Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith beyond the Walls of Sanctuary

Book Review

Barna, George, 2005, Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

George Barna, in his latest book, Revolution, challenges us to re-examine our theology of church and ways of doing church in the future. Barna was confident that it is possible to predict trends in the church in the United States. He wrote The Frog in the Kettle (1990) in which he identified possible trends and reforms the churches need to implement in order to maximise the benefits from these trends. Barna claimed in his latest book that “90 percent of the predicted outcomes became reality” (p.viii). With this impressive record, Barna went on to introduce what he believes will be the next major trend and this will involve the very structure and the way we do church itself.

Barna identifies a “new breed” of Christians (about 20 million) whom he named “The Revolutionary Christian”. In the opening chapter he identified David (not the biblical one) as one. He described David, “…is a Revolutionary Christian. His life reflects the very ideals and principles that characterized the life and purpose of Jesus Christ and that advances the Kingdom of God-despite the fact that David rarely attends church services. He is typical of a new breed of disciples of Jesus Christ. They are not willing to play religious games and aren’t interested in being part of a religious community that is not intentionally and aggressively advancing God’s Kingdom. They are people who want more of God- much more- in their lives. And they are doing whatever it takes to get it.” (p.7) These revolutionaries have seven major passions (p. 23-25)
1. Intimate Worship
2. Faith-based Conversations (evangelistic)
3. Intentional Spiritual Growth
4. Servanthood
5. Resource Investment
6. Spiritual Friendships

While there is not much to distinguish between the revolutionaries from any committed born-again Christians, the major distinguishing mark is that revolutionaries are willing to leave the local church and seek their spiritual feeding and experiences elsewhere. While there is the commitment to God, there is no loyalty to tradition and the local church. Barna’s research has shown that the local churches have a lot of flaws and churched Christians (about 77 millions) fall short of the standards of these revolutionaries.

What are some of the factors that lead to this trend? Barna has identified seven (p. 42-47).
1. The Changing of the Guard
As the Baby Boomers and Builders begin to make way Baby Busters (1965-1983) and Mosaics (1984-2002), the demographic changes have major influences on culture and societal expectations.
2. The Rise of a new View of Life
Postmodernism has become the main influence in mainstream American culture. What it means is that relationship is more important than productivity, pluralism and relativism, influence through dialogue and the ends justify the means. The working process is more important than the end product.
3. Dismissing the Irrelevant
Unlike the Boomers who are famous for demanding excellence, the next generation; “they quickly abandon anything that is not wholly germane to their personal passions …They have little patience for anything based on tradition, customs, ease, or social responsibility. If they do not immediately sense the relevance of something, they dismiss it out of hand and move on to the next alternative.” Hence loyalty is not a strong point of consideration.
4. The Impact of Technology
Enough have been said about this.
5. Genuine Relationships
They value relationships and are “people people.” Their focus on personal authenticity rather than performance and they like personal stories and experience rather than principles and commands.
6. Participation in Reality
They like the hands on approach and enjoy the experiential rather than the cognitive.
7. Finding True Meaning
They find true meaning in sacrifice and surrender.

What this boils down to is that the next generation will leave any local church or organisation that does not meet their needs. They are not what we consider ‘backsliders’, they are more of spiritual seekers. With more resources within reach (easy communications, travel, Internet etc), they will find their own sources of spirituality that will meet their spiritual needs. They will develop their own network and alternative faith communities. Barna’s prediction for future trends is as below.

How Americans Experience and Express Their Faith (p.49)
Primary means of spiritual experience and expression

Local church 70% (2000) 30-35% (2025)
Alternate Faith-based Community 5% (2000) 30-35% (2025)
Family 5% (2000) 5% (2025)
Media, Arts, Culture 20% (2000) 30-35% (2025)

What will the future faith communities be like. Barna offers a glimpse of some possible forms (p.61-67):

1. Macro model
a. Congregational form of local church
b. House churches
c. Family faith experiences
d. Cyberchurch

2. Micro model (distributed models of faiths)
a. Independent worship events
b. Marketplace fellowships
c. Coaching communities
d. Narrowcast Internet-based faith group
e. Parachurch ministries

Barna has done the Church a favour by bringing to our attention, a possible trend or movement of people out of the local church to seek their spiritual formation elsewhere. While I do not believe it will be as large a percentage as he predicted, I believe that it is an important trend.

If committed Christians find difficulties in being part of an established church and find that they are stagnating, in spite of having make efforts to be part of the community, they should be allowed to explore alternative ways of doing Church. Church to me is not a building or even a local congregation. Church to me is a people of God, the Body of Christ. Many of us has realised that many local churches are no more than fossilized institutions, political conventions, spiritual spas or country clubs.

Throughout Church history, the committed Christians are always marginalized. And they have always survived. These revolutionaries may be the 21st Century equivalent of the desert fathers and mothers of the 4th Century. What the local congregations should be doing is not to condemn or drive them off but to connect with them and offer them a place to come back to when their wandering is done. For all we know, the revolutionaries may be God’s way of sparking off a revival as He has done it with the Pentecostal/Charismatic in the last century.

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