Since the last General Assembly, the Church of the Nazarene has grown in every region except USA/Canada. The losses in the USA/Canada are staggering—down 57,279 members and 172 churches. One wonders if the numbers were based on worship attendance (and not membership) if the losses would be even worse. I suspect they would be.
There have been numerous reasons given for the American church demise. Life in a post Christian America is hard; notable Christians’ infamous failures/sins; the development of growing factions within the church; the politicization of American Christianity and the questions revolving around human sexuality are just few reasons given. Maybe the reason is much simpler. It doesn’t involve looking in the Bible for answers or the latest census numbers for clues. It involves looking in the mirror. Maybe the problem is us.
Admittedly, my perspective is limited and purely anecdotal. In the last ten years, I’ve been to Panama several times. No where else, just Panama. What I’ve seen there is a commitment to the cause of Christ that puts Americans to shame.
There is a unity among churches that leads to cooperation not competition. Work projects at fellow churches bring out people from across the district to help, not simply a handful of old men and women with nothing better to do.
Money isn’t wasted on unnecessary things. I asked a missionary friend recently if he knew of a District Superintendent (not in the USA/Canada) that was not also pastoring a church. He could not think of a single one. Most all DSs on the mission field also pastor a church. Why does the USA/Canada think DSs need to do that job exclusively? Most international DSs don’t have an assistant. Is the job that much more difficult in the US? Would our numbers be worse (how could they be worse?) if our DSs were also pastoring a church. Instead of taking some of our best pastors out of growing churches and making them a DS, what if they could pastor and be DS. It would cut district apportionments and the strong local churches would not lose momentum.
Maybe there are foolish debates among the believers in Panama, but I have not witnessed it. There is a focus on preaching the gospel and going to the places that most need Jesus. It seems the USA/Canada have been committed to going to places that are fresh and new, and have abandoned the cities and places were ministry is hard but most needed.
Moreover, the folks in Panama know how to pray. They really pray. Could our demise be as simple as weak and feeble prayer efforts? Call a prayer meeting and a handful show up to quietly pray. Call a prayer meeting in Panama, the church shows up for a loud, boisterous, holy gathering. We need to learn how to pray once more.
Instead of sending our best and brightest to the world regions to teach and instruct pastors and leaders in the ways of the church. Maybe the world areas should be sending teachers/missionaries to us. It seems we have much to learn from them. Maybe what the USA/Canada church need most is a dose of humility to learn from our brothers and sisters in the regions of the world where church growth is happening.