By: Rev. Craig Shepperd
In my previous post I presented the church-going habits of multiple generations. I also proposed the possibility that, for some, perhaps their lack of attendance is less a statement of their faith, and more of a statement about an overall discontentment of “doing church.” As suggested before, these days of the pandemic have provided a great opportunity to think creatively, to be present beyond the walls of the building, and push beyond maintaining the church machine. God will not waste this moment in time, and the Church holds the potential to be the beneficiary of the Spirit’s infusing, dynamic creativity. That is if the Church is willing to think beyond what it has always been.
What might this road to reawakening look like? William McLoughlin gives us some insight into this journey as he maps the movements of spiritual renewal in American history. For us to take this seriously we must think about our current cultural context where we are less and less religious, church has a diminished voice and role in society, there is a prevalence of nominal Christians or “state Christians,” matched with a growing lack of absolute truth, an increase in individualism, etc. Let’s take a peek at the map:
- During a crisis of legitimacy individuals cannot honestly sustain the common set of religious understandings by which they believe they should act. People wonder if they are the only ones who see the problems and experience the frustrations of the old ways. Thus, they begin to question conventional doctrines, practices, and their sense of identity.
- People then experience cultural distortion, during which they conclude that their problems are not the result of personal failing, but rather “instructional malfunction” as they seek ways to change these structures or reject them.
- Significant individuals or communities then begin to articulate a new vision, new understandings of human nature, God, spiritual practices, ethical commitments, and hope for the new future. New possibilities begin to coalesce that make more sense in the light of new experiences than did the old ones.
- As a new vision unfolds, small groups of people who understand the necessity for change begin to follow a new path; they experiment, create, and innovate with religious, political, economic, and family structures in a search for a new way of life. They develop new practices to give life meaning and make the world different. They embody the new vision and invite others to do so as well.
- Instructional transformation occurs when the innovators manage to “win over that large group of undecided folks” who finally “see the relevance” of the new path and embrace new practices. When the undecideds flip, institutional change can finally take place.
The movement of God is no exact science. That is obviously below God’s nature. However, McLoughlin does give us some contextual clues that help us navigate ministry in this day and age. For the Church to move past its slumber it must see the world as it is, and not as it once was. “Conventional, comforting, Christianity has failed. It does not work.” This is not about reclaiming yesteryear. This is about the Church having the courage to live into her identity as God’s instrument for the world. These could be some of the greatest days the Church has ever known as we are armed with strength for today and a bright hope for tomorrow. “What will make a difference in the future is awakening to a faith that fully communicates God’s love—a love that transforms how we believe, what we do, and who we are in the world.”
 William McLoughlin. Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press)), 1978. 12.
 Diana Butler Bass. Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. (New York, NY: Harper One), 2012. 36.
 Bass 37.