with a church's hashtag, or by asking questions and letting people share through their Iphones. Community can be put in one's tagline, on the website, in one's language in worship. More on community later.

The churches that get this will do far better at reaching the lost and retaining their own children and grandchildren. The "lectureships" that get this will do far better. (Why come hundreds of miles today to just hear a speaker when you can listen to them online?) Create an experience and they will come. And they will invite their friends. Of course, this is not the only thing that has to happen. I am a "missional outreach" guy. I believe in going out and serving and reaching people to my core. But I am more and more convinced that unless we wake up to this experience culture and speak the language of our mission audience, then we will continue to shrink. And I love our fellowship and I love Christ, and I don't want to see this happen. I want our churches to grow. I want my three girls to not have to leave our fellowship to have an experience that touches their hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. I want them to have experiences so powerful, that they come back time and time again.

NOTE - This DOES NOT mean that we have to throw away truth or that these are the only things that we need to do. Hardly. But it may mean that if we speak the language of our culture, they may actually listen to our message. I am not at all for watered down messages or fluff. Telling powerful stories of how God is at work--a conversion story, a story of service, a story of living holy lives, a story of spiritual formation in the home, a story of a marriage coming back together--is not fluffy entertainment. These are powerful stories told well and powerfully. And that should impact everyone. And maybe it will help people to listen and "take in" important truths about Christ, baptism, and the Christian walk.

I am sure that at some point flannel graph was considered a new fangled technology. And Power Point. And microphones. And air conditioning and padded pews. (Go back and read early Restoration history--there are tons of railings against padded pews and the like.) Every generation is comfortable with whatever technology/communication medium they grew up with, and uncomfortable with ones that they did not. It is the responsibility of those most mature in Christ to be the most generous in their personal preferences to those who are most in danger of being lost or missed. That is what being incarnational means.

Here is part 2 in this blog post series: Why are Churches of Christ Shrinking? Part 2: Failure to Recognize that We are In an Increasingly Unchurched, Post-Christian Nation

Here is part 3 in this blog post series: Why are Churches of Christ Shrinking? - Part 3: A Misplaced Identity and a Failure to Truly Believe in Grace

Here is part 1 in a parallel blog post series: Why Do Churches of Christ Have Hope and a Future? - Part 1: A Reawakening to Ancient Faith & Practices Such as Baptism & the Lord's Supper

If you are interested in me giving a Missional Outreach Seminar or Spiritual Gifts Seminar in your church, please let me know. I can adjust the schedule or topics to cover the topics that are needed in your church. I am filling out my 2013 calendar right now. Also, you might be interested in the evangelistic Bible study that I have written, the Story of Redemption. www.StoryofRedemption.com. To discover your top five Spiritual gifts, check out my Spiritual gifts website, www.YourSpiritualGifts.com

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  • sgranberg

    James is on target here. The right brain-left brain does make a difference, yet I see the difference rooted in our theology. Our theology, rooted in high reason, appeals to a narrow band of people who are high reasoners. The appeal is also a learned appeal. Our heritage typically expects to attract people who are already oriented to our fellowship, who already have exposure, or who have been raised among us.

    Our theological approach is a "closed" approach, i.e., we feel comfortable arguing from silence, using a logical approach of A=B and B=C so A must = C, and approaching the biblical text as case law.

    21st century people are no longer asking the truth question which our heritage approach has answered. The new questions are those of relationship, principles, and actions that change the world. James hits these when he speaks of the desire for an experience (which presents the idea of "truth" more clearly to this generation than logic).

    Relationship and experience are now the "coin of the realm." If we are to be the incarnation of Jesus today these two items must become our language as well.

  • Joe Palmer

    James,  I am not trying to be sarcastic to be be mean spirited about this but my response is to ask if Noah had built a cruise ship instead of an Ark would he have gotten better results? 

    My answer is Yes.  But that doesn't mean he would have gotten people searching for the truth.  Recently we had a gospel meeting and I asked for input on how to promote it among preachers. My first response was, "Don't call it a Gospel Meeting."  Now maybe that is good advice but it also speak of how we have lost faith in the gospel and replaced it with men's inventions.  

    We have to face the reality that our culture is on a wholesale basis rejecting God.  We aren't the first culture to do this and we probably won't be the last.  Some people like the people of Athens are looking for some "New Thing" (Acts 17:21)  new isn't bad but I think what people are really missing in church is the "Real Thing."  

    Give me a church where people care about people. They are helping the needy. They get to know new people. They are in each others homes.

    Give me a church that teaches the Word. They preach it all love, judgment, heaven, hell, forgiveness and sin. They don't let tradition bind them but they don't follow the world.

    Give me a church that actually makes the gospel the main thing.

    Give me a church where people come to worship God.  They love God and teach that is the essence of what our worship is.

    I think if you have this it won't matter what kind of sound and lighting you have that church will grow at the level that the world or culture will permit. Noah Got eight but he was faithful.  I am not giving up. I am not discouraged I am committed to teaching Jesus.  I just think this article misses the mark.  I have no problem with implementing some of the suggestions but this is like worrying about what kind of salad dressing your going to put on a salad when you have run out of steaks.

  • Sarah

    While all of what you suggest is nice and attractive, I don't think those are the things that will retain our youth or bring folks into a Church of Christ. As a fifth generation CoC member, I know for a fact that very few of us ever venture into the worship service of another group. We learn very little of what other churches outside our brotherhood are doing...what we do know about is the music, lights, big videop screens, etc.

    I happen to enjoy going outside the CoC to get a well needed shot of encouragement. Aa a lifelong CoC member, i oftentimes feel as if i am dying of thirst in a desert. I visit other churches to attain a feeling that I've found almost impossible to get in a CoC atmosphere.

    1- the sermons in other churches tend to be more encouraging and pointed. I leave feeling convicted. In almost every service, this is what I hear: God really, really loves me and wants to bless me, the Holy Spirit lives in me and is moving and active, that Jesus is my savior, that being a Christian is awesome. The simple gospel is preached and presented every Sunday to those who may not have a clue. Yes, those things are touched upon in the CoC...there's always the obligatory Holy Spirit sermon once a year. But these things aren't spoken with enthusiasm and joy. Most CoC sermons are very cerebral and assume that all of us have our act together and are longtime believers.

    2- the worship is much less cerebral and more emotional. Worshippers are allowed to smile, lift hands, shout amen, cry, sway while they sing and enjoy themselves in their worship. This excitement carries over into their everyday lives. It is contagious...you want to be there, you want to invite others, it's FUN.

    3- women are not excluded in other churches. I think most first time CoC visitors are IMMEDIATELY struck by the passive role of the women in our worship. (okay....NO role!) if i were in their shoes, i would never visit again. It doesnt seem strange, offensive or weird to CoC members....we're used to it, and most of us have never been exposed to anything else. However, in most other churches, the minister's wife will join her husband on stage to greet everyone and add an encouraging thought either before or after the sermon. Woken give their testamonies. Female missionaries share their experiences from the pulpit. Many ushers and greeters are women. Some women pass the collection or communion. Most importantly, women are available during the invitation to speak to or pray with other women. Women want and need the spritual support of other women...not just old dudes in suits (No offense to our awesome old dudes in suits!) All of this can be done without women preaching or holding authority over a man. The CoC is so afraid of the slippery slope, they've gone too far the other way. Our young women don't want to be passive onlookers. And they know they don't deserve to be treated like lepers in the "corporate worship".

    4- generations of tradition have taught CoC members that if they are present at every church class or event (3 X a week), that they are good to go. We've mistaken church attendance with genuine spirituality. We've traded Bible knowledge for an emotional connection with God.....

    THAT is ultimately what is missing...an emotional connection with God, during worship, toward others, and one that includes everyone, not just the men. unchurched people don't want intellectual sermons, songs from 75 years ago, and stoic patterns of worship. They want a cold drink of water...unfortunately we offer old wine.
  • James Nored

    Thanks, Sarah, for your thoughts. The emotional connection, including joy, is very much part of what I was seeking to get at. Beyond a merely cerebral faith. The heart and mind and soul must all go together.

  • ken Ngoje

    Thanks James for this insight. It is very true that the Church of Christ is Shrinking. this is quite evidence in Africa too. I agree with you that the worship service need some reorganization. However in Kenyan case where some fellowships have introduced instrument to their service the  result is just still the same. 
    I strong feel there is a need of a strong relevant leadership.  we need to rethink of our tradition of every congregation being autonomous . An early church had a kind of a centralized system of leadership; the evidence is in the book of acts where we find a council at Jerusalem comprising of  Apostles and elders and also in the book of Titus where Paul charged Titus to appoint elders in every town.(probably not every congregation). many leave the church because of lack of direction, vision and accountable leadership.
    many would like to see and not hear a gospel. take a  case where all church elders are living immoral life. who are they accountable to. where can members take their complain. the best they can do is to leave and look for a fellowship where people preach and live the gospel because the the leaders know that other than being accountable to God there is also an immediate office  which they are accountable to. 

    The central system of leadership also foster unity and oneness. we are in age of numbers. China is becoming world power because of its economic strength.  when we are claiming that we the true church while in our fellowship there are only ten members and this particular congregation cannot fellowship with other congregation in brotherhood because of some differences in form of worship then very few will join us.

    this is my thought and I would like to hear from others on the same

  • Troy Shepherd

    Hi James

    Me:  Grew up in the CofC, Dad is a CofC Elder, went to a CofC college, Worship leader in a CofC for the last 15+ years (I started early). Married a CofC girl, from a CofC family with a CofC Elder father-in-law .  October of 2012, Left the CofC and took my wife and kids with me to go to a growing Christian Church in the area.  

    I know the drill.  You either go to the Church of Christ, or you don't go to church anywhere.  Right?  Right!  And all of those things that you want to bring into the church to entertain us...they are going to lead us into a slippery slope of sin and destruction.  Right?  Right!

    My wife and I recently attended the mandatory membership meeting at our church.  It was 4 hours of proof that all the things I've been thinking all these years are correct.  Thank goodness I'm so smart :).  Remember, this is a Christian Church, you know, the part of the Church of Christ that we aren't supposed to recognize.  The first hour and a half was spent on grace, adult baptism by your own decision, and what it means to be a member of a church.  I was good to go. For the next 2.5 hours, I finally understood what it meant to be in a growing church.  Everything they do is focused around a target market.  The elders have decided that the target market for our church is "Married men with small children".  I looked at myself and realized that it worked.  That's me.  Every decision our church makes is based on the target market.  What type of music should we use during worship?  How do we light the stage?  What type of check-in process is used for our children's ministry?  What does the minister wear on the stage?  Every decision is based on the target market.  Will it appeal to the "married man with small children"?  Of course, every market is somewhere on the target, just not in the middle.  Single women, college kid, grandma, etc.  They are all represented somewhere on the target, but not in the middle.  This helps to bring the central focus around strong families with men leading them.  

    Every single one of your 8 points that you made toward the latter of your blog are exactly what our church uses.  Video, projection screens, bright stage lights, dim audience lights, relevant sermons that we can take home and apply, testimonials (stories), pre and post music between services, engaging your whole self to worship, and a strong emphasis on community and growth groups.  Guess what?  They all do this while staying true to the message of Christ.  We live in Pittsburgh, an 85% catholic area.  This church was 200 members 5 years ago.  We are now at 600 members, with 500 weekly attendance.

    Your blog is 100% correct.  It's been proven to work.  We must be willing to try new things and now worry about them failing, but keeping your mission on the target market.  Let's change the target market from "what will keep grandma happy" to something that will grow and sustain God's Kingdom here on earth.

  • Linda Hood

    I grew up c of C, appreciate the foundation I received and love all of my brothers and sisters there. This info is not news to me, it's been happening for years.  I just want to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, hear His voice and say "Yes" to what he invites me to join Him do.  I am naturally drawn to other believers who seek the same.  I don't really care what the sign outside says, just want to worship and fellowship with others who love God first, are daily inviting Him to search their hearts, know their thoughts and point out anything that offends Him, admit they are wrong, repent, desire to have less of self and more of Him transforming them from the inside out.  For me this usually involves a lot of emotion as I let go of self and surrender my will to His.  So I feel more at home worshipping in an environment where I am drawn through music, words and the prompting of the Holy Spirit to express outwardly what I'm going through inside.  I don't even care if it's only a handful of people I'm really intimate with in sharing the common kingdom life or a 1000 who have learned to let go of ego and let God shine through.  Anxious to find them in SC where I've recently moved!

  • James Nored

    Hi Troy. Thank you for sharing! What you have described is a church that has not compromised on core issues like grace, faith, and baptism, but has decided to share the gospel in a way that people today can understand. 

    I am always glad to hear of growing churches, and whatever positive things that I can learn from them I want to do. To go from 200 to 600 members in 5 years is pretty remarkable. Where are you guys located? Thank you for sharing!

  • James Nored

    Here is an added note for those who read this blog initially. I added this just to be clear.

    NOTE - This DOES NOT mean that we have to throw away truth or that these are the only things that we need to do. Hardly. But it may mean that if we speak the language of our culture, they may actually listen to our message. I am not at all for watered down messages or fluff. Telling powerful stories of how God is at work--a conversion story, a story of service, a story of living holy lives, a story of spiritual formation in the home, a story of a marriage coming back together--is not fluffy entertainment. These are powerful stories told well and powerfully. And that should impact everyone. And maybe it will help people to listen and "take in" important truths about Christ, baptism, and the Christian walk.

    I am sure that at some point flannel graph was considered a new fangled technology. And Power Point. And microphones. And air conditioning and padded pews. (Go back and read early Restoration history--there are tons of railings against padded pews and the like.) Every generation is comfortable with whatever technology/communication medium they grew up with, and uncomfortable with ones that they did not. It is the responsibility of those most mature in Christ to be the most generous in their personal preferences to those who are most in danger of being lost or missed. That is what being incarnational means.

  • James Nored

    Linda, thank you for sharing. No, this is not news to you. But it is to many of our people, particularly if they did not grow up in the current generation.

  • Tim Neale

    Nice post, James.  I love that so many of our larger churches are embracing the technology of our times and using it to create an experience.  I certainly does work in attracting younger people to our assemblies.  Just as important as having those nice screens and lights is great content.  Our churches must also invest in content creators that create video that is current and relevant to the local church.  This has the most impact, I have found.

    Speaking to Ken Ngoje's comment, having traveled to Kenya many times and worshiped in their churches, I am more convinced that local autonomy is still a good principle of the CofC fellowship.  In the western world, we do live in an Apple, image based culture but most Kenyans do not.  Most do not have access to much television or internet, so the print ans spoken word are still their primary communications vehicles.  Their culture is emerging from post-colonialism and tribalism and they are strongly drawn to reason and good preaching.  The church of Christ is growing there primarily because of this.  In Nairobi, were westernization is happening faster, they must be able to do things their own way to be relevant to their local area.  Up-country it is different.  Central control of the church would lead to even stronger divisions than we have seen in America.

  • theophilus.dr

    James, your post in an important one, and I believe it opens some issues as to why the "institutionalized church" is failing, including the CoC, which is also being led by competitive thinkers and academicians toward further control by organization.  (I have been all of those, myself).  You seem to be gifted for being able to see from a global perspective as well as from a detailed one, and to relate the two.  In that line of thought, there may be more perspective to be seen from an even higher altitude, which, in turn, give some direction to occurrences on the ground.  God created the natural universe runs by cycles.  Everything in the physical realm is governed by natural law which produces recurrent events in a certain time frame -- economic, political, generational, society, etc.  When the church operates out of the physical (i.e., "the flesh"), the church organization cycles with the natural, because the natural is driving it.  I have been in the CoC for 7 decades; I am a member and retired elder.  I have seen the CoC go from "anti-all" to "debates" to "bus programs" to "gyms are ok" to "evangelical" to "driven purposely" to "Creek Willow" to "missional" to "let's be friendly" to ???  There's more, but each of these methods has been "the latest and greatest" compared to what in the past was supposed to work but didn't, or fizzled out.   

    You knocked on an important door when you talked about the value of "testimony."  That is relational.  For whatever reason, God desires fellowship with His highest creation -- which is us -- in His image.  Our job as individuals is grow to be like God (Eph. 4:24), because the more you know someone and are like someone, the more you have in common to share with them.  The church's job is to promote that relationship so that everyone grows into God's image - parts working together, builds itself up in love, until we all reach ..... (Eph. 4:11-16).  Anything that is done by an individual or the church should pass a question -- "How does this make me grow into the character of Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God?"  The church attendance grows from 200-500.  That's nice; has that growth of the assembly made every person more like God?  Use a buzzword -- "intentional."  Does having instrumental music make me more like God?  How?  (Don't know, but it'll bring them in and they'll get saved and...  How's that been working for us?)  How does having 360 degree screens going 3-D and 120 db help me to be more like God?  And, maybe it does; I'm not saying it doesn't or can't.  But if we make these modifications to appeal to right brain people, we will get people who seek experience and not a total submission to Jesus.  And, too often, that's what happens.  How does this new building make this church operate more like Jesus so that each member is growing into the image of the Creator God?  Don't dismiss those as platitudes because you don't know the answer, because a natural cycle will be the otherwise outcome.  The church is relational; God is relational.  We become like God when we act like Christ to one another.  Love, peace, and unity are action verbs and they are choices.  Ignoring one another, getting my way or I leave, competitive groups -- do not grow people into the image of God. 

    That is the increase in altitude -- get high enough to see Jesus and bring the character of Jesus down to the earthly details in our relations within the church.  To the extent we have eyes on one another, we are operating out of the flesh.  People should come into church fellowship not because we do the world one better, but because they see the image of Jesus Christ being built into every relationship within the church and every marriage.  Come and be a part of that.  Then let's talk about growing from 200 to 500.  Then let's get the church together for a praise service.

    I appreciate your blog and post.  It is a vital subject.  Not surprising that I have voluminous pontifications, myself, on a web site and blog.

    Thanks and God bless.

  • Matthew Henry


    I would challenge you and those reading this article to read Ephesians 4. However when it says "one" read it with the mindset of every believer in Christ around the world no matter what denomination or "church building" they go to. For example:

    I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with every believer in Christ around the world in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each believer in Christ around the world no matter what denomination or "church building" they go to according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says,

    “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
    and he gave gifts to men.”

    (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the every believer in Christ around the world for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (which is every believer in Christ around the world), until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

    Does it make sense? How did Paul say the body of Christ grows? Seriously, did Paul mention the things you did? How does the body grow? Screens, lights, songs before, after?

    Did you see how many times Paul used the word _love_, and the word _one_? I would be so bold to say that the Churches of Christ denomination (and any other denomination) is loosing "members" because they have forgotten what Christ said about how the world would know us. The world would know us by our love for one another.

    When is the last time you or another member of the "church building" you go to went to the other group of believers nearest you and loved them? How about, next Sunday, instead of going to your "church building", go to the nearest Christian assembly of believers to you, sit, participate, and enjoy the message, music and fellowship. Afterwards invite everyone who can make it over for Sunday dinner to your house. Spend the afternoon with them. After that, the following Sunday, find the closest next Christian assembly of believers. Do this until you've covered the entire city and back at your own assembly.

    Looking forward to hearing what obeying Christ will do in His Body!

    Love you, brother!!
  • Matthew Henry

    By the way, brother, I would encourage you to do your research, the left-brain, right brain is a myth:

  • Rick Krug

    Hmmmm, not sure the lack of appeal is in the methods, but in the message. While clearly the COC is shifting and actually merging into mainstream Christianity, it may be that the message is unclear. In many COC, they are answering questions that few are asking.

    But here is a more pointed question: does it matter if the COC is shrinking? In truth, Christianity is not growing in America. Maybe there is a bigger question to be asked: why are followers of Jesus not making a greater impact in the first place?
  • theophilus.dr

    Matthew is certainly correct in saying the Lord's church is worldwide, and boundaries undoubtedly cut through any group or doctrine or "church directory."  The CoC is beginning to accept that maybe other products of the restoration movement might also actually be of the "church," but the negative momentum created by years of active isolationism still exists, and many (most?) in the CoC still do not understand that God saves and we fellowship (a verb).  God alone determines who has been added to the number in the church; our doctrine does not.  Individuals impact individuals and groups; groups impact groups and larger groups; denominations (or equivalent) - Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, whatever, impact a larger group of people.  The world is impacted by a unified church, not be pieces of the body of Christ spread around like a battlefield.  How's that been working for us?  To the extent that the CoC continues to contribute to the division in the body of Christ is the extent to which it will continue to decline.

    Individuals cannot be transformed into the likeness of Christ working alone.  We, alone, are individually transformed when we work together, as the body is collectively transformed into the fullness of Christ.  By dividing the body of Christ, we cut away our own transformation.  Referencing Eph 4 is correct.

    As a neuroscientist, I certainly agree that the right brain-left brain notion has no anatomical or electrophysiological basis.  The notion was created about 30 years ago by psychologists and some physicists looking for something to do to stay employed, and the terms are often used by preachers as if that was cutting edge science.  Even so, if one understands that caveat, the concept can have some value in identifying some patterns of thought that seem to be dominant in different people. I try to look at it that way and understand what the person meant to say.  So, that frees me to agree with the concept of what James was trying to say about people in today's culture seeking different things.

  • Darin Hamm

    I have several random thoughts that will echo some of your other feedback. I agree in some ways and not in others. Yes, the us vs. them mentality must go, false teaching always should. Teaching about stuff that doesn't matter to real world living, agree 100%.


    Lights etc.? Lived the lights etc. world for seven years. Feed me feed me feed me. Just changing masters from the don't sing during communion to we need better lighting, a bigger band, a better drummer.


    Don't get me wrong, if God calls you to a big band I am not going to go against God, but as the answer I would. I love Acts 12 because in the first part James goes to prison and is killed with a sword (vs. 2) while later Peter is miraculously released from prison. What did Peter do right and James do wrong that led to such drastically different outcomes?


    If my memory is correct the average Church of Christ is 100 members, I'm trying to visualize a three screen set-up. I'm guessing some of those have no screen at all.


    Something else that strikes me and hits close to home, I hear it all of the time, I appreciate my great Biblical foundation from the Church of Christ but.... Don't misunderstand me, I'm not bashing, but I would say when you go away and find they don't have this foundation and you have kids, you are cheating them out of the same great foundation. Been there done that.


    I will be honest, I have three and I don't expect any of them to stay "Church of Christ" but of course I don't care if they are following where Jesus leads.


    In the end our fellowship has almost doubled in size over the past year and I'd like to think it is because we love people, no matter who they are or where they have been. But hey tonight we are off to a retreat put on by a Pastor friend of mine from the Bible church in town going with a new follower of Jesus and his son with an assorted past so I clearly don’t fit the logic old school mode.


    God bless you James, we go way back and I know you are seeking to do God's will so keep following the Spirits lead and say what needs to be said.

  • James Nored

    Hi guys. I am going to try to respond to each of your comments. This post has been bouncing around so fast that I have not been able to keep up with it! I wanted to post here a few of the really powerful testimonials that I love from our church. This first one is about a man who is baptized with his three sons and is now teaching them and praying with them in his home each day, and who is also reaching out to others through being a kid's basketball coach. This story was picked up by Bluefish.tv, one of the two major Christian video production companies in the US.

  • James Nored

    Here is a second testimonial video I love. It is the story of Sandy Detherage, who is a great friend of mine who has journeyed with us in helping to bring a lot of younger Christians to faith. In this story--which was also picked up and produced by Bluefish.tv (and my good friend, Clint Loveness)--Sandy talks about sharing his faith at work and viewing his workplace as worship and a mission field. We have to help our people have this awareness of God and others in their lives all the time, and avoid the sacred/secular divide. But that is the subject for another post. :)

  • James Nored

  • Kinney Mabry

    Are elders going to listen and act? Are elders willing to do what ministers suggest that will cause growth? My experience is no.  Most elderships are too scared of loosing even more members for the sake of things that will cause growth.  Sad.  It is time for Elders to get on board with their ministers.  Allow their ministers to do the things necessary to cause growth within the churches. Set your ministers free!!!!!!!!

  • Peter Horne

    James, thanks for the article. If we don't meet (attract) people we can't share the Gospel with them. I know you don't believe the worship service is the only way of doing this. And I agree, it's a good place to start.

    None of my 6 brothers and sisters attend CoC/CC despite being raised in a conservative CC. In some cases there isn't one accessible to them. In other cases the local ones are unhealthy. In other cases they went to churches who were more active in the community. I don't think any of them have looked for the church with the best worship services. Of course, since they were raised in the church their priorities may be different from those with no/little church background.

    Lastly, you do realise the irony of writing about this and even including an 8 point list without any icons, graphics or videos, right?  ;-)

  • James Nored

    Thanks for the thoughts, Peter. Well, yes, there is a lot of irony in this. Like the fact that I am the Missional Outreach guy, writing on this subject, and that this post has gone viral. I guess if only Nixon could go to China, maybe it takes the Missional Outreach guy to talk about the disconnect in our assemblies and church life. I don't think anyone can accuse me of not calling the church to go out. I still absolutely believe in the importance of this. But I can no longer ignore what is happening and pretend that this does not matter. It does, and the reality of the mass exodus of our younger people and failure to connect with others is beginning to sink in to all of us.

    Hey, I did include a picture up there. And I posted some videos below. Man, I have been working on videos all week. But I suppose if I am going to stay true to the spirit of the article and speak to our tribe, prose and lists are what we understand, right? :)

    Another irony--tomorrow is our Harvest Sunday, the day in which we give towards all of our outreach efforts.Always good to hear from you, Peter.

  • James T Wood

    I'm glad this is just one part of many. This is a true(ish) description of what's happened and what's happening in the Churches of Christ. 

    From a bigger perspective, we need to find ways to engage people in all the spiritual pathways. CoC has done a good job of hitting the Intellectual pathway. James makes a good case here for hitting the Worship pathway, but that's only two out of seven (the others being Relational, Creational, Service, Activist, and Contemplative). 

    We are whole people created by a whole God to experience whole life. Because some people have a predilection for encountering God through ideas and others through experience does not make one right and the other wrong. Instead we ought to, like a family, learn to experience God together through those means that we prefer and those that we don't. 

  • Nathan Berry

    James, I love your article and have really enjoyed the website.  I have read through the many posts since your article hit just a week ago.  Some say, "Just turning down the lights or having 3 screens is just show and not about preaching Jesus."  I see their point, but it's bigger than that.  It's a mindset.  These little baby steps in our worship show our own longtime members that we're more about reaching out and touching the newcomers and the younger generation than keeping tradition.  Some of the smaller churches that can't afford 3 screens, having short testimonies shared by members thru video or live is powerful, but rarely done.  What's more effective than hearing a testimony from someone you live life with?... and it doesn't have to be about your conversion but even something recently on your heart. How your grandparents molded and shaped your life-to inspire the listening grandparents to be that influence themselves.


     We are emotional beings, created to be moved with our senses of sight and sound.  Little things we do in our worship do matter.  They can move and inspire us to get out and start salting it up.  "Oh, well all you have to do to get more salty is read your Bible!"  That sounds very reasonable, but it is just not entirely true for most of us.  Some very cerebral types, perhaps.  But most are motivated when things hit the heart, not the head.

    I've heard it said many times about these kind of ideas as "entertainment."  My take is this.  I love watching movies like Courageous, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Flywheel b/c they inspire me, they move me.  I'm a better man for having watched these movies.  I'm 6'3'', 215 and I cry like a baby.  Well, is a movie entertainment?  Absolutely, b/c you enjoy it.  The question should not be, "Is it entertainment?", but rather "Does it move people in a spiritual way?  Is it beneficial?"  If so, then do it, and hope your elders have the boldness to deal with the "no change crowd" and say "I understand your concern, but we feel this is beneficial for the body."

    The "Story of Redemption" has sparked an interest in me to invite some of my non-churched friends over to my house and do an 8 week series.  This is exciting and scary at the same time.  I had always considered showing a DVD in this type of outreach setting, then discussing it.  Your website makes it seem you read the booklets(at home beforehand? or aloud together?) without any media such as video, which is ironic considering the recommended use of media in your post.

    I'd love to actually see thru video or explanation- paint a picture on how a group is run.

    My heart seems so non-denominational as I am so much more concerned about the hearts of our people in our walls and the souls of those outside our walls than about our specific CofC tradition and doctrine, yet my roots and heritage draw and keep me in.  Therefore, I love these discussions.

    Thanks so much for posting the articles and the website.  It has inspired me!



  • James Nored

    Hi Nathan. Thank you for your feedback! What you say is very true. It goes far beyond just these individual things. It is indeed, a mindset, of thinking like a missionary and being incarnational.

    Yes, we use the booklets to go through the Story of Redemption study (www.StoryofRedemption.com), and I often introduce them to how to use the Bible during the study as well, though all of the biblical passages are found in the booklets. I am in the midst of making a professionally done 8 part video series of The Story of Redemption. We will be traveling and doing some awesome shoots at the beach, at the Grand Canyon, and over in Israel. Yes, video is the ideal format for this. However, there are numerous things about the print version that fit into all that I am talking about, including:

    • It starts at Genesis, the beginning, and assumes no Bible knowledge.
    • It asks the questions that people are asking today--who is God, why am I here, if there is a God, why is my life (and the world) so messed up, does God have a plan for my life?
    • It is primarily narrative and does not jump around or proof text
    • It is in full color, with lots of pictures, and attractively designed
    • It draws upon the primary atonement aspect for today's culture--the brokenness in relationships and life, with the idea that through Christ, community (relationships) with God and one another can be restored. Other atonement theme are brought out, but this is the primary one.
    • Over the course of 8 weeks, people can build relationships, be invited to participate in worship or church life, start serving, and be prayed for. All of this helps bring people to faith. 

    We also make these conversion videos, like the one above, that are very moving. In the above video, which we showed this Sunday, Kelly Weatherford talks about how she had prayed for her husband, Charlie, to become a Christian for 13 years. They went through the Story of Redemption, and at the end of the study, he was baptized! Now, everything has changed. Charlie has become the spiritual leader in their home, they are closer than ever, and their children will never be the same.

    Also, please see "How to Use This Study." I also give Missional Outreach Seminars and Spiritual Gifts seminars that cover these issues, if you are interested. Thank you!

  • David Glen Pace

    Actually, this story is as old as the first century church itself. We have the right brain gentile Christians being put upon by unreasonable, outdated and no-fun left brain Jewish Christians (circumcising an adult gentile Christian would definitely be NO FUN). Did I get the brain sides correct? Then we have the marvelous example in Acts as to how to handle it as believers in Christ under the umbrella of love for each other. Basically, the decision was that everyone should adhere to the moral code expressly stated by God and which hasn't changed since creation, and the righties should be careful not to do things that are offensive (repugnant?) to the lefties which may otherwise be their right to do under the new freedom in Christ. In this first century example, I just don't see a condemnation of the left brain Christians other than a quick freedom in Christ lesson. This example is still a pretty good standard I think but hard to remember in the rush to add experiential components to our worship service. Here's my counsel to us all. The visionary righties should start their own congregations in different venues than on existing lefty church properties. In large part, righties didn't pay for those properties and won't be able to change a congregation of lefties without affecting their relationship with each other and creating a lot of angst and ill will. Andy Stanley sets a great example as to how to go about successfully changing direction in outreach. Everyone should read his books. I have. Personally, I think righties are moving in a very exciting direction, but there's no need to leave a lot of enmity and heartache in the wake. Everyone with the true loving Spirit of God should consider this.

  • Jr Sheets

    With love, and as a 33-year old who ministers in a country that is 15 years beyond our own (re:Post-Christianity), I’m going to push back just a little bit on this article.

    Congregations that are doing what you are promoting in your article are a dime a dozen. They are everywhere. That doesn’t make it bad, and that doesn’t make it good. I’m personally very open-handed on worship styles and the use of technology and the like. I’m an avid user of social media and see these as key ways to reach our culture. But there are several things that the article missed.

    Just take a look at where growth is taking place; and then consider the connection to the most listened to preachers today for late teens and those in their 20s and 30s: Tim Keller (in the middle of NYCity mind you, preaches for at least 45 minutes each time); John Piper (regularly preaches 45 minutes); Mark Driscoll (in one of the most unchurched areas of our country, regularly preaches an hour or more); Matt Chandler (45min to an hour); and on and on. Not only are they not in our fellowship, but they preach. They preach a lot. And my age group and the 20s are listening and being saved through it. And it isn’t only Americans who are eating it up.

    So why is my age group and below listening and being discipled through it? Because the God they preach is God; the preaching has purpose; and the focus is on Christ and the Gospel. The God in their sermons is Almighty, challenging, sovereign, loving, just, judge, holy, and on mission. He is not the mushy, feel-good, moralistic, unchallenging, or laughy-laughy god we hear preached from many pulpits every Sunday. People are being saved and sent because God is being preached. And this is what many of our churches are lacking, and it is also what the article lacked. We want to know why people are leaving the CofC? It has little to do with lights and screens. A big reason is that the preaching is lackluster, moralistic, self-absorbed, mushy, and without power; and the Gospel is often missing. This is true of even the most well-known speakers in our tribe. There are other factors, certainly (our post-Christian day, lack of relationship, etc.), but this is a big one, I believe.

    Young people are craving the Word. Absolutely craving it. We are done, are we not, with surface level theology and stupid debates over man-made trivialities?

    Some parts of the article also seemed to be all about the self, which is a cancer in this Disney Land called American Christianity. For example: Should we tell stories? Sure. As a former drug and alcohol abuser I’ve done it for testimony and I’ve encouraged others to as well. There are times and places for that. Absolutely! But consider where the focus goes when that methodology becomes the focus. Let’s just take one of the last paragraphs as an example:

    "Telling powerful stories of how God is at work--a conversion story, a story of service, a story of living holy lives, a story of spiritual formation in the home, a story of a marriage coming back together--is not fluffy entertainment."

    Let's break that down:
    a conversion story = focus, self
    story of service = focus, self
    story of living holy lives = focus, self
    story of SF in the home = focus, self
    story of rescued marriage = focus, self

    That might not be “fluffy entertainment,” but there is caution because each of those are more about the individual(s) telling the story than about Christ. Sure Christ is sprinkled in there, but at the core, many pagans and civil organizations can tell a similar story of some kind and leave Him out.

    But where is the Gospel? The Gospel: That main story that is completely external to us, completely outside of us. That story of Christ that changes hearts and pushes people on mission. A story decreed and carried about by the Sovereign God of the Universe.

    There is a difference between the Gospel (what Christ has done) and the consequences of that Gospel (how we change, what we do). We should share the latter, but only after centralizing everything on the former.

    Focus: Christ. The Gospel. Theology. Biblical literacy. The God of the Bible. Spiritual Maturity. Discipleship. Mission. And turn away from trivial issues our movement has been plagued with. Watch the Holy Spirit work with that.

    In sum: What you win them with is what you win them to.

    Grace be with you -

  • James Nored

    Jr Sheets, thank you for your well thought out post. I agree that preaching is still important. As I state above, the churches that are growing generally have very good preachers. I too don't buy into the idea that a sermon has to be 20 minutes long because people can't sit still. You have pointed to some good examples of this.

    But my point is that that preaching alone does not bridge the cultural gap that is in our fellowship, and if these same preachers were plopped down into our churches, they would face enormous challenges. In discussing this with one of the most prominent and well-known preachers in our fellowship (who is at one of our largest churches), he said that we do not have a problem putting out good preachers. What an example? When Mike Cope was in Abilene, he was one of the best preachers in that town with a church that really believed in both shepherding and reaching out. But where do the college kids in Abilene go? They almost all go to another fellowship, despite great preaching being available. That is simply a fact that cannot be ignored.

    I too believe that there is a thirst for the word of God. But a large majority of people will choose a place where they can get both of these things.

    As to the stories that I mention, I do not believe that those are self-centered. They are stories of God being at work in people's lives! A conversion story is about GOD forgiving a person through JESUS CHRIST and his work on the cross. A story of service is about helping others--selflessness. A story of holy living--well, we are called to be holy because God is holy. This IS the gospel! The gospel is not only about what happens to us at the end of time, but what happens to us NOW, in the present, as the kingdom of God has come near.

    A story of spiritual formation in the home or of a rescued marriage could potentially lean towards more of a self-focus, but it certainly does not have to. The stories I am thinking of are of parents who make godly choices that help their children follow God, or a spouse who changes his life for the benefit of his partner--usually because of what God has done for them and Christ as being the model. 

    Certainly, we have to watch against self-centeredness. But those are not the types of stories that I am referring to.

    You have given some good things to consider here, and I appreciate this. Blessings upon your work in Scotland.

  • Jr Sheets

    Thanks for the reply, James. I see the grace in kind.

    I'll just clarify that my main point was that it isn't so much about the preacher but about what and Who the preacher preaches about. It has more to do with the message than the messenger (though that can help, as Christ has gifted individuals). What I mean is that a certain preacher can be considered "good" but when his theology is shaped by the likes of Brian McLaren, there's a problem. A preacher can be "good" and entertaining and funny but barely open the Bible. You know what I'm talking about: whether it's a message of simply make people feel good; a soft-god; man-centeredness; easy-believism; love-no-matter-what; "enlightened" or post-modern drivel; it comes in many forms. "Good" then, is obviously relative. And so it's about the message more than the messenger; and in that case we DO have a problem with putting out "good" (in message) preachers.

    Here is a thoughtful article (not by me) titled: "Do We Really Need to Be Culturally Relevant?" - of which I quote something in part that nails my thinking:

    Now to be clear, I am not opposed to having nice looking buildings, fancy technology or a great sounding band. But it is problematic when that becomes the impetus that drives what we do, especially with the goal to attract people. And I’m particularly disturbed when it affects preaching with the reasoning that people need cultural relevance. Then churches can become competitive to fill their flock and capitulate to the latest marketing technique.  Rather, if the goal is to attract people to the beauty of Christ and the proclamation of the gospel, then it seems there would be an impetus to remove any distraction to that message and just preach the word, point to Christ and tell people through his word what that means for them.

    ...certainly there are those who enter into the fold not having had a previous churched background. I get that. But new believers need to be introduced to the language of faith and worship that is distinctly Christian without the priority of making it appealing. I fear that when we make everything we do ministry wise on appeal that the new or returning-to-church believer becomes conditioned to cultural relevance instead of language of faith. Taken too far, their multiplication may not be based on a sound message of faith but “come see how cool my church is”.

    I appreciate the dialogue in peace; and your ministry here. Grace be with you -


  • James Nored

    James Harrison, you write, "I believe, James, that the problem is not that we are a left-brained fellowship in a right-brained world, but that we are a program- and sunday morning- oriented fellowship." There is a lot of truth to this, James. We are not very formed spiritually, and we tend towards a sacred-secular divide. What I write about in this blog post is not the only issue that we face. It may not be the greatest issue that we face. But it is still a significant issue and source of disconnect. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • James Nored

    Darin, you say: "Something else that strikes me and hits close to home, I hear it all of the time, I appreciate my great Biblical foundation from the Church of Christ but.... Don't misunderstand me, I'm not bashing, but I would say when you go away and find they don't have this foundation and you have kids, you are cheating them out of the same great foundation. Been there done that."

    One of the real strengths of our heritage is our commitment to Scripture. I will blog about this too. Although, we really do not have a monopoly on this. Most Protestant churches have a high view of Scripture. We are not the only ones who had the motto "back to the Bible."

    So glad that your church is doing well, Darin. I am always eager to learn, so if you have some things to share about this, I would love to hear them. As you say, we go way back. I pray God's blessings upon you.

  • Bill J Green

    James, these are great articles and should be read by all in our fellowship. You are "right on"!!As a student of the Stone Campbell movement for the last 45 years I know there were many paths we should have taken but didn't. We have e discussed this many times so you know exactly how I feel about these matters. As you know many in our fellowship do not want to hear these things, but it has to be said. I think God for your courage to do so
  • Bartlett Cleland

    This strikes me as true to the extent it goes, and hence the suggestions as helpful to the the extent of the analysis.  I think that it misses a fundamental point that many current assemblies do as well -- one size does not fit all.  While the suggestions are fine some of them I find wholly unappealing and wuld not attend such a church and yet I am one of the experiential crowd.  Here is the thing - the church, assemblies, need to stop dictating that one size must fit all.  It may be that home churchs (small groups of Christians) are the way to go.  Churches need to construct a couple different worship experiences so that youth, young, middle age, and senior can all find God' message where they and how they ned to find it...

  • James Nored

    Bart, you bring up a good point--one size does not fit all. The problem is that most all of our churches are geared towards one group--the very left brained--in an increasingly right-brained world.

  • James T Wood

    I'm still really troubled by the persistent view that things are either left or right brained. That's not true from a psychological perspective, a neurological perspective, nor a religious perspective. 

    We're not moving from one hemisphere to another. Nor should we emphasize one way of connecting with God over another. We should seek to be whole people who promote whole worship of a whole God. 

    James, you bring up good and needed critiques of church and the Churches of Christ. It weakens your point to keep keep referring to this idea of hemispherical division within brains, people and culture. 

    Thanks for bring this conversation to the fore. It's a good thing. 

  • James Nored

    James, I understand what you are saying. The right-brain/left-brain designations are just a popular way to talk about these different aspects of the human experience. It is, or has become, a metaphor that can help people visualize something--much like Jesus used metaphors in his teaching.

    I could talk about the difference between the heart and the mind, designations that Scripture uses. Technically, it is not the physical heart that we are talking about of course.

    But, taking your point, perhaps it would be good to speak of these differences in multiple ways--not just right/left brain, but heart and mind. What other designations could we use?

  • James T Wood

    I've found it useful to look at things through the Sacred Pathways or seven spiritual pathways. John Ortberg adapted the book Sacred Pathways in his book God is Closer than you Think. The result is a list of ways that the historic church has approached relationship with God: intellectually, through worship, through service, through contemplation, through activism, through relationship, by experiencing creation. 

    I've found it helpful to look at all of these pathways when helping people (especially young people) to discover a holistic faith. 

  • Darryl Willis

    Interesting article and very important observations. However, allow me to disagree to some extent. First a modified agreement: in my research on storytelling and narrative (in the late 90s) I learned some communication theorists (e.g., Walter Fisher) theorized that prior to the printing press the world tended to be right brained--that is the world was audio and sensory. When the printing press came along the Western world became more left brained and linear. With the advent of television and computers Western society became both (this has accelerated dramatically since then). Rather than "hearing in mono" society now "hears in stereo". They are becoming both left and right brained.

    Now for some qualified disagreement: The world is not looking for experiential assemblies utilizing video so much as they are looking for meaningful relationships. Large mega churches have tended to owe most of their growth to the minority of Americans who gravitate toward traditional buidling-centered-programatic-event-driven church experiences (admittedly I don't have hard figures to back this up with--this is more anecdotal on my part). With the explosion of house churches among young adults we are not seeing more "experiential" worship as described in this blog--but informal relationship-driven and service oriented communities that put more emphasis upon going into the local neighborhoods rather than trying to attract the community to come to some experiential event. My understanding of missional communities (and my acquaintance with a few) is that while the assembly is important, it is not the focal point of life together. Lack of growth (and I would suggest many mega churches may not be growing but rather swelling) may not necessarily be due to a church's focus upon left-brain vs. right-brained strategies--but possibly because they are focused upon a more consumerist mind-set that seeks to attract people to a programmatic-event-driven organization rather than to meaningful relationships with God and with a God-centered community.

    What do you think? Am I missing the point of the article?
  • James Nored

    Hi Darryl. Thanks for the thoughts! If you read the other posts in the series, you can see that I do not think that what I address in this first post is the only thing that is needed to reach people. But it is a big disconnect in my particular fellowship (Churches of Christ).

    The house church movement appeals to some Christians, but has not shown itself to be very effective in reaching new people. Why? Because there is no "public space" for the unchurched to check out the church, and in North America, that is really important. It takes a lot of guts for an unchurched person to go into an intimate home setting and study the Bible and sing songs. 

    Relationships are certainly important and vital and hugely important. But so are the issues in this post, I believe.

  • Darryl Willis

    Thank you, James. However, I don't think it is entirely fair to suggest the house church movement has been ineffective in reaching new people. I think practitioners like Neil Cole would take strong exception with your assessment.

    I am not referring to house churches that are merely attractional churches that happen to be meeting in houses. I am speaking of missional churches (before the word became a catch-phrase that has been losing its meaning) who do not see the assembly as the primary entry point for non-Christians. It is my opinion (and I do give the caveat that I don't have objective research to back this up, but then again I do not think there is objective research to suggest any lack of effectiveness for the house church movement, either) that attractional event-driven churches have not been effective in touching non-Christians as much as they have been attracting current believers who are either disenfranchised or dissatisfied with their present experience. This is not to suggest that somehow the disenfranchised are unimportant. It is merely that the right brain vs left brain dichotomy is probably too simplistic.

    Indeed I have not read the other articles and I look forward to reading them. Again, please don't take this as criticism of the blog. I just think there is more to the issue among churches of Christ than what is presented in this particular post. (And perhaps I will completely revise my opinion after reading the other articles!) 8^)

    Blessings and thanks for opening up the discussion!
  • James Nored

    Thanks, Darryl. Yes, there are different types of house churches, certainly. Those that have a missional community approach can be effective in reaching out. This approach would include adopting and serving a particular people group, as well as creating social and public spaces that the unchurched would be interested in attending. 

    Great to hear your thoughts! It would be good to hear what you think about the other posts as well. What is your current ministry role? So glad that you found us on here.

  • Darryl Willis

    Oh and by the by, when I was actively involved in youth ministry, I tended to avoid video as much (I did use it, though along with a host of other experiential type of activities) for the simple reason that kids were so innundated with media, that it became less effective with them. Not using video was more innovative. Retreats where we banned media became wonderful times of rest and reflection for the kids.

    I've noticed similarities with power-point. I've never heard anyone after a presentation I've delivered say, "You know, that was great, but what I really think it needed was one more slide on your power point!" 8^)
  • James Nored

    Many people misuse Powerpoint. It should primarily be image based, not text based.

  • Darryl Willis

    James--we agree on that! 8^)

    Using text on slides (and especially charts with tons of data) is certainly counter-productive and horribly ineffective. But that misuse of power point isn't what I am speaking of.

    Even those of us who utilize image based slides and avoid text based slides have rarely heard anyone suggest we need more slides rather than less. In fact, I have been working harder to use less slides and integrate more interaction. Communispond, a professional presentation organization has been advancing this for years.

    Power point or video or technology tend to be over used in every aspect of our lives (education, sales, workplace reports). We become overloaded. The overuse of technology makes it less effective. I say this as someone who uses quite a bit of technology including social media as a communication tool. But as we are seeing it is a poor substitute for relationships. This is why I believe relationship is the overlooked element when speaking of church growth. It isn't the flavor of your assembly--it is the integration of a human being with a community he or she knows loves and cares about him or her.

    I don't think you are suggesting that technology is more important than relationships, so I hope I'm not giving the impression that I think you do. I'm just suggesting again that church growth has much less to do with power point and video and technology than we might think.
  • James Nored

    Well, this blog post is now nearing 40,000 views. I have been encouraged that so many have said that they have used this post to generate discussion and thought about how to reach younger generations today. I hope that the other posts in this series are also looked at in these discussions, as this post is just one part of the puzzle.

    I am saddened over those who insist that any type of attempt to use current communication methods and address the "right brain/left brain" disconnect in our fellowship is "entertainment." That is a loaded word, implying meaningless, mindless dribble. That is hardly what I advocate, as one can read above. Powerfully telling God's story in a holistic, current way that speaks to both the head and the heart is what I hope to see us do more of.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Let's keep the dialogue open.

  • Jayaraj.E

    Excellent article with full of information and advises to be implemented in the Churches of Christ throughout the world ..

    Thank you Brother

  • Jim Lovell

    Very dangerous article for four reasons:1)  We cannot increase the size of the Lord's church.  He will only add those that believe and are baptized.  Acts 2:47.  What does this mean?  It is not within our power to change someones heart by what we offer in any type of "experience".  But some will say we are suppose to share the gospel and be an example to bring the lost to Christ.  Exactly!  And we must look to the New Testament example for the pattern which leads to point number two.

    2)  The methods prescribed to reach the lost and keep them are unscriptural.  What commands and examples do we have of people obeying the gospel in the New Testament.  Bold and forceful preaching that made people understand their lost condition, from John the Baptist to Jesus to the Apostles the same message was preached.  Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, believe and be baptized for remission of sins.  Matthew 3:1-12, Luke 3:3, Acts 2:36-39; 9; 14.Look at the response to bold preaching of the gospel.  Show me a response like that today with fluffy preaching and entertainment.

    3)  The focus is solely on young people.  Granted young people, 18-35 year olds, need saving but nobody cares what they want.  All I hear today is young people this and young people that.  We have raise a generation of people who only care about themselves and what they want out of worship and everyone else, including our wise and knowledgeable elders, are ignored.  This is called narcissism and it is the parents fault.  Christianity is never about self and all about sacrificing for others and respecting our elders for their guidance. By the way I'm 38 so I'm stuck in the middle but see the dangerous road our young people are heading down.

    4)  Emphasis is placed upon an "experience" during worship.  Since the young people is everyone's focus we try to give them what they want.  They want lights, music, action and a theatrical experience because that is what moves them and makes them happy.  Worship has nothing to do with pleasing us and everything to do with pleasing God,  Exodus 29:18, Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17.  Worship is about a worship that pleases God.  If we worship how we are suppose to and God is pleased we cannot help but be edified and encouraged.  If this is what it takes to save and preserve worshipers then what are we to do in areas or churches where these funds are not available our countries without electricity?

    I admire your efforts to bring people to Christ but I beg that you examine your Bible to determine what has always brought people to Christ and study history to see what has always brought people to Christ.  The gospel is what saves and brings people to Christ.  Goodies and flashy things may swell your numbers but they will not increase the size of the Lord's church.  Take away the goodies and flashy electronics and they will leave just as the people left Jesus when he stopped feeding bread.

    There are many reasons we are in decline and I'll give you three reasons, lack of intolerance of sin, lack of self-sacrifice and lack of submission especially to elders.  Obviously these reasons are deep and require much more space than I have.  But the world hears us say we are different, but we don't look different, we don't talk different and participate in the same things the world participates in.  The world sees a group of hypocrites and that is not attractive to anyone to join.  The world needs to see a group of people that are different, a called out people, a holy nation of living sacrifices.  If people, young or old, see that they will join if their heart is made of fertile soil.  If not, they will reject God's word no matter what we do. 

    Thank you for you times and I hope I have stimulated some good conversation as we both are concerned about the declining numbers in the Lord's church.

  • Jonathan Granger

    This discussion is of great interest to me. My family and I have been attending a Church of Christ for the last year. I really like the acapella singing and can understand the old fashioned perception about the overall experience. I say experience, because regardless of whether a church uses cutting edge technology and dims the lights, or a traditional setup with bright lighting – both are designed to create an experience. The disagreement seems largely over what the experience should be.

    Personally, I care very much what 18 – 35 year olds think. I care because they are going to be the one's making the decisions much sooner than we might want to accept. After all, we are talking about adults who should make up about a fifth of the church population! Unless there is direct biblical guidance to the contrary, we should communicate to young people in a language they understand and are receptive to.

    Yet, we should not focus on creating an experience at the expense of pleasing God, and certainly not one that is tailored to only one generation. The Bible is packed full of multi-generational worship and heritage, which has allowed prophesy to be passed down over many centuries. Only a bond between old and young (along with divine providence) allows this to happen. Whatever course is chosen it must not separate these two groups into separate worship. I know many churches are doing this today, but they might as well have two separate churches at this point (although one would be broke for sure!)

    What may be surprising is some younger folks are actually seeking out traditional forms of worship and for good reason. They see the commercialization of the church, the highly scripted performances, and the sparse reading of scripture. This is what I love about the Church of Christ we attend – lot's of scripture gets covered each Sunday with little fanfare or worldly marketing ploy.

    Truly, what I often enjoy is the fellowship after the service. People don't head for the doors like in so many churches, and the one thing that really sticks out is the number of people who will invite you over to their home for dinner. This cultivates real relationships, which as previously mentioned are what many people seek.

    I think there are larger issues at work within the Lord's church, and this is perhaps fitting for another discussion tailored beyond independent churches of Christ. This said, the things happening within the churches of Christ are of significant interest to me, because this is where I see people living close to the written Word. This is attractive and resonates with me - it's an experience unto itself.

  • Darryl Willis

    Jim Lovell you said "granted young people, 18-35 year olds, need saving but nobody cares what they want."

    That is a very sad statement to read. It is also clear this is a major problem. Frankly it isn't just 18-35 year olds. Honestly, more 18-25 year olds tend to be more attracted to a "high church" format with ritual and mystery. It is my experience that those who want more of what James has mentioned are the baby boomers my age (50s-mid-60s).

    How does "making preaching biblical" point 5 an "unbiblical method"? or "dimming the lights" we did that in churches of Christ in the 60s all of the time (I remember) when we prayed and took the Lord's Supper. How is power point different from carasol slide projectors, chalk boards, and large flannel boards some preachers were fond of using in the 60s & 70s? How does "emphasizing community" (in light of the first several chapters of the book of Acts) demonstrate and unbiblical method?

    Frankly, I think power point is overused. But it isn't any more anti-biblical than a building, a song book, or a flannel graph. There are no biblical examples or commands for most of what we do in assembly. In fact, what examples do we have of conversions happening during a worship assembly or even for the focus of an assembly to be primarily evangelism?

    Frankly I care what communicates with young people--and old people--and middle aged people. This is a matter of how do people communicate and learn. So it is essential for us to use all possible communication methods to connect. These are not matters of faith but matters of expediency.