The Church is Dying and I Couldn't Be More Excited

As I write Jana and I are in the midst of a speaking tour through the UK. We're at the halfway point in our journey, having spent most of our time on Jersey in the Channel Islands and on the mainland in Brighton.

Right now our hearts are very, very full. Most people who visit the UK go from tourist spot to tourist spot. We, by contrast, have been moving from church to church. And the experience has been overwhelming.

I can't really put into words all that I am feeling. But I wanted to share just one impression two weeks into the trip.

A lot has been written recently about the rise of the "nones" in the United States, the increase of those not identifying with any religious tradition along with the correlated decline of religious affiliation across denominational lines, from mainline to evangelical.

There's been a lot of handwringing in response to those trends, about what might be done to stop the bleeding to slow or prevent America from becoming a thoroughly post-Christian nation.

Well, I've been dipping into this post-Christian world over here in the UK, the place where America is heading, and I wanted to share a few things.

It is true that, compared to the US, the churches here are smaller. And those smaller numbers do present the expected sorts of problems and hardships. But what Jana and I have experienced, over and over, is that the small churches in this post-Christian context are vibrant, passionate, Spirit-filled communities. Christianity isn't dead in Europe. Christianity isn't in decline.

Checked boxes on demographic surveys of "religious affiliation" cannot capture the winds of the Spirit.

Currently, Jana and I live in Texas. It's a place where just about everyone is a Christian. Which means, to echo Kierkegaard, that no one is a Christian. Here in the UK nominal affiliation has melted away leaving churches behind that, yes, are smaller but churches that have been distilled, a Christianity that has been purged and reduced to a potent spiritual concentrate. The believers and faith communities in a post-Christian context are powerful thing to behold.

I'm thinking here of Hannah, her joy, passion, generosity and love of Taize worship. Of Becky, her kindness and stunning jewelry. I'm thinking of Sunday afternoon on Jersey with Simon and Katie. Conversations with Paul and Kirsty. A nighttime walk in London with Stephen and Clare. The weekend away with the City Gate church with Andy, Curtis and JoJo. Sunday lunch with Mike and Pam. Dinner at Gwen and Johnny's. Conversations in pubs with Martin and Tim. Sunday worship and fellowship at St Ouen's in Jersey and One Church in Brighton. Listening to Julie's stories on unforgettable evening with Eve, Tim, Roger and Matthew.

I could go on and on. The people I've mentioned are some of the most amazing people we've ever met. And our trip is not yet over.

There is a lot of fear in America about the decline of the church. Well, I've seen a vision of what that looks like in the UK, what the church looks like in a post-Christian culture. True, the church is smaller here. But the church is so much more vibrant and exciting.

Religious affiliation is on the decline in America. They say the church is dying.

And I couldn't be more excited.

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17 thoughts on “The Church is Dying and I Couldn't Be More Excited”

  1. Richard- can I first say how much I enjoy your material and I use a lot of your quotes in my sermons. Being in the UK I would have loved to have met you but your itinerary doesn't allow it. I'm glad that you have encouraged us who recognise the post Christian nature of our culture. There is much freedom in embracing the idea that we can be pioneers in our own country if, as Brian McLaren'this once wrote, we Maximise the Discontinuity. This frees us from being tied to the past and allows us to think afresh. I would imagine that the US in general still grieves for a past. Thanks again. Ian

  2. Hi Richard,

    So glad to hear that your travels are going well. I am a United Methodist pastor in the mountains of Appalachia, and an avid reader of your blog and occasional commenter. I can't tell you how I excited I was to read that you and Jana were able to travel to Jersey: I've never known of another American who has been to the island. After seminary my wife and I spent one year there on the island while I served as pastor on the Methodist Circuit there. What a gift! We made lifelong friends, and our the walls of our home are still in some ways a shrine to our time in Jersey. It was wonderful to imagine you in that beautiful place - I hope the weather was good. Thank you for bringing up some special memories. I hope you were able to see the lighthouse at Corbiere, walk on the beach at St. Ouen (St Juan!) and Plemont, stand on the cliffs at Groznez, see the breakwater at St. Catherine's, behold the tidal surge at St. Aubin, stand above St. Brelade's Bay, walk through Gorey Castle, see the beautiful flowers, eat some rich Jersey ice cream, and pet a few Jersey cows! Blessings in your further travels.

    Grace and Peace,
    Rev. Jeremy Troxler

  3. Thanks! I have been thinking of the decline of the church in terms of possible resurrection. Is this a death that can lead to rising again? Can the Giver of Life bring about something new in the midst of death? Obviously, it is central to our faith, and you have provided some interesting anecdotal evidence that such is possible.

    Also, several British theologians, especially Keith Ward, have been very important to me.

  4. In the words of RHE, '...maybe a little death and resurrection is exactly what the church needs right now.'

  5. Ian, you are so correct. The past that many grieve for here in the US is an overlap of religion and social standards that saw their high water mark in the nineteen fifties; full churches, with clear, distinct social lines. The health of our citizens, I believe, is in how well we can let go.


    Unfortunately, some who grieve for the old ways liken change to a pendulum, believing "They will come back". But the education, disturbing for many at first, comes in understanding that change is like a wrecking ball, knocking down those things we thought would last forever, making room for those things we never dreamed of seeing.

  6. I'm glad that you are able to experience what many know as church. I often shrug at your posts linking Christianity to right wing politics. That's mostly foreign to my experience. I became a Christian in San Francisco and some years later moved to Portland, OR. These cities have no Christian culture and there are plenty of churches that are theologically conservative and politically progressive. People who attend church here (for the most part) are either serious about following Jesus or seriously seeking to find their way. Not to say that we have it all together – just that bible belt mentality is not easily found.


    Also in these cities and contrary to some of your conclusions, I have seen the "hate the sin – love the sinner" theology lived out as intended. Theologically conservative churches running AIDS houses, tackling sexual trafficking, developing drug rehab programs, giving church funds to non-christian poor and even working with a scandalized gay mayor (https://youtu.be/vWdWv_ZXKJo?t=3m38s). When you write about the incompatibility of love sinner, hate sin, I think, "okay, maybe it's psychologically incompatible but with God all things are possible". Besides, don't we love ourselves and hate our own sin?

  7. Sorry for the video embed. I did not expect that to happen! Live and learn.

  8. https://streetpastor.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/a-growing-church-is-a-dying-church/
    "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it bears no fruit."

  9. As I was reading this I was thinking that europe has had two world wars fought out on it's continent & uk was mobilized to endure the blitz. Wrecking ball indeed!

  10. Checked boxes on demographic surveys of "religious affiliation" cannot capture the winds of the Spirit.


    A little more Kierkegaard, who says that "the numerical is the conspiracy", and suggests -- no, the great Dane never just "suggests", he insists that "we humans believe numbers mean something. For God, it is precisely numbers that mean nothing at all."

  11. Is the decline of the church in USA more important of a development than the decline of the need for a personal conscience because prolific organizations now provide a substitute?

  12. You got it backwards. Organizations have risen because your conscience had failed to solve acute problems.

  13. I wouldn't necessarily say that Christianity is on the decline. Rather, the social pressure to identify as Christian, rather than for it to be an authentic choice made within a person's heart, is finally moving out of the way. While any who have experienced God's love is bound to want others to experience it, I think the centuries of enforced "Me, too!" Christianity is counter-productive to a real relationship with God.

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