According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Friday, June 13, 2014

Today's Postmodern Church... Is It Something That Jesus Would Recognize?


Darren Aronofsky's Noah by Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe

"In its early stages, religion means certainty about many things.
But... he is most religious who is certain of but one thing,
the world-embracing love of God." 

- Charles Hartshorne

Several years ago I began this blog in the hopes of sorting myself out from my past religious background. A good background to be sure, but one still needing sorting out in a very personal way from its institutionalized, religious self.

One that could better represent a very ancient Christian faith much in need of theological renewal, better relevant expression, and a more generous missional outreach to today's postmodern world.

To that end I needed to re-measure the voices in my head-and-heart by selecting the best of my past with the gospel message of the Bible as I now understood it in the hindsight of the 21st century's contemporary issues and praxis.

Of a Christian faith that could hold uncertainty and doubt, and yet a faith that could deeply interact with the social movements of our global societies.

To do this required a very personal effort of deconstructing those institutionalized "religious" voices ringing in my head from those "Spirit" voices I was hearing in my heart.

But it would not be an easy journey....

A New Day, a New Season, to All Things

In a sense, the bells were ringing and I needed to hear them toll afresh by reducing the noise surrounding my faith in order to redact the institutionalized Christianity I was bearing within me. One that had become full of religious opinions that were not Jesus-like, but become very man-like. Whose saving gospel message had become one of judgement and self-righteous indignation rather than a humbler version of its Lord and Savior.

Curiously, in the recent movie Noah (2014), this problem was poised quite succinctly which I wrote about in past articles earlier this year (see reviews here and here). Not only did I find my faith world colliding with my own dissettlement, disillusionment, and disaffections, with the Christian world I once new. I was also seeing it visualized on the silver screen by Russell Crowe's Noah who had to undergo a profound personal change himself to what he thought he knew and deeply believed about his God.

In essence, Noah required a deep change of mind-and-heart of the God he thought he knew in commandment and verse but really didn't know in the Divine's heart and cross of love.

And in a bit of surreal testimony, this Darren Aronofsky visualization of the Genesis Noah targeted the central nerve of what today's postmodern church is moving through in its own journey of spiritual identity and missional purpose.

Which reminded me once again that I was not alone in this journey of rejection and renewal. That there were other similarly minded souls walking Christianity's very tangled paths with me.

And yet, there were none who would personally walk with me during this time of self reflection and personal rewrite. None to share with. Or grieve with. Or be angry with. Or feel destroyed with. That my path was yet mine own solitary path marked only by words and thoughts as I forged through a wilderness of no faith, uncertainty, and doubt.

But in that journey came the deep joy of walking its solitary paths from a dark place to a place of crystallizing light that held a deep spiritual light that I had known all along, but now had better words and thoughts to express it against the growing institutionalization of my faith that had become all rhetoric and condemnation.

For the most part, the people I have meet in my life have helped give words to my journey. Some through their own lives of confusion and interpretation. While others through the sublimity of their grace and good will.

Each personage whom I had come to know held a unique piece of the Lord's puzzle to my own spiritual faith transition that was slowly fitting together into a redeeming picture quite unlike what I would have envisioned many long years ago when first starting out in my youth.

But ultimately, it was myself that had to change. A self that knew no time of rest or faith's certainty. That must travel life's byways from station to station like little Pilgrim of John Bunyan's fanciful story which he had written from prison to his congregants over many long years of religious confinement.

And with that change the Lord added a piece of His own puzzle bit-by-bit from any who unknowingly journeyed with me, sharing a glimmer here or an insight there of His will and heart, wisdom and grace.

Ultimately, the Christian faith is one of paradox. Like the proverbial enigma wrapped in a riddle played out in a mystery to our captive minds and hearts seeking the Lord's direction and grace against our stubborn wills and deafening words.

Or like an onion wherein the Christian faith has many, many layers that stumble on and on and on, not unlike our own journey along redemption's road as it intertwines and bisects with the highways and byways of our own mustering souls, the idols of this world, and even the church's conflicted messages held by pew and religious trowel.

But isn't this what one would expect of an infinite God's many layers of love and wisdom as He seeks out each traveller in accordance with their road of redemption? That we move from point to point, burdened by this or that, seeking enlightenment and encouragement along our long journey's trek?

To not expect that at salvation's first light all is made clear or understood by so simply memorizing select verses, or studying popular chapters and themes of the Bible. That this early effort would be enough to teach the greatness of God's many mysteries and divine will. Or that a church's patient creedal teachings - or a Bible college's ingraining doctrines - are sufficient descriptors of society... or even of man himself. Of humanity's sciences and technologies, history and literature, progress and failures. Or that a certain kind of theology can hold all of the Lord's wisdom and grace in any given time or space.

The World is No Longer Young in its Judgments

Even so, youth doesn't get the last word on one's maturing faith. Nor, do I expect, will death at life's end. But it is this grand journey of faith that we each travel that is our greatest teacher should we seek to stumble along guided by what we think we know while remaining open to modifying those old counselors of yore when confronted by greater sublime truths of the Bible than what we first knew or were taught.

That the Christian faith's greatest asset is its teachability. That a spiritual man or woman's greatest guide is to be willing to relearn what we once thought we knew all too well. To be willing to repent, and let go, and move on, even if it means going against the greater tide of popular religious opinion, itself its own deceiver in so many ways.

And when confused, to consider Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who brings the greatest definition to the God of the Old and New Testament claimed by prophet and apostle, temple and church, priest and king, slave and free, shackled and unshackled. Who taught of a God little recognized by the religious institutes of His day more willing to condemn disbelievers than to repent of its sins and errant renderings of the God they claimed they knew.

And so, what we might had once known in our youth - or had great feelings about later in life - can in themselves become errant counselors to the living, vibrant, faith of God Himself. Such that religious men and women (and even avowed atheists themselves) too-often confuse their Spirit-journey with its many way stations of refreshment and pleasure, darkness and pain, religious principle and dictum.

But the Lord's Spirit is our best, and steadiest, of guides. Albeit, a shifty one. Who, from time-to-time, when seeing our own spirits hold on too much to one facet of belief, or opinion, or willfulness, will re-direct us along tortuous paths to reawaken our souls to God's rights and claims in our lives. While at the same time leaving other more viable paths unseen or unvisited until at a later time when maturity and wisdom might be more present in our lives to measure the councils of God.

To this we each can attest that it was the Spirit of the Lord who led us on our many journey's meandering paths from early childhood to accruing adulthood. From a simple child with childlike faith-and-curiosity to a harden soul aching from the ills of this world whose pains have slashed deep and wide.

That this divine journey was never an easy trek. Nor would it ever be. That each day brings fresh pains and sorrows, new joys and blessings, in this thing we call life and must live discerningly every day.

While knowing that each pain or joy is yet another opportunity to go astray of the path of the Lord. Yea, the human heart is fickled. And its ears too eagerly attuned to listening to too many unhelpful voices with the truest of intents. Whether by pulpit or professor. Parent or friend. Life mate or idle wonder. That at times we must make our own judgments. And perhaps against all we believe knowing in our heart-of-hearts that it is the right thing to do.

But I can say, when reading these past several years of the testimonies of  similarly conflicted brothers and sisters in the Lord, that the blogging of my own journey was the right thing to do. If only to share my own sense of confrontation with the Christian message I grew up with which needed its own deep sense of reformation. A message I have struggled deeply with - even as many have themselves - when sensing its conflict with the broader gospel of our Savior.

That perhaps our limiting hermeneutic of the Bible needed expanding. Or the church creeds we knew so will might need a broader reflection in the pools of God's grace and mercy. Or that the world's scholarship might be allowed a bit more leeway in helping to guide us in the reading of the Bible's many stories; as set against the religious scholarship we had grown up with, knew, and were well versed in. Or that humanity itself, and nature itself, might further teach us of the wisdom of God's Word lying hidden in its pages without eyes to see or ears to hear or mind or tongue to grasp and tell. That in the end, we needed a larger perspective of God than from our own imaginations, religious tribe, and enculturated people.

The Demand to Write a Postmodern Theology

And even now, after so long a time of writing, I still feel the burden to write of my spiritual journey. To put fresh words and prayers to a Christian theology that needs a bit of coaxing from its overgrown garden of thistles and thorns, roses and cream.

To write of a new theology that is fresh, contemporary, and postmodern. If not post-evangelical with all the radical-ness that it implies away from its overly orthodox self. An orthodoxy in need of deep revival. If only to reclaim it back to the paths it once had walked in younger, gayer times, when life was so simply beheld and understood in its innocence.

And yet, if it does not, then I fear for others on this same journey towards God and redemption who might need a timely word of encouragement. Or a bit of coaxing along the path of Jesus to not give up.

To know that Christianity itself is no less in the throes of renewal than that of its present inheritors are who would follow the Christ of their faith against flames and arrow. That with each fundamentally new era (such as this postmodern era which itself is rapidly morphing into something else) the church has entered into a new world that cannot contain an old gospel message written for a classical, medieval, Renaissance'd, or even Enlightened faith many years earlier.

That the story of redemption held upon the pages of Scripture tell of an ancient story that is both old and new. A story which must morph and change to meet the needs of each new era of societal remake and redefinition. Whose very identity demands its readers to remit its truths by what they knew and understood in their timely ages.

A story that can as easily be lost should we try to contain it within the church's older wineskins of truth and knowledge having itself grown outdated and inflexibly bound by dogmatic hide and aging sinew, dithering hand and moiling understanding, societal caricatures and idolizing templates.

But to do this will require a proper critique of the past - both of our own histories as well as the church's in a postmodern deconstructive sense. But also a goodly measure of constructive rebuilding and re-envisioning of what the Christian faith can mean both now and at its best for the next generation of youth next to come.

To write of a postmodern Christian orthodoxy whose foundational elements adhere to an ancient past while avoiding its own minefields of enculturated untruths: heretical witch hunts, church-based inquisitions, disputed disallowance of slavery, denial of civil rights, nationalistic war drums, and etc and etc (sic, When Christian Beliefs Make for Unaffected Religious People).

Which discoveries may lead to fields of faith's opportunity while shedding the death mask of "religious man" himself in need of the "Spirit mask" of God met in human form..... Not only in Jesus, but in the global dress of the Jesus-church itself. In the I's and you's of the world who stumble along in the good and bad of us trying to find a God it seeks but doesn't understand nor perceive its own journey's end.

The Aftermath of a Postmodern Faith

At the last, I am unwilling to lay down mine own personal journey just yet. Whose pen must write until I can hear other voices of reason with mine own telling me I was not alone in my wilderness of distress and dismay with the institutionalized church and its insufferable doctrinal hegemonies. That there were others that travailed with me, though I knew it not. Who were seeing and feeling the same Spirit-led things I was seeing and feeling. And that, with one voice, we had together prophetically cried out, "Even so, Lord, come."

As such, in answer to this blog title's post, "Today's Postmodern Church... Is It Something Jesus Would Recognize?" Than yes, it is.... If measured in its emerging forms of dissettlement, disillusionment, and disaffection, with the larger Christian world become overly religious. Telling of a Christian faith that is quite unlike its Lord and Savior.

And yes, if it has become one that is measured in the spiritual doubt and uncertainty and restlessness that holds the human breast to a godly belief - and a life's testimony - against biblical untruth and egregious doctrinal presentation towards others dissimilar to ourselves in religious faith and practice.

A more gracious belief seeking to find a more sublime spiritual resonance with the Lord of the Cross who suffered, and died, and was resurrected, in the pains of His own godly faith conscripted for this lost world and condemned for it's courage and clear-sightedness.

Even so, does this same church of the Risen Lord follow in Jesus' testimony: to suffer, and die, and by resurrection find God in this life here-and-now as in the next to come (1 Peter 1.11b,c).

Who can embrace life's spiritual hardships with a testimony of enlightening spiritual light. Who might reject sin's prevailing darknesses with the clarity of divine grace and mercy, hope and forgiveness.

Who declare by present act, and renewing message, of a clearer gospel message become much abused or misunderstood by many... even the present church of its day through the councils of its scholastic bodies and pulpits.

To be postmodern day prophets in the face of postmodern day debates and attrition. To tell of God and His Word in the enlightening truths hard won by so many desperates, martyrs, and suffering journeys of God's attuned people, written in the blood, sweat, and tears of travail and goodwill.

Let us then enter into this grand fellowship of past divines to discover the unity of God's peace, and its meaning of life, as it was meant to be, and not as it was suppose to be by failing human mind and will. To the Lord's glory and praise. And in the truths of His Spirit and Word. Amen.

R.E. Slater
June 13, 2014 (yes, as in Friday the 13th!)
re-edited, June 16, 2014






Why Christianity Is Dying While Spirituality Is Thriving
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/cristinaodone/100078209/christianity-isn%E2%80%99t-dying-it%E2%80%99s-being-eradicated/

Author, Speaker, Thought Leader, Spiritual Teacher

October 12, 2012

The title of this post alone will put some branches of the Christian church immediately on the defense. The fact is, however, I travel all over this country coaching religious leaders and consulting with congregations of every stripe imaginable. And there is one overarching conclusion to which I've come: Christianity is dying. Or, to put it more accurately, the Christian church is dying while the Christian faith, in too few places still, seems to be slowly, but gratefully, morphing into something new.

And better.

Admittedly, there are a few churches that are growing in the U.S. Some are evangelical; others are Catholic, although most of their growth is largely the consequence of the influx of Hispanics who are, almost universally, Roman Catholic. To those blinded by illusion, however, the few churches that are growing has made some feel driven to object, particularly if they happen to be part of such a church, by saying, "The church is doing quite well, thank you!"

The truth is, it is not. And when church leaders are honest, and many of them are not, they will acknowledge that they are drawing most of their growth from the disaffected, disavowed and disillusioned who have left or [are] leaving other churches. If you were to interview those who are leaving and going to these few growing churches, as I have, you would discover that for many of them, they feel spiritually disconnected and displaced, while still desiring to know and to feel a vital spiritual life. Unable to find it in much of the madness they've chosen to leave behind, they turn to these rapidly growing churches, many of which have become "mega" churches as a result of this phenomenon, in a kind of last ditch effort to find something that resembles spiritual sanity.

Regrettably, however, what many of them soon find even in many of these growing churches is just a polished-up and well-rehearsed, as well as well-performed, version of the same madness they left. Before long, scores of them wind up leaving even these [church experiences] and then join the ranks of those persons known today as the "Nones" -- who are, by the way, now one in every five Americans. These "Nones" have all but given up on organized religion and now simply regard themselves as spiritual but not religious. It is to these and for these I regularly write and blog.

So, what do I mean by the statement, "the Christian faith seems to be morphing into something new?"

I do not mean by this a new religion. To the contrary, what I'm seeing is a new and refreshing emergence within the Christian religion itself. Perhaps, as at no other time in Christian history, except perhaps the first few decades following the death of Jesus, the church today is slowly becoming, but in too few places as yet, something that I suspect Jesus himself might actually recognize. There is within this new emergence an affinity for those matters of social and personal justice, compassion, spiritual wholeness and unity within and among all people and faiths. These were the obsessions of Jesus while here on earth.

I regard these few churches as glimmers of hope scattered here and there.

What does this new emergence within the Christian religion look like?

1. This new, emerging church is made up of people who are desperately seeking ways of understanding, and in many cases, rewriting Christian theology. It needs to be rewritten. For decades now, the church has sought to survive on a doctrine of salvation that depended on the shedding of innocent blood to appease an obsessively angry God so as to rescue humanity from what would otherwise result in their conscious and eternal torment in hell. It's crazy theology. It is not what Jesus taught. And as a consequence, it ([evangelicalism])  is more pagan than it is Christian.

2. These new churches have a healthier view of their sacred text known as the Bible. They revere the Bible without making a god of it. Instead [of] worshipping the Bible as a kind of "Constitution," as Brian Mclaren dubs it in "A New Kind of Christianity," they interpret the Bible for what it is: an inspired book, capable of providing inspiration, wisdom and spiritual direction, not a textbook on science or morality or answer-book preachers might use for "Stump the Preacher" talk-shows.

3. These Christians no longer feel the enemy is liberalism, even "secular humanism," as it is commonly labeled in the declining and dying branches within Christianity. Admittedly, they see dangers in any extreme notions, whether in liberal theology or humanistic philosophy, but they have awakened to the realization that the church has met the "real" enemy -- and the real enemy is the church itself. Furthermore, these Christians no longer believe gays will destroy the institution of marriage when heterosexuals have successfully accomplished that all by themselves. Waging war against gays, lesbians and those within the transgender community is like trying to defend slavery. Furthermore, these have given up the church's war with science and psychology, choosing instead to embrace the truths science teaches us, not only about the origins of the universe, but about the complexities of the human mind, human development and sexuality.

4. Further, I see this new evolving Christianity being birthed in the hearts of sincere and devoted Christ-followers who are open to what other religions can teach us about spirituality, too. They would regard, for example, Desmond Tutu's statement "God is not a Christian," as the truth. While affirming that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19), and cherishing that belief within their own faith confessions, these Christians would embrace and, in fact, do embrace the spiritual insights that may come from Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and scores of other spiritual traditions. They have exchanged the insanity of the dying church that insists "We're right! You're wrong," for the sane "We're in and you are, too" approach to human and religious solidarity. Together, these Christians seek spiritual awareness -- spiritual enlightenment -- and they seek the good of all people, too, even those who embrace no religion.

5. Finally, but I could go on and on in my observations, this emerging new Christianity no longer interprets Christian "hope" as some "pie-in-the-sky" future paradise that they alone will enjoy, along with those who agree with their theology, their eschatology and their exclusivist beliefs. No, these Christians would view "hope" the way Jesus their leader viewed it; the way the prophets of old viewed it; the way the entire biblical narrative views it: as a vision of the world wherein peace and justice and plenty for everyone exists in the here and now; a world that reflects "God's will on earth just as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10); a world where all people are treated equally, cared for, respected, fed and nurtured for the wonderful creations of God that they are; a world where all people regardless of color, sex, race, religion, political party, nationality or sexual orientation have a voice and a place; a world where people and nations, as the Prophet Isaiah put it, "beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; where nation no longer takes up sword against nation; where war is no longer learned" (Isaiah 2:1-5).

It is this kind of church that will emerge and thrive. The others will die a slow and agonizingly painful death.

For all the reasons above, and a host of others, spirituality is thriving both inside and outside these new and emerging expressions of the Christian faith. For me, and a growing number of other progressive-minded Christians, that is a cause for hope.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *



Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-mcswain/why-nobody-wants-to-go-to_b_4086016.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000051

Author, Speaker, Thought Leader, Spiritual Teacher

October 14, 2013 

That's the title of a new book written by Joani Schultz and Thom Schultz. And it's a question those leaving are more than ready to answer. The problem is, few insiders are listening.

And, of course, that IS the problem.

In a recent issue of Christianity Today, for example, Ed Stetzer wrote an article entitled,"The State of the Church in America: Hint: It's Not Dying." He states: "The church is not dying... yes... in a transition... but transitioning is not the same as dying."

Really? What cartoons have you been watching?

Clearly, the Church is dying. Do your research, Mr. Stetzer. According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, more than 40 percent of Americans "say" they go to church weekly. As it turns out, however, less than 20 percent are actually in church. In other words, more than 80 percent of Americans are finding more fulfilling things to do on weekends.

Furthermore, somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 churches close their doors every year. Southern Baptist researcher, Thom Rainer, in a recent article entitled "13 Issues for Churches in 2013" puts the estimate higher. He says between 8,000 and 10,000 churches will likely close this year.

Between the years 2010 and 2012, more than half of all churches in America added not one new member. Each year, nearly 3 million more previous churchgoers enter the ranks of the "religiously unaffiliated."

Churches aren't dying?

No, of course not. Churches will always be here. But you can be sure, churches are going through more than a mere "transition." I study these things carefully. I counsel church leaders within every denomination in America, having crisscrossed this country for nearly two decades counseling congregations as small as two hundred in attendance to churches averaging nearly 20,000 in weekly attendance. As I see it, there are "7" changing trends impacting church-going in America. In this first of two articles, I'll address the "7" trends impacting church-going. In the second part, I'll offer several best practices that, as I see it, might reverse the trends contributing to the decline.

Trends Impacting Church Decline:

1. The demographic remapping of America.

Whites are the majority today at 64 percent. In 30 to 40 years, they will be the minority. One in every three people you meet on the street in three to four decades will be of Hispanic origin. In other words, if you are not reaching Hispanics today, your church's shelf life is already in question.

Furthermore, America is aging. Go into almost any traditional, mainline church in America, observe the attendees and you'll quickly see a disproportionate number of gray-headed folks in comparison to all the others. According to Pew Research, every day for the next 16 years, 10,000 new baby boomers will enter retirement. If you cannot see where this is headed, my friend, there is not much you can see.

2. Technology.

Technology is changing everything we do, including how we "do" church. Yet, there are scores of churches that are still operating in the age of the Industrial Revolution. Instead of embracing the technology and adapting their worship experiences to include the technology, scores of traditional churches, mainline Protestant, and almost all Catholic churches do not utilize the very instruments that, without which, few Millennials would know how to communicate or interact.

However, when I suggest to pastors and priests, as I frequently do, that they should use social media and, even in worship, they should, for example, right smack in the middle of a sermon, ask the youth and young adults to text their questions about the sermon's topic... that you'll retrieve them on your smartphone... and, before dismissing, answer the three best questions about today's sermon, most of the ministers look at me as if I've lost my mind. What they should be more concerned about is why the Millennials have little or no interest in what they have to say.

3. Leadership Crisis

Enough has been written about this in the past. But you can be sure, clergy abuse, the cover-up by the Church, and fundamentalist preachers and congregations have been driving people away from the Church, and continue to drive people away, faster than any other causes combined.

4. Competition

People have more choices on weekends than simply going to church. Further, the feelings of shame and guilt many people used to feel and church leaders used to promote for not attending church every week is gone.

There are still those, however, who want to categorize Christians as an explanation for the church's decline in attendance in a futile effort to make things not look so bad. But this, too, is the illusion that many church leaders and denominational executives are perpetrating but nobody is paying attention. They are just too blind to see that.

For example, in the very same article I referenced above, Ed Stetzer has concocted three different categories of Christians he conveniently thinks explains the dire situation faced by the church.

He says there is a kind of "classification" system between those who "profess Christianity" as their faith choice.

  • First, he says there are cultural Christians or those who "believe" themselves to be Christians simply because their culture says they are. But, clearly, he implies they are not.
  • Second, he classifies a group of congregational Christians which he says are not much better off than the first misguided group, except that these are loosely connected to the church.
  • Third, he notes the third group, which no doubt he ranks as "his" group, that he calls the convictional Christians. These are the true Christians who are actually living their faith, according to Ed Stetzer.

I've got news for you, Mr. Stetzer, there are scores of people who have left the church, not because they possess some phony or inferior faith, as you would like to believe, but precisely because they do not want to be around judgmental people like you. They have left, not to abandon their faith, but precisely because they wish to preserve it. You would be much better off to leave the judgment-making to Someone infinitely more qualified to do so (Matt. 7:1).

5. Religious Pluralism

Speaking of competition, there is a fifth trend impacting the decline of the church in America. People have more choices today. Credit this to the social changes in the '60s, to the Internet, to the influx of immigrants and minorities, to whatever you'd like, but the fact is, people today meet other people today of entirely different faith traditions and, if they are discovering anything at all, it is that there are scores of people who live as much, if not more, like Christ than many of the Christians they used to sit beside in church.

The diversity of this nation is only going to expand. Which is why, you might debate some of Diana Eck's conclusions, the Harvard scholar and researcher, but her basic premise in correctly stated in the title of her book, A New Religious America: How a 'Christian Country' Has Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation.

6. The "Contemporary" Worship Experience

This, too, has contributed to the decline of the church. It's been the trend in the last couple of decades for traditional, mainline churches to pretend to be something they're not. Many of them have experimented with praise bands, the installation of screens, praise music, leisure dress on the platform, and... well... you know how well that's been received.

Frankly, it has largely proven to be a fatal mistake. Of course, there are exceptions to this everywhere and especially in those churches where there is an un-traditional look already, staging, an amphitheater-style seating, as well as the budget to hire the finest musicians to perform for worship. In traditional, mainline churches, however, trying to make a stained-glass atmosphere pass as the contemporary worship place has met with about as much success as a karaoke singer auditioning for The X Factor.

7. Phony Advertising

There's one more trend I'll mention I believe is having devastating impact on the Church and most certainly contributing to its decline. You cannot tell Millennials that your church welcomes everybody -- that all can come to Jesus -- and then, when they come, what they find are few mixed races or no mixed couples.

You cannot say, "Everybody is welcome here if, by that, you really mean, so long as you're like the rest of us, straight and in a traditional family."

In the words of Rachel Evans, a millennial herself and a blogger for CNN, "Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters."

In other words, cut the bull. If everyone is not really equally welcomed to the table at your church, stop advertising that you are open to anyone. That is not only a lie, but Millennials can see through the phony façade as clearly as an astronomer, looking through the Hubble telescope, can see the infinity of space.

There are other trends. These are just a few of them. In Part Two, I'll offer some "best practices" I think the Church should seriously consider if it ever plans to get real and honest about its future and its influence on culture and society.