“‘I want to preach the Gospel with my life,” Charles de Foucauld often said. He was convinced that the most effective method of preaching the Gospel was to live it. Especially today, people no longer want to listen to sermons. They want to see the Gospel in action.” From Letters from the Desert by Carlo Carretto
We live in a time when many Christians worry about the future of the church, as if the church were merely a building that could only survive if it was full of people. Of course, we all know better than that, but in practice that is the feeling.
Here is the truth of the matter: If you and I were the only two Christians left on God’s good creation we would be the church so long as we proclaimed Christ, shared in the sacraments, and lived as taught by our risen Lord. And this would be true even if we had no building in which to gather. The question we need to ask ourselves is not “How do we fill the building?” but “How do we live as the church?” If we will simply be the church, the rest will take care of itself.
I have no fear for the future of the church because I know that what matters is not quantity, but quality. And I know that the higher quality of Christian we become the chances of gaining in quantity will follow. But, if we ignore quality and fail to live the gospel, then we can forget any progress in terms of quantity, as well.
But, here’s the secret: We live in a culture where it is no longer to one’s advantage to be “Christian,” as it once was. It was once to one’s advantage to go to church because that is what most everyone else was. And so, if you wanted to promote your business, or find a partner, or have social interaction of any kind you went to church because that is where society was. All that has changed.
Going to church no longer has the social advantages it once had. In fact, as time goes along, it may become a disadvantage to be associated with some church. So what does that mean? It means that as time goes along the only people who will be committed to the work of the church will most likely be those who do so because of their commitment to Christ. The great irony of our time is that as the numbers decrease the quality of Christian will increase. And, once the quality of Christian increases, the chances of others being attracted to the faith will begin to increase, as well. Never underestimate the powerful pull of a Christian life that truly is an image of Christ. Just ask yourself: How did the early church grow so rapidly when it was surrounded by a culture that was so radically different? The answer: quality.