Faithful churches are looking forwards and backwards – forwards in methodology and backwards in creed.
Dying churches are looking forwards and backwards – backwards in methodology and forwards in creed.
Faithful churches exist for getting the gospel out and welcoming failures in. We are always looking for new, creative, innovative, and box-breaking ways to do it. Credally, we are ad fontes, back to the sources from which we sprang, back to Jesus, the Bible, the early church. It’s an old story we’re retelling. But the language in which we tell is is always new.
Dying churches do it exactly the other way around. Methodologically, they say things like, “Remember how we did it 20 years ago? Wasn’t that great?” They go back to the same styles, the same sounds, the same vocabulary, and often the same (stagnated) leaders. Theologically they may (or may not) then be open to wandering. They have little left to be committed to than the way things used to be. Going back as far as Jesus is a dangerous thing for them to do, because in him they’ll find a pioneer and an adventurer who will leave the religious people who feel safe at church to go looking for someone who is lost (Luke 15). They tend to replace theology with tradition.
If you’re following Jesus, he’s only going forwards. The front windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror for good reason.