Some of the reasons a church may not be growing could be self-inflicted barriers. These are seven of the most common barriers.
Why is it that churches tend to slip into decline? A vibrant and growing ministry becomes “plateaued” or begins to lose the numbers or excitement it once had. How about these steps to find a solution:
1. Return to Your First Passion (Revelation 2:4-5) – But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.
Churches don’t realize how far they have fallen, then “church” simply becomes routine, going through the motions, and going into maintenance mode. If we will only remember the first days of our relationship with Christ, the excitement, the purpose, the mission, the commands, the new insights; perhaps we will be restored to our earlier fellowship, and make an impact on our community and others around us. The key in this passage is a single word… REPENT. While that is so humiliating, (to admit that we have fallen away, or drifted), that is the solution the angel provides through the apostle John.
2. Remember Your Foundational Purpose (Matthew 28:19-20) – Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This passage talks a lot about mission and purpose; we are to be about our Father’s business of evangelism and discipleship. How often do we begin to cool in our desire for God’s kingdom to increase?
I recently read Brian Moss* who writes, “Churches plateau and decline due to missional drift.” I cannot think of any church that ever drifted and kept the main thing the main thing. In order to get the church moving in the right direction we’ve got to figure out which direction we need to go! Moss again writes, “Too often plateaued churches focus on growing the church numerically before they correct the drift philosophically. If you focus on growth before depth you’ll be tempted to adopt gimmicks, quick fixes and copycat tactics. Don’t change anything until your core leaders are thoroughly committed to the biblical purposes of the church.”
The Great Commandment is essential as well; to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). These are the reasons for worship and ministry. We worship due to our love for God and we are involved in ministry because of our love for others. Let’s rekindle our focus on the primary purpose of the church, to know Christ and to make him known.
3. Refocus on Your Favorite People: by “favorite” I mean your target audience.
Moss writes about his church experience: “Our church was hidden in the woods at the end of a dead-end road completely surrounded by an upper-income housing development. Our congregation was comprised of medium income families. We tried for months to reach the families in the homes surrounding our church. It was a complete failure. Finally, we decided to try reaching people like us. We learned the hard way that you reach who you are, not who you want.”
That sounds a lot like our situation, high income and powerful people in the neighborhood north of the church property. We are a congregation that has a good number of these types families, but we also have plenty of average income families, young and old, and a fair amount of transitioning young Navy families. Perhaps we have a schizophrenic personality, not knowing who we are, but we CAN reach people like us; each group reaching out to their own circles of influence.
That, my friend is relational, and I feel is the beginning of effective evangelism and discipleship.
[print_link] [email_link] *Brian Moss is pastor at Oak Ridge Baptist, Salisbury MD
The passage for this message is First Corinthians 12:12-14, 26.
We have been studying how to best experience God, not just to know God but to experience him. The seven realities of Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God can change our perspective from a self-centered theology to one that is God-centered, understanding these profound truths:
1. God is always at work around us
2. God pursues a continual love relationship that is real and personal
3. God invites us to join him in his work
4. God speaks to us to reveal himself, his purposes and his ways
5. Having heard from God, we will experience a crisis of belief that requires faith and action
6. We will have to adjust our lives to join him in his work
7. We come to know God through experience as we obey him
It been challenging and this confronts us on a deep and personal level. These realities cause us to think about our current relationship with God and force us to admit that we have often been simply a casual fan of Jesus, but not a follower of Jesus at all, believing just enough to know that heaven is the place we want to go after this life, but not enough to make actual changes in our lives that will allow God to use us and make an impact on his kingdom. We believe the mission and purpose of God is to call out pastors, teachers and missionaries to build his kingdom, and we settle for sitting on the sidelines, never really wanting to get into the game. We are glad we “made the team” by saying YES to Jesus at some point in the past. We know there’s a playbook but have not really gotten it out to read it, or to prepare for the game, and we justify ourselves by saying, “I just sit here on the bench so I leave reading the playbook and running the plays to the starting team. I don’t expect to get in the game so I’m just fine sitting here on the bench, dressed out and wearing my team’s colors. I don’t really like practice too much: the coach is always telling us what to do and how to do it. He makes the team run, shoot, get in shape, hone our skills and get prepared for the games. But I don’t really DO all that stuff. I prefer just sitting over here on my little bench, next to this little orange water cooler filled with Gatorade. Why am I on this team? It’s because I like the crowd cheering for me and my team, knowing I can make it to the Final Four and the Championship Game because of all the dedication, commitment, skills and efforts of those five starters who get all the playing time.”
Wow, I didn’t think I would take this illustration so far, but the more I thought about it, how often is this the truth? My faith is all about ME. My faith is personal. But the Bible begs to differ. Faith is not something that we believe in or live out on our own. There is way too much evidence in Scripture that the Christian faith is to be carried out in the context of community. We often seek God’s will in our own lives but fail to realize that God has a will for the church. The church is the gathered group of Jesus followers. The church is people, those who have confessed allegiance to the One who bought them and saved them, not just to sit and soak, but to serve. I’m not talking about volunteering, although that is expected when we have a corporate mentality to Christianity. I’m talking about truly understanding what the church is all about. What does God expect of the church? Why do we gather in worship? Jesus mentioned that there are two great commandments: to love God, and then to love others. The whole law can be summed up in these two commands, but the Bible also has a lot to say about HOW we live as believers and followers and disciples of Jesus. Let’s first see what the church IS:
1. The Church is a Creation of Christ.
A. He builds the church: Matthew 16:18, I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
B. He builds the church using Spirit-led pastors and leaders: Ephesians 4:11-13, And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
C. He builds the church and arranges its members according to his own will: 1 Corinthians 12:18, But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.
2. The Church is the Living Body of Christ with many Members; 1 Corinthians 12:27, Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. It is not an organization as much as it is an organism; people make up this active and living body of Christ.
3. The Church is Uniquely Related to Jesus Christ as the Head of the Body;
- Ephesians 1:22, And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.
- Ephesians 4:15-16, 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
All matters of the church are to come under the lordship of Christ.
4. We (believers) are the Members of the Body of Christ who are Uniquely Related to Every Other Member of the Church; Ephesians 4:11-13, 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
5. The Church is on Mission with God in Carrying Out the Father’s Redemptive Plan;
The Great Commission: Matthew 28:18-20, 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The Ministry of Reconciliation: 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Wanting to Know God’s Will
We often desire to know God’s will for our lives, but remember, THAT is the wrong question. We need to ask, “What is God’s will?” rather “What is God’s will for my life?” Discover what God WILLS and align your life to what we know. Of those two questions, one is God-centered while the other is self-centered.
There IS something called “God’s will” and as individuals, we want to hear God speak, discover that will and then make major adjustments to be a part of God’s will. But God also has a will for the church, which is the gathered body of Christ. As the body of Christ, we want to hear God speak in order to discover his will, and then make major adjustments to be a part of God’s will.
So today, I want to focus on ONE aspect of what God’s will is for the church. It can be summed up in one word, ACCOUNTABILITY. Since we are NOT involved in an individualistic religion but rather a faith of interdependent relationships, what does God really want from us? How can the body of Christ best function? How can I be the best member that I can be, not only for myself but also for the church?
Accountability is not something that we can do alone, by reading the Bible more, praying more, tithing more… accountability is done in connection with other people. It’s more than just BEING WITH other people. Face it; there is no real accountability in a worship experience where we find ourselves looking at the back of another person’s head, sitting in rows like this. Real accountability takes place in the context of small groups, and it is only within a small group that lives intersect and believers grow, and help OTHERS to grow toward Christian maturity.
I want to spend the rest of my time building the case that Christianity is lived out in the context of small groups, and that the proof is found in a repeated phrase, “one another.” Let’s begin this lesson on the church by looking at ancient faith accountability:
In the Early Church:
- Acts 2:47, Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart
- Hebrews 3:13, But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
- Hebrews 10:24-25, and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
John Wesley and the Rules for Band-Societies
I did a little research on the Band-Societies of John Wesley (like a band of brothers). These were basically class meetings; this guideline was drawn up December 25, 1738.
The design of our meeting is, to obey that command of God, “Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
To this end, we intend.
- To meet once a week, at the least.
- To come punctually at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary reason.
- To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing or prayer.
- To each speak in order, freely and plainly, of the true spiritual condition of our souls, including the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting.
- To end every meeting with prayer suited to the spiritual condition of each person present.
- To each speak of his own spiritual condition first, and then to ask the rest, in order, probing questions regarding their spiritual condition, sins, and temptations.
Wow, these statements reveal that John Wesley had a passion for accountability in small groups. Remember that HE was the catalyst for a great spiritual awakening, speaking to hundreds of people at a time. Speaking to the crowds was not enough to live the Christian life.
Wesley was influenced by the Moravians, who were founded by John Huss. He was actually burned at the stake in 1415 for heresies against the doctrines of the Catholic Church. His teaching eventually influenced theology in the west, primarily in Europe, and it laid a foundation for a young Catholic monk named Martin Luther, who sparked the Protestant Reformation that began in 1517.
John Wesley described his small groups as “a company of men [and women] having the form of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation” (The Book of Discipline pg.75).
You may be saying to yourself, “But I don’t like accountability in my spiritual life. It’s a private matter and I don’t want to talk about my journey and struggles and failures.” But does it not make sense to have all of our assets in place to increase the probability of our success in the Christian life? If we go it alone and fail miserably, why not have trusted, spiritual people around us to help us become mature in our faith and in our lifestyle and behavior?
Did you know that you CANNOT avoid accountability forever? Do you know why? Because…
Accountability is Inevitable: Romans 14:12 says, So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
Accountability is Anticipated: Hebrews 13:17 tells us to, obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
If accountability before God is inevitable and anticipated in the church, then it only stands to reason that it would be advantageous for us to keep short accounts HERE in this life (with the church) before we ultimately stand before God.
An accountability relationship involves giving permission to a group of fellow believers to ask and expect an honest answer to mutually agreed upon questions. It’s not me telling you that I’m going to hold YOU accountable.
There is a classic verse on accountability: found in Proverbs 27:17, As Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
Accountability isn’t a remedial class for wayward Christians; accountability is God’s way to achieve God’s very best for our lives. Who among us does not want to please God, by becoming the best Christian we can be, the best husband or wife, employee or employer, teacher, student, parent or child? Christian growth happens in community, in the context of small groups, accountability. We all need encouragement and instruction, guidance, warning, admonition, challenge, to build up… it doesn’t happen in the large corporate worship setting. Let me tell you why.
This public gathering has one purpose, to offer worship to God out of a grateful heart. We don’t come to worship for what WE get out of it, because if we do, worship becomes self-centered. No matter how inspiring the service might be, from music to message, it’s not about US. It is in the context of a small group where we live out our faith in a culture of accountability.
Since I have three other things to tell you, and have no time to do so, I am going to put these items on my blog, and here is what you can find there:
- What are some reasons why we need accountability?
- Why do people avoid accountability?
- Obedience (to God and His Word) is always a positive thing; so take a look at all the “One Another” statements in the New Testament and see how great God’s Will is.
The New Testament is filled with imperatives (commands that God expects us to obey). These imperatives instruct us how to interact with one another, and talk to one another. Our talk should include confession, prayers, exhortation (which are basically suggested “next steps” for someone to follow), words of comfort, rebuke, admonition (or warnings), and the list goes on. Check out the church website for more.
As I wrap up, maybe today is the day that you finally realize that simply attending worship is not God’s will for the church. As important as worship is in the life of a congregation, God has so much more planned for his children. He expects us to be a community of faith, interdependent with each other, under the lordship of Christ.
It is God’s will for his children to share life together for the mutual benefit of the body of Christ. Each member of the body has a function and if we don’t do what God desires for us, the whole body suffers. You have to seriously ask yourself, “Why does God have me in this place at this time in history? What function am I supposed to do at this church? Why has God brought me here?
Today is the day of salvation; it is the day of commitment and a day of making decisions to embrace God’s will for the church, his kingdom and your life. Please bow in reverence while I pray.
My Prayer: Father, we have read many passages from your Word this morning, we ask that your Holy Spirit remind us of what you have said, and convict us about how to live the Christian life as YOU have designed and intended according to your will. Amen.
It’s important to encourage attenders to join our church — because they’ll NEVER grow spiritually without a commitment to live out what the Bible teaches while in a relationship with others.
As we encourage church membership, it’s important to keep in mind these five unspoken needs that prospective members are looking for our church to meet.
- Will I be accepted at this church? – We meet this need best by establishing affinity groups within our church so that people with similar ages, interests, problems, or backgrounds can find and relate to each other. Everyone needs a niche, and small groups play a crucial role in meeting this need. We must show people that we have a place for them. Our Sunday and Wednesday opportunities are great because they can get involved, and if they have children, there is a quality and comprehensive process for discipling kids.
- Will I find friends at this church? – People are looking for opportunities to develop relationships within our congregation. People aren’t looking for a friendly church as much as they’re looking for friends. The most common feedback we get off the Connection Cards and e-mail surveys is that we are a friendly and welcoming church. Let’s NOT just be polite but bring people in to our circles of commitment.
- How will I make a difference at this church? – People want to make contribution with their lives. They want their lives to count. They want to feel that they matter. When we can show people that they can make a difference with their gifts and talents by joining our church, they will want to get involved. What can we dream up to get people involved, that will need all sorts of talents and abilities — not just singers, ushers and small group leaders. Take a look here on ways to get involved.
- How will I benefit from joining this church? – We must be able to clearly and concisely explain the reasons and benefits of membership. Explain the biblical, practical, and personal reasons for membership. We have put together a simple brochure on what membership is so important.
- What will be expected of me at this church? We must be able to explain the responsibilities of membership as clearly as we state the benefits of it. People have a right to know what is expected of them before they join. The Connections Class is a great way to get to know people who are on a similar life journey and to understand what King’s Grant membership is all about.
[print_link] [email_link] [ Adapted From Rick Warren ]
These few items describe the biggest obstacles standing in the way of both on-campus and off-campus efforts:
- The misplaced priority given to on-campus strategies. The most influential people need to become location agnostic. Why? I’ve long believed that adults not currently in an on-campus experience are unlikely to add another 60 to 75 minutes and unchurched adults are extremely unlikely to embrace a three hour Sunday morning. I often note how common it is for most of us to watch a 60 minute program in 42 minutes (DVR).
- The insistence that the best leaders have résumés. As long as we pursue the notion that leading a group has anything to do with experience… we’re going to have a hard time overcoming this obstacle.
- The illusion of knowledge. The sense that we’ve figured out how to do it, that we know best, is a massive obstacle. The only way to break through is to admit that the very best ways to launch new groups hasn’t yet been discovered.
- The lure of the status quo. This is the way we do it here. This is how groups happen here. We are a Sunday school church. We are a small group church. Unless we can break free from the shackles of the status quo… we will not be able to beat this one.
What do you think?
[By Mark Howerton]