While faced with ever decreasing attendance and a serious need to regain vitality the Church of Sweden seems to have forgotten the purpose of the church of Christ. A recent news post in The Local (Sweden's News in English) states that 'only 15 percent of members of the Church of Sweden say they believe in Jesus and an equal number claim to be atheists.' Another 25% of those church members surveyed claim to be agnostic.
"It's not very high," Jonas Bromander, an analyst with the Church of Sweden who was responsible for the study, told The Local in reference to the figure.
"It's not really a problem; rather, it’s a byproduct of the secularisation in Swedish society which has taken place over many years."
The article continues to describe the dismal state of this European church where only a little over 6% of the roughly 6.6 million members attend a service at least once a month.
According to the survey, 90 percent of church members have a weak relationship with the Swedish Church, forcing the church to ponder whether or not it remains a relevant institution in Swedish society.
Those who performed the study have concluded that the means for this church to regain its relevancy is in more success in addressing social causes.
The purpose of the study was to learn more about what sort of expectations people have for the church and to see how the church "can be relevant to people's lives in contemporary society".
According to the study, if the church succeeds in providing assistance to the poor, elderly, and other marginalised groups, it can expect its members to view belonging to the church as more valuable.
"For many the church is a religious organisation and they want it to be one, even if they don't believe in Jesus themselves," said Bromander, adding that members see their membership as a way to support what the church does.
When does a church cease to be relevant? Is it time for our churches to become more hip? More in touch with today's youth? Should they seek to accommodate a broader demographic and appeal to larger audiences with diverse beliefs? Do they need to refrain from doctrinal issues and concentrate on the issues that relate to a more modern, secularized, diverse society? How should churches deal with decreasing attendance and membership? Perhaps the answer is becoming a more effective agent in tackling social issues such as poverty and homelessness and assisting the marginalized of society? Will efforts to aid the poor and other marginalized groups be hindered unless they tone down their religious message? Should the gospel message be compromised in order to cooperate with other groups in the noble endeavor of aiding the poor and the elderly and other social causes?
Don’t get me wrong, the church should and must be actively involved in helping its communities, especially the poor, elderly and underprivileged. But there is a lesson here in this survey from the Church of Sweden that all churches and denominations should pay heed to. A church is no longer relevant to society when the God that it has a mission to serve, honor and obey is no longer relevant to it.
By definition it is no longer a Christian church and no longer does it have a relevant purpose when Jesus Christ is no longer exalted, praised and worshipped. It may be a pseudo religious organization but it is not a Christian church.
Irrelevance begins as a subtle inroad of secularism. Little by little the gospel message is watered down. Doctrine is then considered controversial in lieu of accommodating a minority. Soon the majority begins to dwindle and the minority having been accommodated loses interest as well. All that is left is a dying church that compromised its core rots from the inside out. When the mission to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ in all the world is no longer number one for a church, there is nothing that remains that is relevant no matter how noble the efforts to be an agent for social change.
Don’t be naïve, many American churches have started down the road to secularism and emphasizing social service over Gospel message or preaching a gospel lite that has been toned down to be less offensive to the masses that they want to come through their doors. A church could have high numbers in attendance but if the members don’t know Jesus Christ as Savior they will still be destined to hell. God did not establish the church as a social club or primarily as a charitable organization. We must go forth to serve our communities but we must make sure that we serve them first with the message of the Gospel. No other service that we do for them is relevant without that. If you find yourself serving community but have compromised the gospel in order to do so then you need to step back and ask if the focus of your efforts is off track.
The answer is to the Church of Sweden’s problem is the opposite of the direction that they have taken. They need more of the Gospel, not less. They need more preaching and more teaching and a heart for Biblical truths. Not compromise and lack of foundational values, but a return to the supremacy of Jesus Christ as one worthy of praise and honor and all authority. What do you think? Should the Church of Sweden focus on social issues to make itself relevant in Swedish society? Should they return to the Gospel of Christ?
Glorify Jesus as God, Evangelize, preach, make disciples, teach, reach, Love, serve and care.