The American church is at a crisis moment. Only 1% of churches have an ongoing evangelism emphasis.
Apathy in the Church is nothing new. The New Testament letters demonstrate how a lack of enthusiasm for God’s work goes back to the inception of the early church. In Acts 1, after Jesus ascended, two angels came down to tell the disciples to get moving.
“Why are you standing here staring into Heaven?” The angels reminded the disciples not to delay Kingdom work.
Why is the American church apathetic today? I could dedicate an entire book to the subject, but one fundamental problem stands out.
A culture of broken rhythms discourages excitement.
I broke my leg a couple of years ago. The injury prevented me from exercising, especially running, which I love to do daily. The broken rhythm of exercise affected my psyche. After I healed, it took much more effort to get back into the exercise habit.
When people miss several days of a Bible reading plan, they can get discouraged and stop reading altogether. When someone misses church regularly, the broken rhythm quells excitement and creates a growing apathy. Every missed worship service adds a level of indifference. Over time, these layers build and become a barrier to obedience.
Attendance frequency continues to get worse. The person who once attended every other week now attends one out of four weeks — momentum stalls when people do not gather frequently. When absent from church, people direct their passions to other endeavors.
Apathy is a lack of enthusiasm for what you’re supposed to do. This problem is not isolated to individuals in a few congregations. The problem is cultural across almost every congregation. The issue has become a phenomenon in North America. It’s hard to build excitement if many people in your church have broken rhythms of discipleship.
You can begin the shift from apathy to an expectation of growth
Cultural changes occur more slowly than technical changes. For example, you can figure out the best technical ways to communicate to your congregation (text, emails, newsletter, etc.), but solving a cultural problem of poor communication is a more involved process.
What are some ways a cultural shift to an outward focus can occur? How can churches restart the process of getting people back into a healthy rhythm?
1. Celebrate the bright spots in your worship services. You become what you celebrate. Tell the stories of people who do Kingdom work. Positive reinforcement produces a lasting cultural change. Negative reinforcement is a short-term fix that utilizes guilt. One of the best ways to share these stories is through videos. Almost every church today can create a two-minute video and show it to the congregation in worship. One video will not likely make a cultural change. But multiple testimonies over time will help with the shift.
2. Include ways to put boots on the ground in your missions budget. Almost everyone who goes on their first cross-cultural mission trip returns with an inspiration to do more locally. Our church serves the homeless every week. Those who volunteer in this ministry are some of our most dedicated. When we craft our missions budget, one of the driving factors is how many people we can get on the field. We offer scholarships to families who travel internationally together for the first time. Our missions budget is just as much about boots on the ground as it is about providing funds to our partners.
3. Hold staff accountable for Gospel conversations. “Gospel conversation” is the first item on our weekly staff meeting agenda. Every meeting begins with our team telling stories of their efforts to invite people to church and share Christ with people from the neighborhood. Every week, we highlight this effort. Gospel conversations are first on the agenda because they are most important. You could do the same with your leadership team or elders if you do not have paid staff.
4. Resource ministries focused on the youngest generations. Does your children’s ministry receive as much budget support as your worship ministry? If not, then something is wrong. This one is simple. Your budget allocations will reveal your church’s passion. You may say you are passionate about reaching the next generation, but if your budget does not reflect this desire, you are simply speaking empty words. Cultural change will not occur without budgetary support.
An apathetic church lacks enthusiasm for Great Commission work. Can you muster through apathy and be obedient to God’s commands? Perhaps for a season. Eventually, you will start to look like the Ephesus church in Revelation — doing enough to appear obedient but lacking love for Christ. But you can break through this apathy. Indeed, we must.
Originally published at Church Answers.
Sam Rainer is president of Church Answers and pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Florida.