Growing A Church is About Doing One Simple Thing
It can often be a frustrating thing to watch one church in town grow at an exponential rate while another struggles to keep its doors open. Such a curious experience leaves people wondering what the growing church has going on that makes it so attractive to people. And why don’t people find the other church as equally attractive?
Those are, I think, the wrong questions to be asking. The reason those are the wrong questions is because it isn’t our job to make the church attractive to anyone. Once we fall into the trap of trying to make church cool and culturally relevant there is a danger that the church will become soft on sin, theologically shallow, and little more than a Sunday club.
Don’t get me wrong, there is value in updating our style, utilizing modern resources such as technology, and abandoning traditions that no longer work. But these efforts should only be accomplished with a central focus on reaching people with the Gospel and making disciples. If creating a cool church or even simply church growth is our goal we’ve already lost sight of the mission of the church.
I came across an article this week discussing some specific reasons why it is harder today to grow a church than in years past. A few of the points given are accurate and reflect the struggle I’ve witnessed over the last decade. One in particular is worth noting for every church leader:
“Cultural Christians are much less likely to attend. “Cultural Christianity” is really an oxymoron. I am referring to those people who once attended church because they saw it as culturally, politically, and economically beneficial. That reality no longer exists for the most part. Congregations could be losing anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent of their attendance with this change.”
There was a time when people went to church because it was the normal thing to do. They grew up in church, their parents went to church, and they just went because “that’s what you do.” But, as the article points out, “that reality no longer exists.” In fact, we’ve swung in the opposite direction as a culture where not going to church is the cool thing. So whether due to distractions and a busy life, or due to having no need for church, people are not going as much as they once did.
Another very interesting point made by this article is that “more committed Christians are attending less frequently.” That might be one of the truest statements I’ve read this week. There is a growing group called “the dones,” they are highly committed, faithful, active believers that are simply walking away from the church. They are tired of the pressure to be and do, tired of the endless campaigns, and tired of the disconnect between what their Bible says and what their church looks like. So, they are walking away.
Before they walk away though, they start attending less and less. Suddenly church attendance is an optional part of their week as they reconnect with family, reach out to friends and neighbors, and seek simplicity in their relationship with Jesus outside the church. This trend has caused a fair amount of frustration for pastors and church leaders that can’t understand why people attend so sporadically. In fact, many churches shut down most of their ministries during the summer months saying that it’s a waste of time and resources since few people participate.
But here again I wonder if we’re asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking “why aren’t people coming to church on Sunday?” I wonder if we should be asking “why should people come to church on Sunday?”
How would you answer the question for your church? Why should anyone come to your church? You might answer with one of these standard replies:
Our church is very friendly.
We have a great worship band.
We have “something for everyone.”
Because the Bible says to go to church.
The problem with each of these replies is that they are either false or can be applied to many other things in life. Let me explain.
So what if your church is friendly. Many churches are friendly. But so is the local bar and club. I can find friendliness in many places and don’t need to go to church to find it.
Lots of churches have great worship bands. But if I want to hear a great band I’ll go to a concert or turn on one of my dozens of iTunes playlists. If your reason for attending church is good music, you probably have a shallow faith.
The buffet style “something for everyone” mentality has crippled the church. We’ve replaced biblical discipleship and study with activities and groups. The result is a church filled with theologically illiterate people that can’t defend their faith but know at least 12 steps to “freedom” and “success.”
Show me where the Bible says to go to church. All I see, particularly in the New Testament is the command for Christians to not “forsake assembling together.” (Heb. 10:25) That command can be fulfilled through a small group or home group meeting regularly. So, again, tell me why anyone should come to your church.
The centrality of the church has been lost because people no longer see a need to be led, shepherded, and pastored. Everyone is a scholar and knows what is best and the biblical teaching on being pastored by a local pastor has been lost. This is clearly seen in the lack of rebuke and biblical church discipline in our local churches. We tolerate sin and look the other way because, you know, “judge not” and “God is love.” A church filled with cultural Christians can’t tolerate preaching and teaching that convicts and points out sin. So we dumb it down and preach feel good messages that are sure to appeal to the masses.
But, as we’re now seeing, the growth is only temporary as cultural Christians have an attention disorder which prevents long-term commitment. Now we’re faced with an epidemic of dying churches that have no idea how to make disciples.
If you want to see the church grow, be intentional about teaching and practicing biblical discipleship. The truth is that disciples make disciples. Rather than looking for overnight exponential growth, seek intentional growth through disciple making. This will not only serve to grow the church, but will also fulfill the command for Christians to meet regularly, engage in community, and serve others.
It’s a simple formula: making disciples = church growth.