In Jim Collins' book, Good to Great, he writes, "All good-to-great companies began the process of finding a path to greatness by confronting the brutal facts of their current reality. . . . It is impossible to make good decisions without infusing the entire process with an honest confrontation of the brutal facts." This statement is not only good advice for companies, but it's also good advice for marriages, parenting, and churches.
In marriage, spouses can very easily slip into the "neutral zone" where everything looks neutral: it's not really bad, but it's not good, either. There's no color, no spark, and no joy. Everything is a dull gray as the husband and wife rarely speak to one another, take time for each other, and basically live separate lives under one roof. How do we splash color on our marriages and create a spark once again? Only when we confront the brutal fact that our current reality is not healthy. When we're honest about our condition, we're far more likely to search for the remedy.
In parenting, moms and dads can find themselves being a taxi service and calendar scheduler more than a discipler and nurturer. I've been traveling a lot the past four weeks, and I realized I hadn't had a meaningful conversation with my daughter during that entire time. So, yesterday I picked her up from school and took her out on a date. I wouldn't have done that, though, if I didn't confront the brutal fact that I've been an absentee dad over the past month.
The same thing applies to the state of the church in America today. Many churchgoers are content with the drabness of their faith and church experience. Much like the frog in the kettle, many churchgoers aren't even aware there's a problem. But there is. Every year more than 4,000 churches close their doors compared to approximately 1,000 new churches that start. There are just over 350,000 churches in the U.S. today. I'm no expert in math, but when we have a net loss of 3,000 churches a year, that means we would be almost "churchless" in roughly 100 years. Churchgoers are also getting older, on average, than the general population. The younger the generation, the higher the percentage that reports they are unaffiliated with a church. Every year 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity. From 1990 to 2000, the combined membership of all Protestant denominations in the U.S. declined by almost 5 million members (9.5%) while the U.S. population increased by 24 million (11%).
Houston, we have a problem.
It's time to confront the brutal facts, not so that we wring our hands in despair, but so that we get on our knees in prayer. In marriage, parenting, and churches, we need to be honest about our current reality in order to wake up to the Spirit's leading for repentance and renewal. To repent means to change your mind and go in a different direction. We change our minds by acknowledging that where we are is not good in order to begin moving to a better place--to a healthier marriage, family, and church. We repent of letting the weeds grow in our hearts and homes, and then we renew our commitment to kill the weeds and grow healthy once again.
Jesus said to the church in Ephesus, "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent" (Revelation 2:4-5, ESV). Confront the brutal facts. Have you abandoned the love you once held for your spouse, your children, your Lord? Has your heart grown cold? Are you in the "neutral zone" of your marriage? Is your church just going through the motions? If so, it's time to repent and do the works you did at first. Return to the love you once had. "Keep yourselves in the love of God" (Jude 21), and "the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you" (1Peter 5:10). And praise God that He will.