When I hear the bickering that goes on between mainline churches and evangelical churches, I shake my head and laugh at what both sides are saying about each other. Mainline churches accuse evangelical churches of sheep-stealing; but the fact is that this is far less a significant issue than the baptised-confirmed members in mainline churches having chosen to stop attending church on their own, even before they have decided to make the switch. If they have switched to an evangelical church, they have chosen to do so likely because they have found that their once-staggering faith had been reignited and have experienced freedom and refreshment through the work of the Holy Spirit. Traditional mainline churches need to realize this and stop the blaming.
When young people choose to stop attending church, they do so mainly because their faith has not been solidly formed, and/or they no longer see church as being a significant community to belong to, except for, perhaps, the purposes of getting married, baptized and buried (or what is known as “match, hatch, and dispatch”). The fact is, many no longer even view these rites of “match, hatch and dispatch” as significant life rituals.
Increasingly, evangelical-conservative churches are also facing the same problems as mainline churches. Many young people raised in evangelical homes have chosen to stay away after they leave home for school. Why? Perhaps it was due to ineffective discipleship? Church is no longer a significant part of their lives because they have been overtaken by the mores and values of the dominant culture. They no longer see church as a significant community to belong to, so they choose never to return to church after college or university.
It is an undisputed fact that the majority of teens, twenty to thirty-somethings do not attend church, and, many, have absolutely no idea what church and the Christian faith is about. Many have never even stepped foot inside of a church and do not personally know anyone who is a regular church attender. Thus, it is safe to assume that we are living in a post-Christian culture.
Since we are living in a post-Christian society, or what I’ve heard some call a “repaganized” society, I am increasingly convinced that the church’s call to God’s mission (Missio Dei) must be approached within a contextualized framework that acknowledges a new generation of postmoderns who have no idea what the Christian faith is really about. We can no longer assume any knowledge of Christian faith. They may be spiritual, but are not religious. The problem of the church is that many who come from the traditional evangelical and mainline churches are either slow to recognize this, or they don’t want to admit this as a real-world fact. Many are living in what I call “lala land” and are self-deceived into believing that our society is still in an era of “Christendom”. They are stuck in their current framework and cannot figure out why their churches are seeing a greater decline in membership. This is true of many traditional denominations, from Lutheran (ELCA), Anglican/Episcopalian Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist, American Baptist, United Church (UCC), and others.
I wish both evangelicals and mainliners would stop fighting each other and try to begin to understand each other, and understand their common struggles, and begin to work together in God’s mission. It is funny how denominational lines and theological differences can prevent cooperation. Yes, I know there are still theological differences between mainliners and evangelicals. Sometimes, I see hope, and sometimes I don’t see any glimmer of hope of bridge-building and real ecumenism. My personal hope is to help each other to begin to understand our differences and our commonalities so that we can cooperate and do ministry together within a postmodern society without the bickering, blaming, and high-nosed snobbery that goes on.
For the near future, I’m thinking about starting a series of posts to discuss the differences and commonalities between evangelicals and mainliners for the purpose of building mutual understanding and demystification.