Thursday, August 29, 2013

8 Reasons Why Some Churches Never Grow

Maybe this post will be a little painful. Let's be honest, if you are reading this and you are part of a church that is not growing then there will be some elements of truth in this post that might hit hard. 

I want to offer you eight reasons why some churches never grow. Many churches are really flat out and committed to many programs. Many churches have leaders who love God and want to serve him. I acknowledge that. I don't what this post to be seen in a negative light as such, but a challenge to consider what needs to change to grow healthy churches.

For some churches it's either deep painful change or slow painful death. Surely the discomfort of embracing new ideas and changing old habits is worth it.

What authority do I have to speak into such a situation? Maybe none. Maybe lots. I have spent many years in churches that have either declined or grown. I have led a small, inward focused, hurting church to a place of growth. I now lead an amazing group of people in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, namely The Salvation Army Craigieburn (Salvos 3064), that continues to witness steady growth.

What do you mean by a church that doesn't grow? Good question. I mean exactly that. A group of disciples of Jesus Christ who are a missional people should surely be a growing group of missional people. Forgive me if we differ at this point. We can strongly debate ecclesiastical structures and missional methodologies if you like and that is valid. Though, I will not compromise on the fundamental belief that a healthy bunch of disciples of Jesus Christ should be both living out a Christ-like existence, but also inviting others to join them on the journey.

So let me delve into reasons why churches don't grow:

Reason 1 - Why Some Churches Never Grow - The People in the Church are Inward Focused

People seem to automatically move to a default inward-focused mentality. If the people of the church fail to continue to remind each other of the importance of being outward focused, people drift inwardly. The church must be outward focused, and not just 'focused' but practically engaged in ministry that is expressed beyond itself.  

An inward focus means the people of the church care more about themselves than others. In 1 John 3:16 we have this amazing picture of sacrifice, when John writes, 'This is how we know what real love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.' The suggestion is not just to lay down your life for those you love and respect, but to even lay down your life for those your struggle to get along with. Love is meant to be expressed to everyone. Jesus laid down his life for everyone. We must stay outward-focused and keep it about living out God's mission in the world. In the face of many a church decline, we must stay focused on Christ and his mission.

Reason 2 - Why Some Churches Never Grow- The Leaders/Pastors of the Church are a Hindrance to the Growth of the Church

I'm not wanting to step on to many toes here, but let's face it, sometimes the greatest hindrance to a local congregation being healthy and vibrant is its leader. John C. Maxwell calls this the law of the lid. The idea is that a leader will hinder the organization's effectiveness when the leader reaches his/her lid. 

Let me suggest some reasons why leaders can become ones who hinder the growth of a church:
  • They micromanage others
  • They exert too much 'power' in their leadership position
  • They exert too little 'power' and thus foster a culture of anarchy
  • They fail to lead with passion, vision, integrity, faithfulness and compassion.
  • They choose to want to be a 'likeable' leader and therefore do not make tough decisions
  • They fail to drive a culture that is God-honoring, Jesus-centered and Holy Spirit empowered
Some might well argue that leaders need not make or break the life of a church. Though, I'm yet to see a healthy, amazing church that has a dysfunctional leader as its captain. I'm yet to see it. I'm sure someone can prove me wrong.

Reason 3 - Why Some Churches Never Grow- Churches do lots of Good Things, but not Great Things

What do I mean by this? Let me give you an example of a good church. I think of a church that regularly has programs/initiatives that offer hope to people's lives. They run community lunches and outreach ministries and women's programs and Children's programs and loads more. They are a good church, doing good things. But are they doing great things? 

The next point I'm about to make, might sound a little controversial. Many churches do good things, but are still not growing, and the Kingdom of God is not growing. Now, sure, these kinds of churches are helping many people. The Kingdom of God is being expressed through their ministry, sure. They are being a blessing to many in their community. Though people are not joining them on the discipleship journey. I'm not trying to sound negative, all I'm saying is that, at what point do you look at all the business of church life and say, I think we have compromised the making of disciples in the process. 

If your theology sits fine with simply expressing the love of God in your community, then fine. Move on to the next point. Though, I would argue, that living out the love of God and inviting people to live in the love of God themselves must go hand in hand. 

Many churches are not growing because they do not keep the main thing, the main thing.

Reason 4 - Why Some Churches Never Grow -They Fail to Understand and Embrace the Role of the Holy Spirit

Much could be said on this point. I do not intend to want to create a dualism amongst Christians. Though I sit in the theological camp that says, you can have more of the presence of God in your life. Some would say you are simply 'becoming more aware of God's presence', but I don't think that fully captures what I'm talking about. I am saying, that a Christian can invite the Holy Spirit to move more in their life. They can invite the Holy Spirit to fill them, overflow within them and give them joy, peace and power. 

Now, because I believe the fundamental idea that we can have a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives, I believe the converse to that. I believe that people who are followers of Jesus, can have a flicker of the Holy Spirit inside of them, but very little Holy Spirit power moving within them.

So with that in mind, we can have churches with very little of the Spirit of Jesus amongst them. Maybe they never invite the Spirit of God to move amongst them. Maybe they simply acknowledge the Father as Lord over all of creation and forget the third person in the Godhead. Maybe they simply don't believe in the above premise, that they can have more of the grace, power and peace of the Holy Spirit within them. Whatever the reasoning, I believe wholeheartedly, that the reason some churches are not growing, is because they have never understood or furthermore embraced the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

Is there a correlation between the dynamic growth of the Pentecostal movement and the willingness to embrace the Holy Spirit as a significant part of the life of a church?

Don't be afraid of the ministry of the Spirit of Jesus. There's no need to be freaked out when someone offers a prophetic word, or someone prays and believes for healing. I believe that churches would be far better off if they realized that when Jesus ascended into heaven he sent the Holy Spirit to lead, guide and ignite the followers of Jesus to transform the world!

Reason 5 - Why Some Churches Never Grow - They Don't Really Care about Growth and Their Theology Justifies That Position

Let me step onto shaky ground. Some churches don't grow because people don't care, are complacent and they develop a theology around their lack of passion that justifies why they don't care.

I've lead a church that was complacent. A church that was more content on simply showing up on a Sunday morning and ticking the 'church' box. If new people ever engaged in their fellowship they quite often did not feel welcome and did not come back. Unbeknownst to the church, they began to justify their lack of growth, with comments like, 'Well that's just what it's like here...' The challenge when you sit with this kind of a mindset is that you end up needing to change the focus of your preaching/teaching/small groups. You need to shift the emphasis away from reaching out by partnering with God in mission, to one of say, a watered down message on holiness, or a nice, safe message about the benefits of sharing in fellowship together.

I want to say something clearly. When people care more about themselves than about others, they really don't care about the health of a church. They are choosing to put themselves at odds with the commands of Jesus to go into the whole world and make disciples. When an entire church has this kind of apathetic attitude to the ways of Christ, things either need to drastically change or something more controversial: Shut it down.  

Apathy is an absolute killer to growing healthy churches. 

If you are not fired up for the things of God, then get fired up! God is looking for some people to say, 'Here am I Lord, send me!'

Reason 6 - Why Some Churches Never Grow - Sin is not Held to Account

Well, if you're still reading, you're probably wondering how many more punches will I pull. Let me say this, the church will not grow to its fullest potential when there's sin in the camp. You can have the arguments and theological debates about what exactly is sin. You can comment if you like about how you know whether this or that attitude is sinful, or whether that particular action is sinful, etc, etc. Great, go off and have that debate.

The fact is, when the secretary is stealing the offering money, there's sin in the camp and it affects the growth of the church, not to mention the credibility of the faith community.
When an elder of a church continually undermines the minister of the church, there's sin in the camp.
When a small group of a church back-bite and back-stab the faith community in which they are a part, there's sin the camp.
When the Corps Officer or Senior Pastor dabbles in porn on his day off, there's sin in the camp.
When a church worships its music over who they intend to worship, there's sin in the camp.
When 5% of the men in the church secretly are part of the Free Masons, there's sin in the camp. 

I think you get the point.Though, this is not all that's worth sharing about growing healthy churches. When the leadership team, or minister/s become aware of sin in the faith community, there may well need to be action.

Please do not ever say to me, 'Well, that's just the way Mrs. Hodgepodge always reacts to those kinds of things.' Seriously? Are we o.k. with that kind of mentality? Just to let things slip and slide, because we don't want to hold anyone to account for their pathetic behavior? I want to drive this point home, because I think it is detrimental to the life of the church in general when those who are leaders or overseers of a faith community will not hold people to account for sinful behavior. 

Is that easy to do for a leader? No, of course not; unless you have no compassionate bones in your body. I would think, many reading this would understand, that holding someone to account for their actions is not easy. 

The problem is, the reason some churches are not growing may well be because the unacceptable behavior has never been addressed.

Reason 7 - Why Some Churches Never Grow - Churches Fail to be 'Missional'

I would suggest some churches don't grow, not because they are apathetic, but because they misunderstand why they exist.

I must say, I don't know everything there is to know about the emerging missional church. I have much to learn; granted. That being said, I think it is fair to say that some churches do not grow because they fail to be missional. They believe they exist for themselves. It is safe to say there are churches that exist that are not even wrestling with ideas such as, 'How can we be missional?' 'What does mission even mean?' 'How do we become a missional church?'

How do you define the missional church? Lois Barrett's definition of the missional church (cited in Mike Frost's The Road to Missional) goes like this:
A church that is shaped by participating in God's mission, which is to set things right in a broken, sinful world, to redeem it, and restore it to what God has always intended for the world. Missional churches see themselves not so much sending, as being sent. A missional congregation lets God's mission permeate everything that the congregation does--from worship to witness to training members for discipleship. It bridges the gap between outreach and congregational life, since, in its life together, the church is to embody God's mission.
The people of God must be outward focused. They must be a people who seek to both pronounce and demonstrate the love of Christ. Healthy churches thus learn to be missional and learn what it means to embody God's mission in the world.

Reason 8 - Why Some Churches Never Grow - They Have Never Learnt How to Pray

The Chinese church continues to multiply and the African church is bursting at the seams. The church in South Korea is known for its growth. At the risk of sounding very simplistic, let me say, there's a correlation between the prayer life of churches and their growth. Churches that know how to pray, know how to grow. Or rather, churches that include disciples who are consistently engaged in prayer, usually are consistently a part of a church that is growing and healthy. Of course there are exceptions, but the point is worth noting.

They say, you find out how popular Jesus is, by how many come along to the prayer meeting. I have not heard of a church that is absolutely sold out to bringing justice to the oppressed, and that consistently makes disciples of Jesus Christ and who do not pray. 

I have on the other hand, consistently heard, read and witnessed churches that pray fervently, with boldness and faith and become churches that grow.

We may know this to be true. The challenge is taking this nice little, simple concept and applying it. Many a pastor would tell you the importance of prayer. Many would absolutely be nodding their heads when you speak of the power of prayer. When the rubber hits the road, some churches cannot even get more than a handful of people to a prayer meeting.

Maybe it's because when the people come together to pray, they don't actually pray. They just talk. They debrief. They scrutinize church programs. They read poems. They even read Scriptures.

Intercessory, gut-wrenching, passionate prayer isn't always high on the agenda. People are too concerned about the person next to them. Others are too worried what others may think if they pray out loud. Others secretly wonder whether God actually hears prayers. Some are convinced that God knows the end from the beginning and God will simply sort it all out.

A healthy church demands passionate prayer. A healthy, growing church, prays... I mean, really prays...

Finally let me finish with some words from Lesslie Newbigin:
We do indeed look forward with eager longing to that Christian society which is the final goal of all God's creative and redemptive love, but until that day we are called upon to seek on earth a society which, as far as may be granted to us, reflects the glory of the city to which we look forward.
God help us to establish healthy, missional churches that are growing and effective for the sake of the Kingdom of God.


Some other top posts that are worth reading:
10 Reasons Why People Don't Go To Church
10 Reasons Why People Don't Believe in God
How to Flatten Organizational Structures
The Church will Grow

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