Rss

Archives for : July2019

Alarming Statistics


Five levels of health and growth help to categorize evangelical churches in America. Here is their description from Rainer Research in 2009 and what percent of churches each represents; 

  • Fast-growing (greater than 5% annually) 12% 
  • Growing (nominally to 5% annually) 23% 
  • Steadily declining (0% to 3% annually) 34% 
  • Rapidly declining (2% to 5% annually) 21% 
  • Declining toward death (over 5% decline annually) 10%. 

We know from research that 85% of all churches have either plateaued or are in decline.  Of the 15% that are growing only 1% is from conversion growth. 

In a blog and podcast, The Faster Pace of Decline Toward Death of Many Congregations, Thom Rainer’s research gives the alarming statistic that from 2009 to 2019 the fast growing churches decreased from 12% of the American churches to 3%. In that same 10-year period the percentage of churches declining towards death increased, almost doubled, from 10% to 19%.  Several pastors have shared with me, brokenhearted, that their churches are running half of what they were 2-3 years ago and will end up closing their doors if something does not change.  

What will it take for churches to wake up and realize something must be done?  Unfortunately, many churches are sicker than they are willing to admit.  They refuse to accept that they may close their doors soon if something does not change.  Revelation3:17 gives a sobering warning, “Because you say ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.”  That passage is harsh but the stark reality is that we must be willing to repent and do whatever is necessary for His church to thrive.

As alarming and convicting as these statistics may be there is hope because Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of His church. He desires to do greater things in and through your church than you do.  Once you finally face your present reality and prayerfully determine your preferred future you can begin to imagine what that might look like.  Jesus wants to do more and greater things than the best that you can dream, envision, and pray for.  Ephesians 3:20 is very clear that He is able to do even greater things than the best “preferred future” you can imagine.

The million-dollar question is, are you willing to allow the great physician to diagnose your spiritual illness bluntly and transparently?  Will you take the time to spiritually evaluate with honesty and have a willingness to do whatever He asks you to do to be the church He desires your church to be? Are you ready to spend some extended time in prayer seeking Him and allowing Him to show you just how sick you may be?  None of us like getting bad news or a bad report but it is necessary if we are going to begin a path towards health and vitality.

Paul admonished the church at Ephesus to pray for a “spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.”  Paul challenged them to pray for enlightenment to know the hope of their calling, to understand the glorious riches of their inheritance in Christ, and the greatness of His power.  Are you praying for those things in your church?  Are you leading your church to pray without ceasing for the wisdom to know what to do, the resources to be able to do it, and the strength to continue what He has called you to accomplish?  

Dynamic Church Planting International training teaches 12 biblical principles with principle #2 being the power principle: “Prayer is the indispensable source of God’s power and wisdom in each phase of church planting.” DCPI teaches, “prayer is important because it leads us to intimacy with Christ.  God has called us first to be lovers of Christ before we become lovers of the lost, or lovers of the church. In prayer we connect with this One who is Creator and Sustainer as well as Redeemer and Friend.”  Paul challenged a church and us to “pray without ceasing.” 

Here are some things you should be praying for in the midst of these shocking and alarming statistics of dying churches.  

  1. Pray for revival!  That you would wake up to the spiritual condition of your heart and how spiritually unhealthy your church may actually be.  Ask the Lord to help you see your church through His eyes and to break your heart with what breaks His heart.  Are you willing to allow Him to expose every area that needs correction through confession and contrition?  Are you willing to do whatever it takes?
  2. Pray for laborers.  Are you asking God to raise up more people with the same burden and passion that He is igniting in your heart?  It begins with you but then you need to fervently beg the Lord to move powerfully in the lives and hearts of others in your church.  Lead by example and then begin to ask others to lead the way with you.  Paul talks about always remembering one another in prayer to the church in Philippi, Thessalonica, and others.  Have you dedicated intentional time every day to pray for those you are called to labor together with
  3. Ask God to open doors.  Only He can open the hearts of the people and do the supernatural work of transformation that is needed.  Thom Rainer in sharing these statistics says, “I have seen too many churches breakout in God’s power to maintain a defeatist attitude. The One who resurrects the dead can bring any church back to life again.”

Hopefully, you are alarmed by these statistics but you should not be dismayed nor feel defeated.  The Lord desires to do far more and greater things with your church than you do.  

Next Steps

Raising children helps you to understand the concept of the game, follow the leader.  Children copy and mimic whatever the one who is first in the line is doing.  Children mimic adult behavior whether that behavior is good or bad.  Most parents can tell about an embarrassing moment when their child repeated what they said even though they did not want it repeated.  One day they will no longer be as compelled to mimic your behavior but will determine for themselves what they will or will not do.  We must teach them why we do what we do not only show them.

We are told that most adults leave the church between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two.  Could it be that they were shown what to do but were never taught why they were suppose to do it?  Maybe we have not done well at discipling them in understanding how essential and critical being a part of local congregation is to their spiritual walk? If the only reason a teenager attends the church is because of the friends they have there then they might not need the church anymore when they make friends outside the church.  

Fellowship is important and needed but there is much more to church membership.  Church membership does not seem to matter to many any more because there are such low expectations.  Churches seem to be experiencing very low levels of commitment.  Have we knowingly or without realizing built a culture of low expectations?  Low expectations usually equal low commitment.  This is why a new member class is important because it can explain what is expected as a church member and what they can expect from their church.

You will need to decide what your new member class will look like, how long it will last, and what information you will include in the class.  This class is a great on-ramp in connecting new people to your vision and mission statement, the way your church functions, and how they can get connected in building relationships and serve in a ministry.  Thom Rainer says the three key ingredients of any new member class are information about your church, expectations of members, and a clear assimilation process.  Think expectations, information, and attitude.  

Some ingredients to include within these areas are clarifying the gospel, doctrine, leadership in the church, and how to get involved.   You want to clearly present what they can expect from your church, and what your church expects from all of its members.  Give them a copy of your doctrinal statement to read and come back ready to ask questions. Focus on the essentials of the faith such as salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone and the inspiration of the scriptures.   Help them to better understand the importance of Biblical truth.

One goal of this class is giving them the information they need so that six months down the road you will hopefully not hear, “If I had known that I never would of joined.”  Another goal is to challenge them to be functioning members of your church and not spectators.  It gives them a clear process of how they can get involved.  They are taught the importance of small group Bible studies, serving on a ministry team, and how they can be discipled one-on-one.  You clarify your purpose (the what) but you also show them your process (the how).  

Make this entry level class a priority by asking all prospective members to attend.  This is not meant to be a qualifying school but rather a way of informing them of what Biblical membership looks like.  A great inexpensive resource you can give those who attend is I Am a Church Member by Thom Rainer.  This is a great reminder to those desiring to become a part of your congregation of how important it is to have the right attitude.  There are six pledges in the book to help them understand the gravity and responsibility of becoming a church member.

Some churches have decided to not use the term “member” because of what it has come to mean in our culture.  When someone thinks of membership it usually refers to what rights you have.  Thom Rainer says, “We join our churches expecting others to serve us, to feed us, and to care for us…God did not give us local churches to become country clubs where membership means we have privileges and perks.  He placed us in churches to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to learn, to teach, to give, and, in some cases, to die for the sake of the gospel.”

You must determine how long your class will last but make sure it does not last too long.  Some churches do an overview with a luncheon and others last as long as twelve weeks.  Do not feel like you must cover everything but rather give an overview of how your church carries out the mission of God.  The temptation is that more is better but not necessarily.   Stress Bible truth and expectations but also show them how they can step into an environment where they can grow.  Clearly state your expectation for maturing in Christ through your process of discipleship.  

Teach your vision and mission statement in the new member class by explaining the action steps required.  These action steps describe what the member should do next in order to grow and move through the process.  The process does not guarantee transformation, only God transforms, but it places the member in a position that encourages movement and growth as they desire to become more like Christ.  Make sure your mission statement clearly describes what they should do next. Higher levels of commitment will require higher levels of expectation.