Growth in a barren land

Hoosier pastor Scott Pattison recently shared this reflection on his Facebook page. I repost it here with his permission.

I have been reflecting upon my various experiences spending 10 days in a highly secular culture that is about 20-25 years ahead of the US in secularization – where there is less than 1%-4% church attendance (0% in some areas of the UK and Europe), and most churches on a Sunday (as they say) have “20 or so old people attending Sunday worship in large empty church buildings.”

I had the chance to meet, observe, experience, and interact with church leaders and their people, along with other para-church ministries (The Message Trust, the St. Thomas Churches {Crookes, Philadelphia, Kings Centre, and City Base Church}) that are effectively reaching those under 40 years of age (particularly teens, college students in secular universities, and young families) who are genuinely transforming lives and being and making disciples – and they have been doing so for decades.

I heard from watchers of worldwide Church trends (Kent Hunter, Peter Brierly) and modern day movement leaders (Andy Hawthorne, Mick Woodhead, Mike Breen, and Paul Maconochie), talked and interacted with various church planters and pastors (from the UK, Ireland, Australia, The Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Germany), and other movement leaders, pastors, and staff.

I found that these churches and ministries that have seen a consistent pattern of growth (St. Thomas Crookes alone grew from 150 to over 2000 on the original site since the 1970’s, and a growing network of churches around Sheffield since the early 2000’s with around half under 40 years of age), with various vicars or pastors (not personality driven as we often see in the states), with the same guiding doctrine, spirit, discipline, and principles of renewal and revitalization of the early Methodist that I discovered and identified in my doctoral research.

Upon returning and reflecting upon my experiences, I find that at a time that we are battling growing decline of the church in North America, when a portion of the UMC is wanting to loosen its hold on the “doctrine, spirit, and discipline of which we first set out,” the churches ministering in the secular irreligious setting of Europe that are growing and transforming their communities (and the people in them) are tightening their grip on the historical faith delivered through the fullness Scripture, salvation through the Justifying Grace of Jesus Christ, and the sanctifying transformative power of the Holy Spirit as still real and necessary today.

These churches and ministries in England and Europe, hold the same foundation of our Articles of Religion and principles of early Methodist revival, and they are applying them in the UK and other places in Europe. They embrace the arts and the “priesthood of all believers,” with a strong witness to the salvific faith in Jesus the Christ and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit actively working – and they are growing in numbers and community impact, by doing more than social action and good works, but by offering faith in Jesus as seen in the early church, and a community of faith empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit that reaches and is transforming all stratas of society – with a particular focus on the least and lost.

My fear is that we in the US church are standing at the tree of what we believe to be new knowledge listening and believing the whisper of the garden – “Did God really say ….?” “Did God really mean …?” – then we will have as John Wesley feared, a church “having the form of religion without the power.”

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