Thom Rainer is the President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources
October 29, 2013 1 Comment
Larry Holleman says
March 19, 2018 at 8:42 pm
As often is the case with statistics, much is left unsaid and there are unaddressed ambiguities. While I have no doubt that there are numerous “dying” churches as the article indicates, there might be another explanation, or at least an unrecognized dynamic at play in many of these churches. I serve as a pastor in one of those churches that might be identified as a “dying” church. What piqued my interest in the article and in the general discussions on the subject of “dying” churches is that almost without fail, the emphasis is on the “dying” rather than on the word “church.” That is a critical ommission simply because if what is “dying” is not a “church” as defined Biblically then its dying, rather than something to be mourned, should become a source of encouragement. What I mean is that I believe that much of what is “dying” in local churches today is the dross of decades of religious tradition and an Americanized Christianity that never really constituted a “Church.” While the immediate context differs somewhat, Jesus noted that “Unless a grain of wheat fell to the ground and died, it would not bear fruit.” (my paraphrase). We are also taught the same principle in regards to our sanctification as followers of Christ when Paul speaks of dying to self. In the same way, I believe that what might be mourned as a “dying” among many churches today is actually this principle in action. It seems to me that in many cases, what is happening in the “dying” church is a Soveriegn act of God’s grace wherby He is purifying His Church. Many of these churches, failing to recognize this and in many cases, not being taught this way, will fail; not because the church was actually dying, but because the current trends in church growth strategies convinced them that it was. Add to this dynamic the creeping influences of the “Prosperity Teachings” into the theological perceptions of the average church member today, and the death of a church becomes almost a certainty. I often wonder how different things might be in these churches if their leadership was less focused on “success” and more concerned with a “faithfull” exposition and application of Biblical truth. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail over His church! We are told in the book of Acts that the “Lord added to the church daily, such as beleived!” If we believe Jesus and the Scriptures, then shouldn’t the faithful minister spend the lion’s share of His time and efforts instructing and exhorting the church to be the “church!” This is where the Lord has led us in the church I serve. He impressed, through circumstamces your article would likely consider “death signs” that we should no longer evaluate our sucess by comparing the Lord’s work in our fellowship to His work in other fellowships, local, national, or international. We were driven toward a resolve to simply follow Christ wherever he led. For us, after two years of prayer, study of the Scriptures, and observation of His present work in the church, this following Christ meant a reorganization of our leadership structure from a single pastor/deacon model (What I referred to as the Mosaic Model) to the more Biblically consistent New Testament Elder/Deacon model with its accompanying and advantageous plurality. We also began to attempt to reestablish in the church the importance; the blessings and obligations of local church covenantal membership. Through all of these and numerous other perhaps less obvious adjustments, we’ve seen a decline in the number attending not only our worship, but also Sunday School. Unexpectedly perhaps, our attendance for our discipling efforts, which concentrated on many of the issues related to the changes mentioned above, increased. And yes, our giving as might be expected declined at the same pace as our decline in attendance. And yes….as resources declined, a portion of our missions giving had to be redirected toward the budgetary items necessary to sustain our facility and minimal staff. Statistically, we are a dying church if not the walking dead already…..yet strangely enough, we are alive! The spirit and resolve to “follow Christ without reservation” of those who remain is stronger than I’ve witnessed in the twenty-five years I’ve been a member and in the thirteen years I’ve served the church as a pastor. When I read your article, I couldn’t help wondering how many churches out there would read the article and conclude that they showed all the symptoms of a “dying church” and were hopeless, while all the while, the Lord might be putting to death all that was “not the church” surrounding them? I agree that some fellowships that were perhaps once built upon Christ but who drifted away from His sufficiency toward a reliance upon their own, will “die” out. They will do so even while exhausting themselves to “save” the church by restoring it to some past day of glory. I and our leadership are presently in the difficult days of both dying to self and leading the church we serve to die to their preconceived, self-serving notions of what the church is and live unto Christ as our Head. Articles like yours unfortunately seem to prolong our suffering and make our ministry more difficult since someone will inevitably come to us and point out that we are a “dying church” citing your article and Lifeway’s survey as authoritative proof of their assertion. And we’ll just keep pointing them to the Word of God and to Christ and to trust and to obedience and to patience, and some we say we don’t care that the church is “dying” and they’ll leave us. And the weight of the burdens will have to be distributed among those who remain! To be completely frank….though many might conclude that our church is dying….I am certain that our church is just beginning to live….birth pangs if you will…..painful, distressing! Yes….But alive!
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