No matter how you slice it, the church called to minister in the United States is flush with resources. I don't think you can argue that there is another time and place in the history of Christianity when the church has enjoyed such legal protection, even though there are ominous signs that is quickly coming to an end. The church is more or less completely independent of overt state control and yet our offerings to the church are tax-deductible and many of our expenditures such as compensation for clergy are also given tax-favorable treatment. We have Bibles out the wazoo (a theological term), ranging from cheap paperback versions for a couple of bucks to versions featuring calfskin covers and other amenities that will set you back hundreds of dollars. If you are even modestly tech savvy you have a dizzying array of Bibles at your fingertip for free and centuries of accumulated wisdom and study tools that would have been inaccessible to anyone without a massive personal library or access to a seminary library less than two decades ago. We run untold billions through church checking accounts every year, heck probably on a weekly basis, and the vast majority of that money is allegedly used to disciple existing Christians in the form of church buildings, clergy, programs and materials, all supposedly designed to equip the church.
What exactly have we gotten in return for this embarrassment of riches? What are the fruits of billions upon billions spent so Christians can worship and be taught in Sunday school and hear a professionally prepared and delivered sermon in comfort every week?
Based on my observations as a Christian of some 15 years who has been around the church quite a bit, the answer is not a heck of a lot.
In fact, the only other entity that I can think of that spends on this scale and gets such poor results in return would be the government.
The reasons are many but the results are pretty clear. The church, such as it is, in America is riddled with false teachers, bad doctrine and even worse, general theological apathy. Our churches are full of very nice people who have been in church all of their lives and are barely acquainted with even basic concepts. I certainly don't expect new Christians to be able to explain the hypostatic union or give me a brief summary of the three major schools of eschatology but I would expect people who have been in church all of their lives to understand the difference between the Old and New Covenant, to see the progression of revelation throughout the Scriptures, to give more than a two word definition of grace.
Like our society in general, the church has saddled entire generations of Christians with the curse of low expectations. We don't expect much from each other and of course that is what we get. I haven't met too many people in the church that are incapable of learning the deeper things of the Kingdom, they just have barely been exposed to them and have never been expected to learn them. As I have written so often, it seems as if we spend all of this money and expend all of this effort in order to intentionally keep the majority of the church as passive observers. Come sing a couple of songs, listen to a sermon, put your check in the plate, maybe go to potluck once in a while, and go about your business the other 167 hours a week with the assurance that you have done your part. I call this the "Show up, shup up and pay up" model.
We need to expect more and ask more of the church. Not simply because it is a matter of a poor return on investment but mainly because it is poor stewardship and harmful to the work of the Kingdom. I am 100% confident that the church can and will rise to the challenge if the challenge is offered to do more, learn more, act more. I am equally confident that if we do not expect more of the church, we will continue to get more of the same, more theological shallowness, more apathy, more disengaged Christians. The future we are facing has little room for casual observer Christians but unless the leaders of the church start to make room for the rest of the church and start to ask of them what the Bible asks of them, increased maturity, service, moving from milk to meat, then we can expect the influence of the church to continue to wane.