This Fall I am finishing up my Master of Divinity degree by taking an internet-based course on Evangelism. One of the subjects the course covers is an examination of both church growth and church death. My church is at a critical point in its history right now as the church has experienced decline over the last several years due to many factors. We are seeking to “turn the battleship” by Biblical reform and renewed emphasis on the gospel. It isn’t a quick or easy process but there is such great potential here and I am confident the Lord will bless obedience and faithfulness. Concerning the course on evangelism, our notes this week addressed the question, “Why churches die?” This is clearly a path I don’t want to go down so I paid special attention to the insight provided. Hollis Green provides five reasons why churches die (included in our class notes and from his book, Why Churches Die).
1. Churches begin the death process when they overly prioritize their program. My professor, Dr. Dan Crawford suggests, “Perhaps we are spending so much time at the church building that we have little time left for being the church in the workplace.”
2. Churches begin the death process when they employ or continue to tolerate ineffective staff members. I once heard John MacArthur say, “People are where they are because someone led them there.” Leadership has a critical influence and a critical responsibility.
3. Churches begin the death process when they fail to realize the importance of organizational structure. Evangelism is the beginning of the discipleship process and we are called to “make disciples”. Discipleship demands organization. Churches must do a better job at connecting people and keeping account of people.
4. Churches begin to die when fellowship becomes an end within itself. Dr. Crawford adds, “It may well be that without meaningful fellowship a church will die, but it also is a fact that when fellowship’s end is more fellowship, the church is almost dead. That kind of fellowship gradually decreases the circle of interest until there is no vision of people outside that circle. Eventually, the circle itself becomes non-existent.”
5. Churches begin the death process when they continually ignore any type of spiritual renewal or revival. Most people would not admit to this but it happens everywhere. People get caught up in “doing church” they stop “being the church” and the fervency for prayer, evangelism, and genuine disciple-making relationships fades.
This is good insight and we would be wise to heed the warnings. The Bible provides the blueprint and the power for building healthy, Christ-magnifying churches. Let us cling to its words and take them seriously. After all Christ promised that He would build the church (Matthew 16:18)… we must simply be obedient and faithful to Him.