In the blockbuster movie Avengers: Infinity War, earth’s superheroes find themselves in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable position of being on the losing end of the battle. For years, they’ve enjoyed celebrity status as the protectors of the universe until an other-worldly foe, Thanos, forcefully challenges their position.
In many ways, this serves as a metaphor for the church in America. We’ve enjoyed several generations of being our nation’s protector of truth, justice, and the American way, but relatively recently, a strong-armed enemy has emerged to push us off society’s throne.
In a recent blog post, leading American missiologist, Ed Stetzer, sounded a warning call:
“Here are the facts: North America is the only continent in the world where the church is not growing. In North America, the church is in decline. Some even claim it is dying. Most denominations — including evangelical denominations — are shrinking.”
Although this assertion will come as no surprise to many who follow church and culture news, it still felt like a jolt to the system. For years, we’ve said things like, “the American Church is in crisis” and “the church in America is in decline,” but to hear that not only is it in decline, but it’s the only place on the planet where it’s not growing, should strike a sense of shame and urgency to the core of our ecclesial body.
Although we should be greatly encouraged by the rise of Christianity in places like South America, Africa, and southeast Asia, we should be grieved by how quickly we’ve lost our way in North America. It’s time for us to stop blaming the “unholy trinity” of professors, politicians, and pop culture for the free fall of Christianity in our land. The burden rests squarely upon our shoulders.
For too long, we’ve battled each other over personal territory while the Enemy takes new ground under our noses. We’ve wasted our voice shouting in “worship wars” while losing our prophetic voice. We’ve settled for an easy gospel that doesn’t cost us anything, which ironically, has cost us everything.
The church planter in me wants to cry, “See, this is why we need to plant more churches!” And we do – to the tune of about 5,000 new churches every year just to slow down the hemorrhaging. But we don’t just need more churches. We need better churches. We need churches – old and new – that are serious about proclaiming and living the transformative power of the Gospel in their communities. We haven’t become irrelevant because of outdated music preferences or lackluster programming so much as because of our inability (or unwillingness) to stay true to the Gospel. Nothing is more relevant to our culture than the message of Jesus. Nothing will ever be more attractive than a life that is turned inside-out and upside-down by the unearthly power of the Cross.
Church, we can’t afford any more casualties fighting a civil war. The battle is too great. The stakes are too high. We must unite and fight because, to quote Dr. Strange in Avengers: Infinity War, “We’re in the endgame now.”