In one of the saddest stories I have read in a while, yesterday's N.Y. Times ran an article about a large, impressive but now abandoned Methodist church built in the 19th century that is now on its way to becoming a mosque in a quaint English country village. Here is the link. The article also noted the sad condition of the local, medieval Anglican church composed of a small number of aging parishioners. The Anglican Sunday School had one 6-year-old child being tutored by an elderly parishioner. In contrast, the nearby Moslem version of Sunday School was quite busy.
I seriously wonder if the decline of Christian churches is tied to the neglect of charisms. If charisms are for the building up of the Church, then it makes sense that their neglect leads to empty and dying churches. The fastest-growing form of Christianity today is the type that emphasizes the charisms. The fastest-declining form of Christianity today is the type that is oblivious to the charisms. And charisms are not just extraordinary. They are also more ordinary in character--to the extent that we can dare to say that anything inspired by the Holy Spirit is ordinary--such as teaching, administration, helping, etc. But, hold on, you might say: aren't such ordinary charisms present in all the Christian churches? Yes and no. The problem is that instead of focusing on charisms or gifts of the Holy Spirit, many churches with a secular, overrationalistic spirit instead view abilities like teaching or administration as talents that come from us and are primarily part of our own self-realization. When, instead, you look to talents as the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, something changes: we are no longer the focus, but the leading of the Holy Spirit is the focus. And where the Holy Spirit leads, churches grow and grow--just read the Acts of the Apostles.
When we focus on us over Him, we end up with a lot of programs, plans, strategies, and committees that lead nowhere and waste a lot of precious time. When we focus on the Holy Spirit, we get somewhere when it comes to evangelization and growth. I say it again: if charisms are given to build us up and to build up the rest of the Church, then their neglect equals decline. Ironically, there seems to be a form of orthodox or traditionalist Christianity that rejects the emphasis on charisms (for example, Southern Baptists and even some Catholics). Such rejection is ironic because these forms of orthodox Christianity have, willy-nilly, adopted the rationalistic viewpoint of the secular West, a viewpoint that rejects the supernatural, charismatic view of our talents. To the extent the charisms are neglected, we can say that those claiming to be orthodox are not being as orthodox as they think because they are neglecting an essential part of the deposit of faith so obviously displayed in the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments.