The State of the Church in America
- Summary: The Church in America is not well. Dr. Jim Feeney shares his observations from visiting 18 churches and noting firsthand some of the common, damaging trends that are also being documented by other church researchers.
Since I retired from fulltime pastoring in 2006, my wife and I have had the opportunity to visit about eighteen churches [written in 2009]. While worshiping with the people, we were able to make some observations on the state of the church in America.
- •• We visited Pentecostal churches and non-Pentecostal churches, small churches and very large ones, denominational churches and nondenominational congregations.
•• The conclusion I have drawn from this three-year research journey is this: the American Church is not well.
- • I realize that eighteen local churches is not an exhaustive sample. But the discouraging patterns that I saw were consistent with what other researchers have observed on a broad scale in the U.S. church.
- •• My purpose in sharing these observations is not to be critical. Far from it. I genuinely love the local churches. Rather, in a spirit of sincere love and concern for the Church, I believe that the Lord wants to use these comments for the twofold purpose of warning and encouragement to the reader.
•• Here are eight nonbiblical situations that I have seen in an unfortunately high proportion of the churches we visited.
1) A Famine of Hearing the Word of God —
Amos 8:1 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land — not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD."
- •• The context in Amos was the judgment of God, resulting in the people hearing the Lord’s words very rarely. The harmful fulfillment of this verse that I have observed widely in today’s churches is this: in service after service I have heard very little word of God from the Bible.
- • There is a widespread absence of the teaching of sound doctrine as a foundation for living. Some pastors have, sadly, gotten into the habit of diminishing the importance of sound doctrine.
• Sermons are presented with modest amounts of Scripture at best, and often very little Bible at all. On two recent Sundays my wife and I attended two very large churches. The pastors spoke well, but in both cases, to the best of my recollection, they were about halfway through their messages before reading any significant amounts of Scripture to anchor and support their comments.
• In some churches virtually none of the members are bringing Bibles to the service.
- •• The solution? Remain word-centered. Preach and teach God’s word, the Bible. Read it at home. Read it and teach it to your children. Do not succumb to spiritual starvation induced by a “famine of hearing the words of the Lord”.
2) Lots of Me-Centered “Worship” —
Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory...
- •• There’s too much “I...me...my” worship. The lyrics of many songs sung in the churches today focus more on the worshiper’s experience of God than on God Himself. First-person singular pronouns (I, me, my, mine...) dominate many of the songs sung in church worship times.
•• Our “feel good”, self-help culture has crept into the church.
•• The solution? “Not to us but to your name be the glory.” The heavenward orientation and focus of this verse should permeate every church’s worship time.
3) The Gifts of the Spirit are Rarely Experienced —
1 Corinthians 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.
- •• In service after service that we attended there were no spiritual gifts manifested.
- • No teaching on it
• No experience of it
• No expectation of it
- •• I recall sharing with one pastor who was seeking my input. I told him that if Pentecostal churches remove the gifts of the Holy Spirit, those churches may find themselves losing members to non-Pentecostal churches. The latter often have excellent preaching, and frequently uplifting worship. But it is biblical preaching, godly worship, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that comprise the pattern for church services laid down by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:26 — that is, word, worship, and gifts, not just word and worship.
•• The solution? “Eagerly desire spiritual gifts...” (1 Corinthians 14:1). Do not settle for “seeker-friendly” services that omit the manifestation of the Spirit’s power through the gifts.
4) Rarely are the Sick Prayed for in the Services —
- •• Too often services are closed by the pastor and the sick go home with no offer of prayer.
•• In very few churches do you even hear faith for healing encouraged, and almost never in a full sermon.
•• The solution? Mark 16:17 And these signs will accompany those who believe ... they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.
- • The truth of this verse must be preached to congregations. It is clear here that Jesus included physical healing in the Great Commission for all believers for the entire Church Age. Pastors should teach this to their people and preach from God’s word in a way that will inspire their faith to believe God for physical healing.
5) “Body Ministry” Is Being Replaced in Some Churches by Funneling Everything Through the Pastor —
1 Corinthians 12:14, 19, 27 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many....  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
Ephesians 4:16 From [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
- •• I’m seeing an unfortunate trend where the pastor requires virtually every element of the service to flow through him.
- • This is particularly and lamentably true concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In some churches, for example, prophecies must be given in advance to the pastor, and he alone will speak them to the congregation. This is in contradiction to 1 Corinthians 14:31 — “You can all prophesy in turn...”
• When the pastor sets himself up as the funnel and conduit for all that God does in a church service, this greatly inhibits the multi-gifted, multifaceted flow of body ministry by the entirety of a spiritually gifted congregation.
• 1 Peter 4:10, KJV As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another.
- •• The solution? Have a structure for the services where, under proper oversight, “each part [can do] its work”.
6) Very Little Corporate Prayer (especially Preservice) —
Acts 16:13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.
- •• I recall being in a church in Alaska in the 1970s where hundreds would gather for preservice prayer. That had a powerful impact upon the ensuing service.
•• Preservice prayer or other types of formal prayer meetings seem to be the exception rather than the rule in many churches.
•• The solution? Have “places of prayer” (and times), where the saints can gather.
7) You Hardly Ever Hear Testimonies Any More in Church —
Revelation 12:11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
- •• The powerful, “overcoming” influence of testimonies is not present in many churches. There’s too much else going on, often of a less important nature.
•• A brief testimony (of healing, of provision, etc.) can be very, very faith-building.
•• The solution? Pastors, encourage and make room for the “word of their testimony”, one of God’s tools to overcome the devil.
8) The Sense and the Expectation of Divine Power Are Not Experienced in Most Churches —
- •• I find in most churches that there is little expectation that God will break into the service in any powerful way.
•• In most services there is no teaching on or invitations to receive the mighty baptism with the Holy Spirit.
- • In good contrast to that, I was recently in a service where the guest preacher spoke on the baptism with the Spirit. At the conclusion, ten people came forward and received this mighty impartation of Holy Ghost power. People are hungering for this heaven-sent manifestation of God’s power.
• I preached on the power of Pentecost recently in a small church in Alaska. Four people responded to the invitation and came forward to receive prayer for a replenishment of that Pentecostal power. The saints are rightfully hungering for a powerful experience of God!
- •• The solution?
- • Ephesians 5:18 Be filled with the Spirit.
• 1 Corinthians 2:4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.
• Let this be your goal and your expectation for every church service. Anticipate powerful, Spirit-filled, Christ-centered gatherings every time the saints meet.
In conclusion, we must guard against the slow encroachment of the world’s ways and our secular culture’s values into the church service. The overall state of the church in America is not good, not vibrant and healthy. But biblical action can turn this around! Be zealous for God’s word, for heaven-focused worship, for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Pray for the sick, share testimonies, involve many of the saints in ministering their gifts, and gather regularly for prayer. And always expect the Lord by His Spirit to manifest Himself powerfully every time the saints gather in His name. You will not be disappointed!
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©2009, James H. Feeney.
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by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.