Disappearing Church is the latest book by pastor Mark Sayers. Mark heads up the team at RED church in Melbourne, Australia (considered the ‘most livable city in the world’). One of his strengths is his ability to analyse and critique broad cultural trends in the West, and what impact these have on the church.
In this book he speaks about where our culture is at, and what kind of response the church should make to the many changes that have taken place in recent decades.
Among his key points are:
- Western culture, while essentially post-Christian, has not moved into a kind of pre-Christian era, but instead into a highly individualised ‘hopeful secularism’ in which personal preferences and self-actualising choices are prized highly. People now preach “the gospel of self”, but our culture still retains many vestigial remnants of ‘Christendom’.
- Most Westerners have a hunch that God is real, but form their own belief system, combining a mishmash of ideas that essentially serve the interests and preferences of the individual. He refers to this as “neo-gnosticism”.
- While the church should seriously consider how it can engage culture with the Christian message, forms of Christianity which mess with doctrinal orthodoxy in order to be ‘relevant’ will ultimately fail. Instead churches need to accept their roles as creative minorities, working from the fringes to offer a counter-cultural narrative about God and life in which orthodox Christian teaching and practice speak coherently into real life.
- It is possible that the church’s diminishing influence actually might be to our advantage. Being ‘the light’ works better when darkness falls across the land. As in sport, politics, and war, the advantage often lies with the underdog (ever heard of David and Goliath?).
- In our world of images, entertainment, and the ‘good life’, many people in our culture are experiencing a profound poverty of the inner life. Referencing English philosopher Roger Scruton, Sayers notes that one of the great weaknesses of contemporary ‘atheistic’ Western culture is its inability to offer a genuine concept of personhood. The gospel message can speak powerfully to our deepest human needs in a way that secular ideologies simply can’t.
There are many other points I could add, but won’t.
When I read a book intently I usually mark it up with a pencil when I find a good quote or a profound insight. After reading Disappearing Church, I looked back – nearly every single page is marked, often in multiple places. I had more “ah ha” moments reading this book than any other book I’ve read in the last few years.
If you’re a Christian and want to think much more deeply about the state of our culture and how the church should respond, I suggest you buy yourself a copy. This book will amply reward a careful, prayerful reading.