This report from The Barna Group on how Americans perceive the impact of churches in their communities is interesting.
Although public skepticism of religion has become increasingly commonplace, a new Barna Group study shows that most Americans remain relatively upbeat about the role that local churches play in their communities.
The nationwide study shows that three-quarters of U.S. adults believe the presence of a church is “very” (53%) or “somewhat” positive (25%) for their community. In contrast, only one out of every 20 Americans believes that the influence of a church is negative—either very (2%) or somewhat so (3%). That leaves about one out of six adults (17%) who are indifferent toward the role of churches. Read the entire article
What is particularly interesting is that what many Christians perceive as the purpose of a church –
There seems to be a disconnect for most Americans between serving the community and helping individuals find their way to God through Christ. Ministry-related goals – such as teaching the Bible, introducing people to Christ, and bringing people to salvation – are infrequently viewed as a primary way to serve the community. Even among many churchgoers, contributing positively to the community is perceived to be the result of offering the right mix of public service programs. Yet, this seems to miss an important biblical pattern: you change communities by transforming lives.
One thing that seems obvious to me is that most Christians perceive the impact of the church to occur within the church building whereas the community focuses on what the church does outside the building. And if we change communities by transforming lives why isn’t the community aware of this transformation?
I wonder if part of the problem is what we understand by a transformed life. Christians tend to focus on an inner transformation that has little to do with how we engage in the community. But in Jesus day a transformed life meant community engagement too. Individual transformation was not disconnected from the community as we tend to make it. Perhaps if we became more like that first century church our communities would once more sit up and take notice.