This One Trait Seems Present in Nearly Every Dying Church
I think I’ve mentioned this before but, I’ve become a purveyor of church trends. Part of the reason is that much of what happens in the average church seems either opposite of what Scripture teaches, or just simply lacking.
For example, not long ago I was in a church service where the topical sermon was all about money. I was excited at first because I enjoy hearing practical sermons that can teach biblical truths that are desperately needed in our current culture. I sat anxiously waiting to open my Bible and dive into what God has said about being a good steward.
I never opened my Bible.
The entire sermon was a long string of cliches and catch phrases, but it never engaged the people with what God has said about being a good steward and making wise financial decisions. I left disappointed.
The greater concern is that this is a trend in many churches. Many people don’t even take a Bible because they don’t anticipate needing it. It’s true that most people have a Bible app on their phone or tablet, but they seldom use it, even in church. The result is a generation of biblically illiterate people that cannot define their faith or defend their faith. But this disturbing trend is just one of many plaguing the church.
Thom Rainer is a guy that has spent a lot of time observing church trends and trying to help revive dying churches. It might sound strange to talk of a “dying church” but they are all around us. They are the tiny churches on the verge of closing their doors forever. The dying church is a particular church trend that has markers easily spotted a mile away.
Rainer has recently written about several reasons he believes “some churches choose to die.” It’s not a vote or verbal decision to close the doors of the church. Instead it’s a slow and agonizing death that is the result of years of subtle decisions that lead to death.
Rainer has identified a number of reasons many churches die. He’s written extensively about those markers in order to caution churches that might find themselves on the path to closed doors. Among the reasons he says many churches slowly but surely die is that they lose focus on the mission of the church: sharing the Gospel. He writes:
“They are more concerned about greater comfort than the Great Commission. Church membership has become self-serving. The church is more like a country club than the body of Christ. People are “paying dues” to get what they want in the church. It’s all about their preferences and desires.”
There’s a lot of truth packed into that short statement.
People have been so conditioned to seek their own comfort that this mentality has carried over into the church. Anytime someone is not perfectly satisfied with something they demand reparation, as if it is owed to them. The cultural narrative that we should all agree all the time has crept into the church and brought the same divisive result it has produced in our culture. Add to this the belief that it is the job of church members to be intimately involved in every decision of the church and you have a recipe for disaster.
The biblical teaching of putting others before ourselves, dying to self, seeking the good of others, being a servant, and loving those with whom we don’t see eye to eye are foreign. Whereas once these may have been basic teachings of the church that Christians sought to emulate; today they are concepts far above the biblical literacy of many Christians. The “your way right away” attitude has won the day in many churches to great detriment.
You know, I’ve been in church my whole life. As a pastors kid I’ve seen and heard more than most. As a pastor I’ve experienced more than most. The reasons people give for their words and actions continue to surprise me; and defy biblical logic or reason.
For example, I’ve heard people say they are leaving the church because they really want a live worship band. Did you pray about that one? Did the Holy Spirit lead you to that decision?
I listened to a pastors wife explain to me why drinking alcohol was wrong but smoking was acceptable. Can you point me to the chapter and verse that supports your hypothesis?
I know a guy that says using “The Gospel Project” curriculum is harmful to students and would end up leading them to hell. I bet that’s news to the Southern Baptist Convention and Lifeway.
It’s no wonder many churches are dying. An inward focus and attention to making sure things are done to our exact specifications has left little time for missional Gospel living. The in-fighting over nonsensical issues has created a hostile atmosphere that people simply don’t want to be near. The old look down on the young for their “new ways of doing things” while the young resent the old for being “stuck in the past.” It’s a cycle that cripples.
I want to be the kind of church member that builds unity, includes others, serves, seeks the good of those around me, and sets aside differences for the glory of Christ and His Gospel. I’m not there yet. But it’s my desire and what I am seeking to be as a church member. I can’t help but think that if I can build others up and share the Gospel with those around me that everything else will take care of itself.
What’s your goal as a church member? What’s your goal as a church? Are you stuck in your ways and refusing to change (which will lead to certain death)? Or, is your desire to see people restored to a right relationship with God so strong that you can lay aside your own preferences?
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