I ran across a really great illustration covering the decline of the church from David Guzik:
Let every pulpit rightly say, “we preach Christ crucified!” A strong church once inscribed these words on an archway leading to the churchyard. Over time, two things happened: the church lost its passion for Jesus and His gospel, and ivy began to grow on the archway. The growth of the ivy, covering the message, showed the spiritual decline. Originally it said strongly, we preach Christ crucified. But as the ivy grew, one could only read we preach Christ, and the church also started preaching “Jesus the Great Man” and “Jesus the Moral Example” instead of Christ crucified. The ivy kept growing, and one could soon only read, we preach. The church also had even lost Jesus in the message, preaching religious platitudes and social graces. Finally, one could only read we, and the church also just became another social gathering place, all about we and not about God.
As I look around my town and see the churches that have traditionally been the stalwarts of faith in the area slowly decline and fade away, I can’t help but see the parallels. Do we believe in the message? Then nothing can stop us. If we don’t believe the message, then no amount of sermonizing or fancy programs can help us.
Pastor Guzik’s illustration can be continued to address the period that we are heading into as a church.
Church membership was once held to be a sign of goodness and stability in our society. You could not get a job in some areas without being a member of a local church. Professionals would join churches in order to advance their careers and politicians would attend church as a message to their voters that they were with them and held similar values. Church attendance resulted in a favorable societal response. I am not endorsing this, by the way, just noting the history.
While this is still true in some areas, there is a growing segment of society that views church attendance as a serious fault in a person. They would look for lack of involvement in church on the resume and will not professionally deal with those who go to certain churches and their influence on the culture as a whole appears to be growing. To this group, one who regularly attends church is anywhere from a fool to a bigot. Attending church only to participate as a social club to them is akin to attending a KKK rally in order to drink their punch, it is just not socially respectable.
Faced with this stigma, what happens to those who attend church as a social club? Well, they have no reason to continue to do so as they are not there for the Gospel and they can get social interaction other places where the costs are less. As the older generation that tasted of the actual Spirit of God in the church dies off, so does the church.
So what happens to the church as a social club model if this belief continues to spread and becomes dominant? The ivy overtakes the we as there is no one left to even put up a fight.