Barna’s Research on the American Church

Jon Tyson is pastor of Trinity Grace Church in New York City. In his book, Sacred Roots, he wrestles with recent statistics about our church and compares us with the early church. He hopes we catch a vision of what we should—and can—be. Here is a Reader’s Digest type summary of his thoughts.

In contrast to the early church, modern Christians are richer in resources than any church in history. We can get multiple Bible translations on the internet or at the Dollar Store. We have instant access to the best preaching and teaching on TV, radio and online. Christian programs, music, and sophisticated Bible software are at our finger tips through electronic gadgetry. Conferences exist on church growth, leadership and even one for those who don’t attend church anymore.

What Are We Missing?  Despite all this, according to the Barna Research Group, the church has steadily lost ground in the last decade. Over the last six months, more than half of all millennials have not attended any church; six out of ten have dropped out of church altogether and the rate has increased over the last decade. Are Jesus’ words to the church at Laodicea applicable to us? ”You say, ‘I am rich and well off; I have all I need.’ But you don’t know how pathetic and pitiful you are! You are poor, naked, and blind.” [Rev 3:17]

How different was the early church movement from ours! These believer were poor in resources, but rich in results. They captured the attention and imagination of the Roman Empire. In a few hundred years they dethroned the old pagan gods and had slavery and cruel arena games on the run. Christ’s followers were maligned, persecuted and martyred for their faith They had no professional clergy, church buildings, Bible schools, seminaries,  printing presses, and few Bibles since manuscripts were tedious to copy and expensive.

How Did This First Church Make an Impact? They had a favorable reputation with the pagans around them. What was that reputation. “Look at those Christians, how they love one another.”  This was due to the fact they took seriously the order Jesus gave his church the night he was betrayed  “A new command I give you. Love one another as I have loved you .”(John 13: 34).

Christ’s mandate wasn’t a rehash of the old covenant law to love our neighbors, i.e. those outside the church. It was a new and different. He told us to love our brothers and sisters in the church. We know they obeyed this because of a comment on their reputation by a pagan writer,

How does this help us today? The answer lies in the what Jesus said would happen if we obeyed his command.that the world will recognize you as my disciples.”(John 13: 35). Even though Jesus emphasized this by repeating it five times, attention to this vital  command and promise is largely absent in our modern churches.

We could go a long way to accomplish this by uniting in prayer, as Jesus did, “Father, may they be one, ….…may they be brought to full unity. Then the world will believe. “[John 17]  Jesus repeated this request four times in verses 11, 21, 22. It was very important to him. How important is it to the modern church?

O God of mercy and grace, shine upon your church today. Forgive our divisions. Make us great again by our true obedience to your law of love for you, one another and our neighbor.

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