Home > Brian's Blogs, Missional Church > The Present Future: The Collapse of Church Culture (2)

The Present Future: The Collapse of Church Culture (2)

Reggie McNeal believes that the North American church culture is collapsing around us. Unfortunately, church leaders either deny this reality or are asking the wrong question in light of this reality (i.e., “how do we do church better?“). McNeal believes that church leaders facing this reality must ask the tough question: “how do we deconvert from Churchianity to Christianity?”

It is important to begin with McNeal’s discussion of “churchianity”:

“North American Christians think in terms of its institutional expression, the church, as opposed to thinking about Christianity in terms of a movement…In North America the invitation to become a Christian has become largely an invitation to convert to the church. The assumption is that anyone serious about being a Christian will order their lives around the church, shift their life and work rhythms around the church schedule, channel their charitable giving through the church, and serve in some church ministry; in other words, serve the church and become a fervent marketer to bring others into the church to do the same. In my denominational tradition I grew up a telling euphemism used to described when people became Christians: they “joined the church.” The reduction of Christianity to club membership can’t be said better than that.”

The final sentence is very important, because it shows McNeal’s concern that North American Christians have created a “country club” church.  I don’t think it takes too much imagination to see how this is often true: 1) we build a “club” for ourselves, 2) we assume that everyone around us will want to become a part of the club, 3) we spend most of our time in the club, 4) we want new members to pay their dues and spend most of their time in the club, 5) we are more than happy to take members from other clubs, because ours is better (translation: stealing Christians from other churches).

A lot of this North American country club mentality is a result of the North American version of the Enlightenment project.  I can think of no better summary than that found in Darrell Guder’s Missional Church.  Here is a brief summary of chapter 2, written by Craig Van Gelder:

  • The Enlightenment focused on reason and rationality.  John Locke’s empiricism, discovering truth by observing the world and constructing hypotheses and laws, became the normative method of discovering truth.
  • This leads to the autonomous self which allows any individual to discover truth themselves.  As a result, individual identity and truth is the key to personal freedom.
  • This leads to the question, how do autonomous individuals live together in society?  Thomas Hobbes, among others, create the social contract theory: “freely choosing, autonomous individuals, deciding out of rational self-interest to enter into a social contract in order to construct a progressive society, became the central ideology of modernity.”
  • Notice the highlighted words above: the social contract is based upon the autonomous individual acting out of his own self-interest!!  This is the basis of our society!  This emphasis on the individual freely choosing to participate in a social contract also leads to an emphasis on individual rights and freedoms and promotes consumerism.
  • It is not difficult to see how this impacted the North American church.  In a few words, the church is: 1) a voluntary association, even for the Christian, 2) intended to meet my needs as an individual, 3) one of many options available for meeting my needs.
  • Therefore, churches cater to this mindset by creating competing country clubs!!

Let me stop and make an important point that should be obvious, but important enough to clarify: Some may read McNeal’s description as a denial of the importance of the church.  This is not what McNeal is expressing.  McNeal is expressing dissatisfaction in the institution of the church, not the body of Christ itself.  The problem is defining the church/body of Christ as “place where things happen (usually for my benefit)” rather than “the people of God.”  The institution is the problem, the body of Christ is the solution.

So what is the body of Christ to do?  McNeal says “we need to recapture the mission of the church.”  The church, the body of Christ, needs to wake up and realize that God’s purpose for the church is not to create a country club, but is to create a people on God’s redemptive mission.  I’ll conclude with an extended quotation from McNeal:

“The correct response, then, to the collapse of the church culture is not to try to become better at doing church.  This only feeds the problem and hastens the church’s decline through its disconnect from the larger culture.  The need is not for a methodological fix.  The need is for a missional fix.  The appropriate response to the emerging world is a rebooting of the mission, a radical obedience to an ancient command, a loss of self rather than a self-preoccupation, concern about service and sacrifice rather than concern about style.

“The collapse of the church culture, along with the five other realities I will discuss, is God’s gracious invitation to the church to rediscover itself.  It will do this by dying to itself and coming alive to God’s mission.”


  1. June 7, 2008 at 4:37 am

    Hey Brian, I too really like McNeals “The Present Future.” Didn’t know if you are familiar with these couple of videos that might add to your discussion. The first one is especially worth watching.


  2. brianmcl
    June 9, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Brad: Thanks for the heads-up. I haven’t watched those but I certainly will in preparation for my week with Reggie. It should be a treat!

  1. July 24, 2008 at 10:31 pm

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