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The Church in the 21 st Century: A Sociological Evaluation and Plan

 

The Church has never been perfect. Even the early church became legalistic and overly philosophical at times. The Medieval church was a disaster, and yet the church

continued. The Reformation was a breath of fresh air. The Priesthood of all believers

was brought back, and yet it wasn’t implemented very well. The Pietist movement

brought us the quiet time, which revolutionized individual spiritual growth, as well as the

Bible study, which helped corporate spiritual growth. The church was on its way.

By the 20 th century, the Sunday school model was firmly established. A typical

evangelical, Bible believing church had Sunday school before church, Sunday morning

worship, Sunday evening worship, and Wednesday night prayer and preaching. Many

churches threw in a meal at the Wednesday gathering. This model wasn’t perfect, but it

helped in a few areas. First, Christian education was being done. Sunday school was

just that; it was a school where children and adults learned the basics and beyond,

where memorization was encouraged, Bible literacy was promoted, and a little

fellowship was experienced. The two areas that it was weak in was fellowship and

practicum. In Sunday school the head was filled, but the heart and feet were lazy.

Fortunately, with all the other services, especially if there was a meal on Wednesday,

fellowship did take place in bits and pieces. Many churches had outreaches, so the feet

(action) got some exercise too.

 

In the 1980’s the church growth movement took over. If a church didn’t adopt the new ideas, they became obsolete. The church growth movement started out with an

emphasis on evangelism and brought some good ideas like “don’t embarrass first time

visitors,” “serve coffee and make people feel comfortable,” and “try to be a little more

organized.” But then it became a competition to see how many people they could get in

the building. After the dust was settled, most churches had abandoned Sunday School,

Sunday night worship and Wednesday night worship. People were only gathering once

a week for a light spiritual meal of topical preaching. Some of the churches saw a lack

of fellowship and adopted small groups to fill the vacuum. Men’s ministries, women’s

ministries, AWANA’s, and Bible studies sprung up.

 

In the midst of all this change, Ralph Neighbors introduced the Cell Church model. He got it from Acts 2:46; 5:12, 42; 20:20. In this model, the large group gathering on Sunday mornings was maintained, but of equal importance was the “house to house”

meeting during the week. The Cell groups, later called Life Groups, consisted of five

parts: conversational Bible study, prayer and ministry, fellowship, worship, and outreach.

The two wings (Sunday service and Life Group) became the major tools for discipleship.

The largest church in the world began with this model (David Yonggi Cho in Seoul

Korea). Sunday morning the people were experiencing the corporate worship dynamic

that house churches lack, some fellowship, corporate prayer, and serious expository

Bible teaching. During the week, the people practiced deep fellowship, Bible study

where participation was encouraged, an atmosphere conducive of ministering to each

other with the spiritual gifts, and some outreach from time to time. The Cell Church

model gives a one/two punch that brought wonderful spiritual growth to the individuals

and congregation. Unfortunately, the Cell Church model morphed at times where the

Life Groups switched to topical studies rather than conversational Bible studies, and it

was seen as an option rather than a central part of the needed discipleship.

 

After practicing the Cell Church model (Life Group model) for thirty years, I would like to offer my evaluation in light of the state of the local church in general. With the church growth movement, we lost fellowship, outreach and Christian education. With the small groups and even far more so with the Life Group model, we gained fellowship,

discipleship and practical ministry when the model is done right. One thing that is still

lacking is Christian education. As a professor at a Christian university, I have seen the

Biblical literacy plummet over the years with the students who predominantly come from

Bible believing churches. I attribute this to the church growth movement for the most

part. I also think that the complete abandonment of the Sunday school model has had a

negative impact on Biblical literacy in the church. Over a hundred years ago, children

were educated in the Bible in school. Today, unless the kids go to a Christian school or

are homeschooled, they get very little Christian education. They don’t have Bible verses

memorized, they don’t know the books of the Bible or their content, and they don’t know

how to verbalize good theology.

 

We have come a long way from the Medieval Church, but we still need to grow. What can we do? The Sunday school model has its deficiencies, so we don’t want to go back to that, even if we added all the extra services, but there might be something we can learn from that model. It seems to me that the Life Group model (Cell Church model) is the best model, but unless our kids are in Christian school or homeschooled (which is

what I highly advocate due to the current school curriculum fiasco), they miss out on

Christian education. Our adults have also missed out on basic Christian education. How

can we excel in Christian education without abandoning or stultifying the Life Group

contribution to discipleship? I believe by adding the Christian Education component to

our Life Group model we solve most of the problems brought about by the church

growth movement, without hindering the success of the Life Group model. With the

Christian Education component, we offer classes for kids and adults that focus on the

knowledge Christians need to grow in Christ and not be negatively influenced by the

world. In the past, Christians have been familiar with the major parts of the Bible

(Pentateuch, Historical books, Wisdom and Poetry books, Prophets, Gospels, Acts,

Letters of Paul, General letters, Revelation), the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s

Creed, basic doctrine and ethics. With Christian Education being offered Sunday

mornings at 9:00-9:45am, before Sunday Morning worship, we can excel in education

without hindering our other values. In our day and age in the 21 st century, we don’t want

to retreat. We want to continue following the Biblical Life Group model, while making

sure our people’s needs are being met to the best of our ability at this time in church

history. Let’s grow together!  Pastor Larry Siekawitch, Ph.D.

CE SCHEDULE

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NEW ADULT CLASS

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The Doctrine of the Bible: How Did We Get Our Bible?

 

As Christians we believe the Bible is inerrant, it is alive, and it is our final authority. It is written by prophets under the full inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and is therefore God’s Word… But which Bible? In this Christian Education class, Ettien Koffi and Larry Siekawitch will teach on the following subjects:

 

I. The texts of the Old and New Testament

II. The canonization process of the Old and New Testament

III. Ancient translations of the Bible

IV. History of the English Bible

V. Bible translation in non-European languages

VI. The authority of the Bible

 

Come join us every Sunday at 9:00 – 9:45am in ROOM 203 at Harvest Fellowship beginning February 11 (coffee and doughnuts provided). You will love the Bible more and be able to answer difficult questions people sometimes ask about the Bible. 

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