No more excuses

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We sent the book to everyone who attended the annual U.S. Mennonite Brethren Leadership Summit. In addition to our U.S. Conference Leadership Board, it was in the hands of each of our district ministers and the presidents, directors and board chairs of each of our educational institutions, service and ministry initiatives. 

I was first introduced to this book at the winter meeting of the National Association of Evangelicals. The title itself is captivating, and the cover in mostly red with a little black and white calls for more than a glance. The author is David Olson, director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church. He wrote the book using “groundbreaking research based on a national database of over 200,000 churches.” His conclusions became the title of the book: The American Church in Crisis.

Although Olson cites dozens of facts, I have selected one to focus on for this communiqué. Olson says, “In 2000, 9.2 percent of the American public attended an evangelical church on any given weekend. By 2005 that number had declined to 9.1 percent.” While on the surface this does not seem alarming, a second thought takes into account that these same folks are growing biologically at a rate of about 2.5 percent.

The clear indication is that we are not even holding our own, let alone making any evangelistic headway. This is very troubling indeed. At the same time that our brothers and sisters in various parts of what we refer to as the third world are effectively making disciples and growing the church, we are losing ground. What have we been thinking? What are we doing? What are we not doing?

As to how this relates to us as a national denominational family, several of Olson’s further assertions deserve consideration. He suggests that “the denominations that are declining today are slow and cautious, concerned about preservation and safety, often alienated from many of their churches and its members. The denominations that are thriving today are nimble, fast and multiplying strategically through grassroots ownership of the denomination’s vision.” To whatever degree any aspects of the first part of this statement are true about us, we have some serious issues to address. Maybe even to repent of.

One good thing about the book is that it takes a swing at some remedial suggestions. In a section titled “Ten Necessary Changes for the American Church to Have a Bright Future,” Olson makes rather definitive proposals to churches and their leaders and to denominations. For example, he says, “Denominations need to learn how to develop turbo-charged mammalian church planting structures while encouraging the initiative and interest in church planting to come from the grassroots level, both in established and new churches.” 

On paper we are committed to this, and Mission USA Director Don Morris is running hard on this track. What remains to be seen is to what degree this vision and passion is taking hold inside the hearts and minds of our local church pastors, leadership teams and members.

The other specific group of folks Olson addresses remedially is Christians. Whoa! Who would have expected that? Here is what he says: “Christians must engage their neighbors with a humble and listening attitude, relishing the new opportunities God has made available. A great way to begin is through the recovery of the historic Christian ministry of hospitality.” 

That’s what I’m talkin’ about! Brother and sister Christian, it is time for us to make come-on-over friends of people we know who are not yet part of God’s family. We need to make it happen. No more rationalizing and no more excuses. No more disobedience. We need to spend quality time with them simply because we love them.

Remember the “love your neighbor as yourself” line? It’s not about a project. It’s about a relationship for Jesus’ sake. The Lord of the church did exactly that when he was on the planet. The first Christians found favor with God and men. 
That means they spent time with people who couldn’t help but notice how they lived and couldn’t resist asking about it.

All that was left of witnessing was to answer the questions and to invite folks to give their lives to Jesus. This is the only evangelism plan we really need: Love, forgive and accept people who are dying to be loved, accepted and forgiven. Can you imagine what might happen among us? And to our U.S. Mennonite Brethren family?

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