Reboot or Restore? Why It’s Time the Church Radically Reinvented Itself
I have a love/hate relationship with my computer. I love it when it’s doing what I need (or want) it to do, but hate passionately when it doesn’t operate to my standards, preferences or speed. Ever wonder if God feels the same way about how we “do” church? Hold that thought and perhaps consider Amos 5:20-22.
When my computer freezes or the little wheel just spins and spins, I know its time to reboot. Restart the system. Clear out the RAM. Nearly always that solves my problems. But sometimes, on very rare occasions, I’ve had to do something radical: restore my computer to its original factory specifications.
Few people employ such a drastic measure because we never fully reach the need or exasperation. After all, it’s easier to delete/add programs, change settings and fix bugs. We’ll run anti-virus software, hard drive sweepers and add RAM to help a sluggish computer operate better. A computer restoration requires saving all programs or files that weren’t on the computer originally and, frankly, that’s a fearful thought. Over the years, a user can accumulate thousands, even tens of thousands of files that require backing up. The thought of a total restoration brings trepidation, tension and tiredness. We don’t have time or the energy for a complete, good as new, restoration. So we keep muddling along doing the same things, working the same programs, running the same fixes until one day there’s the BLUE SCREEN. And the game is over. Our gig is up. The computer has crashed with a fatal error message.
I know its hard to hear, but I truly believe the 21st century American Church is near a BLUE SCREEN moment. I don’t say that to cast anxiety or aspersion, but rather alarm. I don’t desire to be hyper-critical, negative or sensationalistic, but from Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage to open mockery in the media, the American Church is growing culturally irrelevant (just like the European church 50 years ago did). The attendance statistics are sounding louder every year. The “nones and dones.” The graying of the Church. Stagnation. Division. Closures. In general, fewer Americans attend church every year (a trend that’s been happening since the mid-1990s).
The operating system is bogged down by programming that’s creating sluggish results.
And this decline isn’t accidental. Like a computer, over time, man created this ecclesiastical mess and has perverted the original operating system, most of it emerging after 325 AD when Constantine’s reforms created a state religion. In 1700 years we’ve rebooted the church with various prophets, priests, popes and preachers. We’ve rebooted with house churches, cathedrals and megachurches. We’ve rebooted as Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Nazarene and every denomination (and non-denomination) under the Son. Along the way, we’ve focused and fractured, reformed and reorganized, envisioned and emerged ourselves to death. Today’s 21C church operates largely through facility, professional staff and event-based ministry. It’s a far cry from what God intended and now is proving increasingly irrelevant to the postmodern experience.
I believe it’s time for a COMPLETE RESTORATION. Not another reboot. Not another software fix. Not another sweep and clean. Not another anti-virus download. We need to get back to the Original DNA or factory specifications. We need to restore the only model that matters: the One Jesus gave His disciples and the One his disciples practiced clearly, simply and powerfully in the book of Acts. Nothing more and nothing less.
We don’t need to reimagine, reform or revive the “Church.” All that will happen naturally in a complete restoration. But it also won’t be painless. This one is going to hurt but it’ll hurt less NOW than if we avoid the pain. The BLUE SCREEN is coming and, trust me, it won’t happen at a convenient moment. One way or another, God will mold His Church into His Image. But He’s waiting for something big. Something even bigger than Luther’s 95 theses. Something bigger than a new worship song or video clip. Something bigger than a paint job, sermon series or clever new programming idea.
Two thousand years after Pentecost, I contend God would love nothing more than to see His Church—every type, stripe, color and creed—return to its ORIGINAL D.N.A.; a D.N.A. that makes the Church super sticky. So sticky that pagans convert on the spot. So sticky that thousands join in one day. So sticky you’ll probably get persecuted by the religious types who can’t stop you nor join you, but don’t have an answer to your success.
I’m calling for a RADICAL RESTORATION of the Church and, believe it or not, it’s not rocket science. Christianity isn’t complicated, confusing or contradictory, but rather simple. Believe in Jesus. Change your lifestyle, priorities and habits (repent). Tell others about Jesus (confession). Be immersed into Christ (baptism). Practice hospitality and authentic community. Pray like there’s no tomorrow. Mentor those who believe and equip the called. Experience Jesus through worship and the Lord’s Supper. Change the world, first in your neighborhood, then your city, then your state and finally every corner of the globe.
I believe this radical restoration will be a TRUE game-changer. It’s already happening in many places, all over the planet. The Church is alive and well on planet earth…but it doesn’t look anything like what most people experience on Sunday morning. We can only reboot so long. Eventually we’ll need to RESTORE it completely to its Original DNA (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:37-47; Ephesians 4:1-6). In the coming weeks I want to explore these DNA Scriptures and outline, specifically, what this means and what a truly RESTORED CHURCH could like in today’s culture.
Finally, the beautiful thing about a restoration is everything is now NEW. And when “all things are new” (Revelation 21:5) we bring a whole lot of Heaven to earth.
And that’s what our world desperately craves.