Talkin' 'bout a Revolution
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
CBN.com - DENVER, Colorado -- It is Sunday morning in America. As many opt out of a morning spent within the four walls of the conventional church, millions make their way to a local house of worship. Regardless of denomination the scenes are fairly similar. The pastor warmly greets parishioners as they enter the sanctuary while the choir is busily going through a last minute rehearsal. Toddlers, tikes, and teenagers fidget in their seats as parents try to prepare their families for worship.
The service begins. The choir sings, an offering is taken, and the pastor preaches. Perhaps there is a time of testimony, an opportunity for people to share how God is working in their lives. The service ends, a benediction is given, and parishioners filter from the church.
All in all, it seems like a normal Sunday morning. But according to world-renowned pollster George Barna, the church, as most of us know it, will shrink by more than 50 percent over the next 20 years. That is just one of the many findings from Barna’s book ‘Revolution’. In it, he contends that various trends he sees on the horizon will impact every Christian in America.
“I’m suggesting that a huge shift is taking place in the way faith is experienced and expressed in our country,” explains Barna, in a recent interview with CBN.com. “It really is a revolution in terms of the faith world in that the way people relate to God, the way the people relate to other believers, the way they relate to the culture as a result of their connection and relationship with God and other believers – all of that is radically shifting in how they practice their faith.”
This begs the question, why is this happening?
In ‘Revolution’, Barna argues that committed, born again Christians are leaving the conventional church in record numbers because something is missing from their worship experience.
States Barna, “People are saying ‘I know I’ve got to be deeper than this. I know I’ve got to be more intimate with God. I know that I can live a life that glorifies Him so much more than I am now. I need a group of people that will facilitate that in my life. I need the discipline in my life to facilitate that. And so I need to figure out how to make that happen in my context.’
So, rather than soldiering on unfulfilled in the conventional church, many people are branching out to form what Barna calls “spiritual mini-movements” – house churches, marketplace ministries, cyber churches, coffee house gatherings. In any given week, more than 20 million people are worshipping in living rooms, movie theaters, backyards, on computers, or over a meal in a local restaurant.
Such unique, contemporary gatherings are drawing comparative parallels to the First Century Church. During this period it was not uncommon to see Peter and Paul bucking against traditional means of worship to find experiences that would drive them deeper into a more intimate, uncompromising relationship with Jesus Christ.
“If you look at all the stuff that we do in the conventional church in terms of positions and titles, programs, the order of service, what we consider to be worship, it is so far removed from what the original church is all about,” says Barna. “If you not only look at biblical descriptions but the historical descriptions from the time, the First and Second Century, it is kind of refreshing to see that so many people are saying, ‘you know what? I don’t want the programs. I don’t want the stuff. I just want God.’”
The root of the ‘Revolution’ movement may lie in the pulpit. While pastors are always quick to point out that the church is not about the building but the people, they are sometimes unwilling to break out of formalized, hierarchal patterns that benefit the building but not the believer. According to Barna, pastors are usually pleased that many in their congregation are interested in trying new styles of worship but in eight out of ten cases are unwilling to change.
“The first thing pastors need to do is to get over the notion that this is a turf war,” points out Barna. “You see, the very reason you become a pastor is to see people become more mature in their faith and their relationship with Jesus Christ. You know, you might have done something well that instigated that drive and that passion. That is a good thing.”
Not surprisingly, ‘Revolution’ has been met with a great deal of resistance from many church officials and members of the religious media. In fact, J. Lee Grady, the editor of Charisma Magazine, recently wrote in his column that Barna had crossed a line with his new book and had become “something of a mad scientist … he has created a Frankenstein that is now on the loose.”
“The most important thing for me as a researcher is to always provide accurate, reliable, information,” Barna points out. “And whenever I do interviews or write books I always try hard to keep my personal life out of it. Who cares what George Barna thinks? My role, my value to the community of Christ is to try to provide objective information. … We need to work together as a team to figure out how to advance the Kingdom through the gifts that God has bestowed on all of us. The world has already seen the church undercut itself enough. We do not need more of that.”
Ultimately, ‘Revolution’ is a book about change. Virtually no one likes to make adjustments just for the sake of making them. But if there is clear evidence that by modifying an existing structure or ideal so it will become stronger, at a minimum, it should not be dismissed. It is Barna’s observation, and this book has a vast amount of data to support it, that the spiritual energy driving the ‘Revolution’ has the power to redefine the church but more importantly, advance it.
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