If what I read in the media is correct, the church in America should now be taking its final gasps of air. Christians have all become judgmental hypocrites, pastors are dropping like flies, young people are leaving in record numbers, and church after church is closing its doors. Perhaps, our best option would be to pack up our efforts and nervously huddle together as we anticipate the return of Christ.
The “problem”—if you can call it a problem—is that my personal experience doesn’t exactly mesh with the media reports. There are significant problems, no doubt, but from where I sit, Western Christianity is nowhere close to being dead.
A couple of months back, I had the privilege of attending the Oasis annual leadership conference with Elim Fellowship (EF)—the ministry through which I am ordained. I’ve been licensed with EF since 1997, and whenever the opportunity to connect presents itself, I can’t help but marvel at some of the great people I am getting to know. We’re talking about devoted believers who, motivated by the love of God, continue to make significant sacrifices for the benefit of others.
Furthermore, our gatherings are always full of life. Yes, there are times when we limp into a conference after navigating the adversities that come with doing ministry, but mysteriously, God always meets us in powerful ways. Then, through personal interaction, I am blessed to talk firsthand with people about their ministries in America and abroad. It’s not uncommon for me to find myself in awe of their efforts.
I might also point out that it’s not just Elim Fellowship that is prospering these days. One of our keynote speakers this year was Matthew Barnett—the founder of the Los Angeles Dream Center. Matthew shared story after story of men, women, and children who have found freedom and life after addiction, homelessness, and criminal activity. And though their ministry is somewhat unique in its reach, it is by no means alone in its fruitfulness.
On the local level, my wife and I are active members of the Summit—an Assemblies of God church. We’ve been in this same church for over thirty years, and I’ve never seen it doing better than it is now. Furthermore, as I interface with church members and leaders, I realize that ours is only one of several healthy churches in our community.
According to our world’s mindset, virtually all Christian leaders are hypocrites, and yet I constantly find myself in awe of the love and devotion that I so often encounter. There’s the pastor (actually more than one) who left his well-paying dream job to immerse himself in people’s problems. And the pastoral couple who adopted six kids (three are special needs) in order to give them a decent home life. It’s not just the leaders either; I’ve been privileged to interact with a lot of genuine church people whose lives manifest God’s love as they sacrificially serve others.
Am I trying to say that all is well with the Western church? By no means. As a friend likes to say, “All is never well when you are pastoring people.” Our society seems to be more dysfunctional than ever, so there is no way that churches and ministries can be problem free. We cannot help but stay vigilant and address critical issues that impact the vitality of our fellowships and the well-being of our society.
No doubt, there are significant changes that we need to make if we are to turn the overall tide of decline that we’ve seen in the Western church, but I am confident that the future of Christianity in the West is bright. Why? Because God is alive and well. The inhabitants of a tiny planet in our massive Universe will never stop the plans and purposes of our eternal Creator.
No matter how hard humanity has tried to kill God and destroy the credibility of the Bible, He continues to bring spiritually dead people to life. The church doesn’t need to be saved; it already is. Our call is to wisely live out what our loving Lord has already accomplished for us.