In all the research I have done, I see a consistent decline in the church. Active members, youth, activity level, and everything else. In so many metrics available for measuring, the church, for all intents and purposes, is in decline. This isn't true for every church out there, but for a frighteningly large number of them (especially in the States), it is.
Why is this happening? There are statisticians and ministers and leaders and books and 8 billion other writings on the subject. Everything from lack of relevancy, to being too relevant, to culture, to age or any other number of factors are blamed. Many even take an all-of-the-above approach and cite a number of things working together to bring down the church.
In response, we hear the familiar cries of "More events! More outreach! More progressivism! More conservatism! More fill-in-your-answer-here!" It is all done with good intent. People want the church to grow so that it can reach and save more people. Some of it contradicts each other, but that is because people see different answers to different solutions.
Unfortunately, the more I read and the more I think about all of this, the more I realize that all of these things are just symptoms of what the actual problem is. I began to realize it a couple of years ago, but only in the smallest sense. As time has passed, however, it has become exceedingly clear that we are not tackling the main problem. The biggest problem the church is facing today is not shrinking churches, or less evangelism, or even the youth leaving the church. Those are all major issues, but they are the symptoms. They are not the heart of the problem. They are only what we see. The heart, the core of the problem is this:
We do not believe that God is working and will work in our churches if we put ourselves on the line.
Perhaps you think "how dare he say that!" Perhaps you think I'm right. Either way, I ask that you read on before you make a decision on whether you agree or not.
I have realized that people act on what they truly believe. If they see a bus about to hit them they will move out of the way if they believe it will hit them. If not, why worry about it? If I believed that my best friends could make a million dollars by singing the oompa-loompa song in the mall, I would try and get them to do so.
In the same manner, if we truly believe that God will work with us, through us, and for us, that He will take care of us and perform His will no matter what, why do we not act on it? Why do we not put ourselves and our churches on the line and run as if we are running a race? Can we say we truly believe if we are running the church like a cautious business?
We have churches with savings accounts in the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars! In budget meetings we talk about how big the bank account is and are happy when it is higher than last month! We worry about litigation issues instead of building neighborhood playgrounds and we water down ideas in order to make it as easy as possible to hold an event instead of putting something big and huge out there and risking failure.
Now I am not saying it is wrong for a church to have some savings for a rainy day. Nor am I saying that spending money wisely or considering the consequences of certain actions is wrong. I am saying that if we allow those kinds of issues deter us from doing what is needed to reach out and grow the church, we are on a very, very dangerous path and the symptoms of a declining church will only get worse.
The church is not a business. It cannot survive being run like one. Unless we are willing to put our lives, our finances, and the very church on the line, we are holding God back. In Malachi 3:10 God tells the people:
Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house,
And test Me now in this,”
Says the Lord of hosts,
“If I will not open for you the windows of heaven
And pour out for you such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it.
Do we believe it? Will we really test God in this and see if He holds true to His Word? Let us stop with regarding the business side of the church so highly. It should come far behind getting out there and doing His Will. He will provide for His people. He promises that in both the New and Old Testament, and has proven Himself to be true every time we lean on Him.
If we truly believe, let us act.