I read recently that thousands of churches close their doors every year. Who knows how many others are on life support? We live in a time when, more than ever, congregations need revitalization and renewal. The eternal destiny of millions depend on the faithful witness of our local churches.
As I think about churches dying, I’m reminded there are certain poisons that trigger death. I call them poisons because they are deadly, yet avoidable. Sadly, most of these toxins are self- inflicted.
Performance without participation
Like concerts, movies, and athletic events, much of our worship has become spectator-oriented. A handful of well-trained and perhaps paid musicians perform for the masses. Too often, we enjoy entertainment without experiencing engagement.
Information without inspiration
With advancement in technology and a multitude of media sources, we are drowning in information. Clearly, this phenomenon has spilled over into the church. Sermons, conferences, seminars, and Bible studies are good, but far too many have sat and soaked so long that they’ve soured.
Mirrors without windows
Too many churches stare at themselves in the mirror, primping and preparing for the hometown fans. Instead, we should be peering out windows, looking for local needs and global opportunities.
Attachment without commitment
Those who used to attend church services two or three times a month are now coming once or twice. Most people I run across claim an affiliation with a congregation, yet too many lack affection for its mission. They want to be included on the roll without taking a role.
Ritual without spontaneity
When a young man was asked why he didn’t go to church, he replied, “I’ve been.” Church services are too often boring, irrelevant, and predictable. We speak a different language on Sunday than the rest of the week. We’re saying the same things, singing the same songs, and voicing the same prayers.
Prosperity without generosity
Most congregants are employed and making decent money, yet this good fortune isn’t spilling over into the offering plate. Tithers are dying and tippers are taking their place. “Donations are on course to drop by 70 percent within 25 to 30 years — due to the deaths of the most generous generations, according to John Dickerson in The Great Evangelical Recession.
Addition without reproduction
Much of what we call church growth is actually sheep swapping. We play musical pews as Christians hop from church to church. Some churches may be adding to their membership, yet how many of these constitute a net gain for the Kingdom?
Birth without growth
If your first grade child or grandchild made an A on a test of one-digit addition and subtraction problems, you’d beam with pride. However, would you feel the same way if your high school calculus student aced that same set of problems? Far too many among us are like calculus students still doing simple addition, opting for milk over solid food.
Membership without conversion
According to Christian author and researcher George Barna “half of all adults who attend Protestant churches on a typical Sunday morning are not Christian.” Having spent 14 years as an unsaved church member, I’m especially sensitive to this sad situation. A name on the church roll doesn’t automatically get forwarded to the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Duty without love
Too many 21st century congregations are modeling the 1st Century church at Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7). Calendars are full but hearts are empty. Love for Jesus, fellow saints, and one another is growing cold in these latter days (Matthew 24:12).
I wish I had simple solutions to these critical issues. It’ll take widespread revival to reverse these trends. In the meantime, while we pray for and anticipate such a move from God, we can strive to make sure the people we shepherd and churches we serve buck the trend.
Todd Gaddis served 30 years as full-time senior pastor and is currently interim pastor at First Baptist Church in Statham.
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