Review: essential church?
by Thom S. Rainer
The Rainer father and son authorial team — Thom and Sam — have shot the latest signal flare to urge, warn and compel the church to reach young people or die.
Based upon a comprehensive research project, the authors write, “With more than 80% of North American churches stagnant or declining, the church is quickly becoming nonessential to society. With nearly 4000 churches closing their doors permanently each year, a turnaround is imperative.”
The book focuses on the age group of 18-22 year olds and asks why they have left our churches in alarming numbers. Their study confirmed what collegiate ministers have anecdotally known for years: 2/3 of churched young people leave the church during the years of 16-22, with the largest surge occurring at age 18.
While the Rainers make clear that many of these are not leaving their faith but only leaving the institutional church, further research into those that dropped out revealed that even those claiming “faith” are dismally unaware of the most primary Christian teachings and doctrines.
Only half of our young adults agree with the church’s teachings. To be blunt, God has convertedour children, but we have failed to disciple them.
The Top Ten Reasons given among church dropouts? 1. Simply wanted a break from church. 2. Church members seemed judgemental or hypocritical. 3. Moved to college and stopped attending church. 4. Work responsibilities prevented from attending. 5. Moved too far away from the church to continue attending. 6. Became too busy though still wanted to attend. 7. Didn’t feel connected to the people in my church. 8. Disagreed with the church’s stance on political or social issues. 9. Chose to spend more time with friends outside the church. 10. Was only going to church to please others.
The rest of the book unpacks these reasons and seeks to examine ways the church can address them and also exposes faulty thinking in the lives of those who dropout. Both groups bear significant responsibility for change.
Their main conclusion, however, is revealed in the title of the book. Young adults wouldn’t drop out of church if their church was essential to them. They then offer prayerful and practical guidelines for helping a fellowship of believers to become more essential in life.
The four focal points to becoming an essential church are 1) simplify, 2) deepen, 3) expect, and 4) multiply.
The section of the book that dealt with “simplify” built on a previous Rainer book, Simple Church. Their main point is that structure, while not the most important element, can hinder or promote the elements that matter most. If a church’s structure is wrong, no matter how well-intentioned it is, it will become nonessential in the lives of its people. Churches must simplify. Cut programs, cut activities, and focus upon what really makes a church a church.
Their research revealed that young adults want deep, clear, biblical teaching. They do not want fluff and pep rallies. Churches should not be afraid to go deep, but rather should realize that only by going deep can you prepare your people for life’s joys and hardships with a biblical worldview. Too few churches expect much from their members. Rather, there seems to be a growing fear that if we expect too much from folks, they’ll bail. The opposite is true. Young adults want to be involved, to contribute, to matter. People generally rise or fall to your level of expectations.
Finally, a church must have in its DNA the goal of multiplying. Churches do not exist only for the people who are members but for the people who aren’t. Churches should be centered and focused on living and communicating the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This would be a fantastic book for a church leadership at a crossroads to read together. Any church located in a college town should digest the material from this book and consider how to prayerfully apply it.