Face it. Most congregations are declining or plateaued in attendance and membership. While some churches flourish, the attendance and participation in most churches has been diminishing for years. Some churches seem to be holding their own as they work hard to stay at the same attendance level. Many churches that are growing are doing so through transfer growth. That happens when people who are already Christians move into your church from another congregation. Transfer growth is relatively easy. It may take nothing more than having a better show than the church down the street. It’s a good thing if Christians transfer to your church because they have recently moved into the area. It’s not that great if the transfers come because they are disaffected or disappointed by the church down the street. Transfer growth, while it may feel good and look good in the statistics, does little or nothing to extend the Kingdom of God. It is far inferior to growth by evangelism. That’s when people who don’t know Christ become Christ-followers and identify with your church. Way too many churches haven’t had that kind of growth in years.
Turning a church around is very difficult. The hardest part is to get the people to want to turn around. Sometimes they know their congregation is in trouble. They see the empty pews. They realize that most of the congregation is made up of old people and that every funeral further diminishes the ranks. They are alarmed, but not alarmed enough to do the things that it would take to return their church to health. These diminishing churches die slowly. Their death is slowed because they either have a lot of money in the bank that they can slowly spend on safe things that enable them to get by, or they lure a naïve pastor to work there for nothing. They convince the pastor that he will be able to turn the church around and they will help him. Too often the congregation not only does nothing to help him, they stand in the way of the changes the pastor tries to initiate. If they make any changes, they are only small ones around the edges that only serve to extend the dying process.
The first step, the most critical step, for a church to turn around or get off a plateau is to admit their condition and seek help. They have to realize that it will probably take radical changes for the church to return to health. Long time church members have to willingly make those changes. They have to accept that the changes will probably be uncomfortable and things won’t be like they have always been. The changes will make them uncomfortable, but they need to become more uncomfortable with the fact that people are going to hell that they could be reaching. These long-time Christ followers need to become more desperate to let God use them to build His Kingdom than they are for their church to stay the way it has always been. The desire for their church to return to being a place where lives are changed and people find Christ must override the desire for “the good old days.” They need to begin to see their church and their community from God’s point of view. Finally, they need to be brokenhearted over the opportunities they have missed to reach people with the Gospel, and dedicate themselves to seeing that happens no more.
God sent His Son into the world to die for our salvation; that had to be uncomfortable. Jesus died a horrible death on the cross; that couldn’t have been comfortable. The early Christ followers suffered sever persecution, torture and death; no way that was comfortable. Yet many church people today are unwilling to sacrifice their comfort for the souls of people they can reach with Gods’ help. Church people need tor resolve to become Kingdom builders. That means to choose to do whatever God asks of them to help Him build His Kingdom in their community.
It’s time to step up to the challenge to be witnesses. It’s time as the old hymn says, “be done with lesser things.” It’s time for the church to rise up. The world desperately needs our Savior and His love, hope and salvation.