“Those Were the Days” – What Does the Future Hold for Churches of Christ?

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Nostalgia is the first step in church life toward congregational death.

“Nostalgia is an exile mentality. Fulfillment is contingent on the ‘once upon a time’ remembrances of yesterday. ‘I remember when’ stories become commonplace in organizations during nostalgic days. The golden days are remembered fondly. From an organizational perspective, nostalgia signals the beginning of a trend toward a lack of trust, unstable relationships, and an erosion of commitment to present programs and ministries.” – Robert Dale, To Dream Again, 105, 107

Many of our churches were born in the 50s and 60s, raised in the 60s and 70s and came to maturity in the 70s and 80s. They have gone through a midlife crises and are now in their waning years. Churches tend to follow the human life cycle in their years and stages. They go from energy, growth and excitement to tired, lethargic and impotent and eventually to death all in about the same number of years of a human life.

Are we convinced our best days are behind us or ahead of us? I think many of us are afraid to answer that question because we believe it is the first but we wish it could be the second. Why is that? Could it be that we idolized the era of our youth, just as aging people in decline often do? Could it be that our nostalgia for our glory days is an obstacle to our future? I think so. What do you think?

The past was rigid. We know that there are things we could do today, even should do today that we don’t because we believe it would dishonor those great people who went before us. But consider it like this for a moment. If those people were born when you were born and experienced what you experienced rather than being born 40-50 years prior (when they were actually born) they might well see things just as you do. We can reconnect with their pioneering spirit without having to also reconnect with every specific thing they believed, especially those aspects of their beliefs that were just as much a product of their day and culture as some of the things we deal with today are.

The future is too important to be held hostage by the past. If you feel nostalgia setting in let it be a red flag that decline is either already going on or is imminent.

5 Responses

  1. The first problem for the Church of Christ and its future is its ties to right wing politics that interferes with any discussion of the problem of racism and in reaching those on “the left” of society. Unless it is humbly led out of this nationalistic mindset its voice will only be heard within its walls.

    Secondly, many of these congregations are not so much practicing a restoration as much as they have simply come to terms with being the best “southern culture Bible believing” churches they can be. The great hope of the 50s and 60s that the rest of the nation could be enraptured and captured by the restoration movement has pretty much died; and with the panic and fear brought on by many of the cultural changes over the last twenty or thirty years, the wagons have been circled. The belief in “scriptural” salvation and worship is still strong, but the protection of a way of life is stronger.

    Thirdly, most Churches of Christ that do claim to be more “progressive” have not really progressed, but simply moved side ways into a “community church” bland evangelicalism. The fear of going too far along with the guilt of going against their conservative heritage keeps them in limbo.

    The CoC is in dire need of a few prophets who can raise their voices to “..do justice and walk humbly with God…” I believe they will come. But they will be men and women who will suffer much, being reviled as the enemy…as prophets usually are.

  2. It depends on where they want to wind up and what they are wiling to do to accomplish the goal. There are plenty of community churches with less baggage. The cofC is still fighting over hand-clapping and quasi choirs and thinking that is progressive. Yes, it was easy to grow back in mid 20th century. It was also easy to vilify others which frequently occurred. This mindset led people to believe salvation was due to getting everything right. What was forgotten was that early Christianity grew amidst temples to all the Roman and Greek gods on every corner. The apostles never vilified those deities and Paul even taught about the “unknown god” after seeing a statue to one.

    The cofC might be able to go on for a while longer in the US South until the culture there changes. However, going into the Northeast and the West Coast will be more difficult. There you have to do things differently. For starters, you have to teach the children the faith before “confirmation” and how to defend it. You have to accept single people as first class Christians and say there is no such thing as a second class Christian. You also have to be willing and able to give educated, not trite responses to difficult questions asked of you.

    1. Mark, I can always relate to where you’re coming from. My problem though with Churches of Christ becoming “community churches” is that, in casting off the chains of legalism, they stop right there and fail to grow; in enjoying the light load they ignore and refuse the meat they need to become mature children of God. But like I said, I know where you’re coming from.

  3. Sorry Mark, re your comment about the apostles not vilifying pagan worship, you seem to have forgotten Paul’s condemnation of Gentile worship practices in 1 Corinthians 10: 20-22. He warns Christians that pagans worship demons, regardless of whether they consider them as gods, and tells us that we must have nothing to do with their practices. When he and Barnabas were called messengers of Olympian gods at Lystra, they tore their clothes in disgust and refused to have anything to do with these pagan worshippers except to tell them to turn away from these “useless things to the Living God”.

    1. The dieties were not vilified as much as the pagan worship was. I never said that pagan worship was not vilified.

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