Thom Rainer: “Sadly, many Bible-Belt churches are not adjusting to the changing realities of the area.”
What a big difference a region makes. Or used to make.
I served as pastor of four churches, and three of them were in the Bible Belt. One was not. It was my favorite.
The Bible Belt refers to that region of the southeastern and south-central United States, where church attendance has been higher historically, and where biblical values are more closely aligned with cultural values.
But the buckle of the Bible Belt is coming off. That means the entire belt will soon fall off. And it is happening rapidly.
There are thousands of churches in the Bible Belt. Sadly, too many of them are not adjusting to the changing realities of the area. They still act like it’s 1975. Here’s why:
1. They don’t recognize the decline of cultural Christianity.
They refuse to admit the world has changed around them. And they are often angered when someone suggests they make methodological and stylistic changes.
2. They have many “church rules.”
The church rules could be related to attire worn on Sunday, or times of worship, or inconsequential polity issues. The point is, they do things like they did 40 years ago, and wonder why those on the outside are not interested in their churches.
3. They have leaders who have never led in a highly unchurched mission field.
Of course, the problem is that the mission field around them is growing increasingly unchurched. Birmingham and Nashville, in that regard, are looking more like Spokane and Boston.
4. They confuse tradition with truth.
That is a dangerous reality. When church members equate biblical teachings with some of the bylaws and processes of the church, the congregation is in big trouble.
5. They do outreach the way they’ve always done it.
So if Tuesday night visitation was effective in 1975, it must still be effective in 2016.
6. They have significant conflict due to frustration.
A number of the leaders and members of these churches can’t understand why and how things have changed so much. They want their old church back, but it’s not coming back. Their frustration can lead to conflict that exacerbates their other problems.
7. They are very slow to respond.
Their internal culture moves at a much slower pace than the community around them. If they do respond to an opportunity, they might be five years late. Or 10. Or 20.
8. They have significant facility challenges.
Many of these churches were built for one big crowd, one day a week, one hour a week. They might have old and dated education and recreation facilities, as well. Some of them are located in worship centers with a capacity multiple times their actual attendance. They can have significant unused space and deferred maintenance. A lot of their funds go to keep the lights on.
Many of you readers are in churches in the Bible Belt. I would love to hear your perspectives.
Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter (@ThomRainer) and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer. This article was originally published at ChurchAnswers.com on Oct. 31, 2016.