JAC Online

Mission Drift
by Steve Bussey

I'm reading an interesting book published by Routledge on the topic of the history of church and state relations. This book is used by secular universities as a textbook for political science. It is entitled "Religion and Politics in America: Faith, Culture and Strategic Choices".


As I was working through it, I couldn't help but pause and reflect on a profound and prophetic insight that speaks to our present American church. In discussing evangelical churches specifically, one of the unique indicators of growth or decline the authors identify is the importance of a religious institution having "clarity of conviction" - and how this is critically needed for individuals to find a sense of meaning and refuge in that church.


The quote (shared below) caused me to reflect on Peter Greer and Chris Horst's research on "mission drift". They emphasize the need for "clarity" and "intentionality" as being the two key indicators to help check whether a church is remaining "mission true" or is in a state of "mission drift" or in the deadly state of being "mission untrue". This book is an unlikely source that confirms how critical this is for strategic mission alignment.


Here is the quote shared about evangelical influence in American history:

"...Religious faiths thrive or decline based on how well they serve the needs of its existing members and manage to grow by evangelizing new members and "fallen away" former members...


Sometimes the intensity of the religious experience offered by a particular faith tradition wanes over time; members become comfortable and do not look outward.


Clergy can contribute to this decline if they become complacent and accommodating. When a religious message becomes watered down, it loses its power to convey any authoritative message about the meaning of life.


People yearning for such meaning may therefore leave fading religious traditions for other religious, spiritual, or secular settings.


Evangelical faiths of all kinds seek to reach potential adherents with their distinctive messages about meaning. Religious institutions that do not convey clarity of conviction cannot expect to flourish in the long run." (p.10)


The quote continues:

"We observe this pattern in rising sects and the decline of once-dominant churches throughout American history.


For example, Puritans of the seventeenth century, who were otherworldly and severe, saw their churches transformed into the comfortable liberal Congregational Church born in the eighteenth century. In general, when colonial churches became too comfortable, they lost substantial shares of their members to the new, primarily evangelical congregations that were emerging from revivals. Upstart Methodist and Baptist congregations, which had grown dramatically after the founding era, eclipsed them.


The cycle continues: As Methodism became the home of an increasingly settled membership and its ministers grew less strict about enforcing traditional rules in the late nineteenth century, a fervent holiness religious movement drew away a significant portion of its membership" (pp.10-11).


So, as a part of the Holiness movement, those of us who are in The Salvation Army are wise to pay attention to the patterns of the past (hindsight) and cross-reference these with the conditions of the present (insight) as they can help indicate the potential realities of the future (foresight) which can help us mitigate a detrimental future and reorient towards a bright one.


A movement does not have to die. It can revive and renew, but it requires addressing complacency and compromise, as well as repentance and realignment - seeking a revival of the Spirit who can take the dry bones of any church, and bring them to life, forging afresh a mighty army.


Oh, Lord - do this for your church of 2024!


Breathe on us breath of God!











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