Does the local church really matter?
March 7, 2016
By Matt Morrison
For a long time now, Christianity here in the United States has been in steep decline. While the Gospel continues to expand in the southern hemisphere, the Western Church has grown increasingly anemic. In a May 2015 study, Pew Research Foundation found that Christian affiliation dropped 8% in the past few years. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans now consider themselves unaffiliated with any major religion.
Even among those who still profess Christ, the local church is increasingly viewed as irrelevant. When it comes to millennials, a recent Barna study found that 43% of twentysomethings, once active in church, have abandoned regular attendance by age 30. That amounts to nearly 8 million people lost in a critical twelve-year span of life.
As this trend continues, the lone ranger Christian is suddenly not so alone. Many self-professed believers are attempting to live for Jesus absent of a supportive Christian community. Some have left due to past hurts, others for a lack of relevancy.
All of this begs a critical question: Does the local church really still matter?
When you really dig into the Bible, you notice a very clear trend. While God values the individual, he chooses to work within the community. In the Old Testament, it’s the people of Israel. In the New Testament, it’s the Church. Though he raises up individual leaders to do significant things, these people are always leading their communities into a deeper relationship with God.
He uses Moses to lead his people out of Egypt.
He uses David to give his people a strong kingdom.
He uses Isaiah to speak to his people.
He uses Peter to lead his Church.
He uses Paul to plant new churches.
Notice the trend? It’s difficult to find an instance where God did something through an individual apart from rooted community. Even much of the New Testament is written to local churches in places like Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome. For good reason too. When the apostles advanced the Gospel into a new region, they left behind churches, not lone rangers. While the writers do address individuals like Timothy or Philemon on occasion, it’s clear that our God-breathed Bible is meant to be absorbed in the context of the local church, not in total isolation.
The local church is where we find accountability, encouragement, and belonging as believers. That said, the face of the church is changing rapidly. In Europe, its becoming increasingly multi-ethnic. In the United States, churches are becoming smaller and more focused on multiplication and expansion instead of attendance growth. In places like Latin America, Africa, and South Asia, it’s just simply exploding. Still, the local church remains God’s vehicle for changing the world.
ON THE MISSION FIELD
As e3 Partners advances the Gospel into new communities where there are few, if any, believers, we’re focused on leaving behind new churches. We are meeting the physical needs of the people through programs like medical clinics, human trafficking prevention, or sports outreaches. But that’s not enough. Likewise, we’re boldly sharing the Gospel but still doesn’t finish the job. To truly institute lasting change in a community, the local church must be present, healthy, and active.
In many communities where the first believers are being baptized, they don’t have the Bible and often face persecution. Going it alone is nearly impossible. The local churches developing in these regions are the ultimate lifeline for those following Christ. They are orally reciting Bible stories with one another and holding each other accountable to obeying Jesus’ commands.
Beyond that, they are sharing the Gospel with their neighbors against all odds and replicating their churches into nearby cities and towns. Wherever people are coming to faith, they are establishing churches in their communities. Many are even partnering with their neighbors to physically transform their cities, alleviating the effects of poverty and empowering citizens with hope.
The local church doesn’t just matter. It’s critical. God is using his body of believers to change the world. We were made for authentic community that is rooted in relationship with our Maker, where the truth is told and true love is expressed. When healthy churches are established in spiritual frontiers, they offer hope for lasting change for generations to come.
e3 Partners has established over 107,000 local churches over the past 30 years. Today, we’re on an ambitious mission to launch one million more by 2025. Click here to join the cause with your financial support.