Nominal Anything Is Out
By: Bill Easum
All this discussion about whether or not the church is dying in the U.S. is meaningless. Yes, fewer people are in worship today. Yes, more and more churches are running out of money. Yes, seminary enrollment is down. Yes, the church has lost its privileged position in society. Yes, the number of new church plants barely equal the number of churches closing. Yes, almost every denomination is in rapid decline.
But none of these things matter. None of these things has anything to do with the reality Christian leaders face today.
What matters is that we have entered a time when being a low-commitment church with nominal Christians is coming to an end. Most churches are declining because they cater to consumers looking for respectability or pleasing their wives or teaching their children morals. They beg people to attend. They beg people to give to programs that no one wants. They don't call for serious, life-changing discipleship, and in a time when "nominals" are harder and harder to find, such actions are deadly.
Perhaps defining “nominals” might help. Nominals are people who check the “I am a Christian” box on surveys while meaning:
• I go to church sometimes on Christmas and Easter.
So, what's a church to do?
The simple answer is we need to start preaching and practicing a Biblical faith. The problem is that it’s been so long since we’ve seen much real faith preached or practiced that many church leaders don't have a clue where to start. Many institutions we call churches aren’t really churches. At best, they are more like the Loins Club or some other service groups in the city. At worst, they are mean-spirited, dysfunctional clicks. Neither end of the spectrum constitutes a Biblical church.
But we have to start somewhere. I like to start with the Church in Antioch and take a look at what it did. Why choose the Antioch Church and not the better-known Jerusalem Church? Well, let two passages of Scripture explain it. Speaking of the Antioch Church, the Scriptures say, “Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:3).
Speaking of the Jerusalem church, the Scriptures say, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts2:42). Both churches prayed and fasted but only one of them sent people out. Antioch Church flourished, and in a few years, Paul had to raise money to keep the Jerusalem church alive.
The Antioch Church is best known for its sending of missionaries into the gentile world with the good news of Christ to plant churches. The key here is a real church by definition is an organism that thrives on giving people away in order to bless other people and extend the Kingdom of God.
And this doesn't appeal to Nominals. All they want is a safe place to appear respectable. A real church runs away from anything that even smells like nominal. Biblical faith is not for the faint-hearted.
So, what might it look like if we started preaching and practicing a Biblical faith?
Well, let’s give this a try. Based on the Antioch Church and the Jerusalem Church, we might start by:
• Proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the way to salvation
P.S. I will be doing a pre-conference and two workshops at Exponential West and would love to connect with you there.
Bill Easum is the founder and president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christians for global impact, www.effectivechurch.com.