I have 2 serious questions that I would like to pose to church leaders:
1. Is your church as successful as it possibly can be at reaching the lost and making disciples?
2. If not, what are you willing to do (short of sin) to make your church as successful as possible at reaching the lost and making disciples?
I realize that these questions are oversimplified and perhaps some will consider them unfair. There are many variations and nuances that could cause us to reject such questions as senseless. But please, indulge me for a moment.
As a church leader for over 35 years, it is my responsibility to help the church be as successful as possible. We realize that different people define success in different ways. For purposes of clarity, let’s define success for the church this way: accomplishing the job that God has assigned to us. Perhaps there will be some debate over this job description but the common benchmark for the church is usually twofold: the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
Jesus identified the Great Commandment: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40) The Great Commission is recorded in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Most students of Scripture would identify these passages as the standard by which the success of a church is measured. We won’t be judged on the number of attendees or how many square feet our church occupies. There is something more important.
We can safely break it down, loving the Lord and others, and making disciples is the goal, the mission of the church. So, one more question: “how are we doing in these areas?”
Let’s take this idea a different direction. Assuming that some of us are aware that we could do better in one or both of these areas, what are we to do with that knowledge?
I have recently returned to my interest in the study of organizational change. My Master’s studies focused much on this topic. Lot’s of great research has been done on the concept of change in cultures and organizations. Let’s look at just one quick aspect of church as it regards the church.
If change does not occur, we will cease to exist.
Think about it! If change does not occur, we will cease to exist.
Of course, there are exceptions. But generally speaking, a church that refuses to adjust will close it’s doors, perhaps sooner rather than later.
I shouldn’t have to state the obvious, but because someone will find it necessary to call me out, let me say this: The Gospel never changes. It must not. No watering down allowed. No mixing and matching Bible verses based upon our whims. We can never entertain the idea of straying away from what the Bible says. That is firmly established. The Message must never change!
But what about our methods?
Listen, it is not our adherence to the Bible that is creating problems for the church in the Western World; it is our adherence to our opinions about the type and style church that we prefer. While there is opposition to the Truth, I can’t think of one church in my area of responsibility that has suffered for it’s position on the Word of God. But I know many, perhaps hundreds that are suffering because they are committed to an ineffective style of ministry. I personally have had the painful responsibility of closing a few churches that ceased to exist. The buildings stood. But pastors left, people left and the buildings were left empty. It wasn’t preaching the Bible that closed the doors. It was refusal to consider another approach to ministry that closed many of the doors. Funerals for ministries are mournful occasions.
Here is some Latin for you: Ab actu ad posse valet illatio – This phrase means, “From what has happened, we may infer what will happen.” It may be understood this way: past performance is indicative of future results. When we observe a pattern, we can assume that, without adjustments, the pattern will continue. Newton’s first Law of Motion (inertia) indicates that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Applied to the church, this means that a stagnant church will remain a stagnant church unless and until someone or something impacts change. Our Latin phrase tells us that we can predict what will happen in a church if we take the time to observe what is currently happening, and what has happened in the past. If a church is stuck – no new people are coming, no one is coming to Christ, the attendance is plateaued or declining, unless something very significant takes place (that is different from what has been happening), that church is doomed to fail. This may seem too negative. I’m sure some would call it a lack of faith. But if your car is broken down on the railroad track and a train is barreling down, you can pray all you want – but God is telling you to get out of the car and run!
Back to our initial questions. Are we winning people to Christ at a pace that is pleasing to God? If not, what are we willing to do in order to change that?
What is off limits if it results in people finding the Lord?
- Would you adjust your worship schedule?
- Would you relocate your church?
- Would you spend church funds differently?
- Would you change your choice of clothing, music, décor, etc.?
Of course, none of these things will automatically bring people to Christ. But my point is, if what we are doing is not working (and hasn’t been for some time), what is the harm in trying something different? One more time, we are not considering changing what the Bible says. But the Bible never specifically addresses many of the things that some churches believe are sacred.
Let’s tread lightly here. Some will respond to my query by saying, “we just need to pray more.” Or, “we just need old fashioned move of God like we used to have.” Or, “people aren’t as committed as they used to be; if they come to church more, the problem will be fixed. “ I agree with all of these points – to a point. But many among us pray continually. We enjoy powerful experiences of Pentecost. We go to church every time the doors are opened. And still, nothing changes. Let’s not quit doing these things. But perhaps there is more that God is saying to us.
I am not picking a fight with any tradition. I am not discounting the value of any particular method of ministry. I am asking us to consider what might be an incredible opportunity for the church in America. Without doubt, we are in trouble. Our numbers are reducing, younger generations are losing interest in our churches and we are closing churches. Maybe, just maybe, we should look at our methods, our approach, our mission.
Chris Hodges challenges the church by asking: “Why do we exist?” A simple answer is, we exist to glorify God and to win the lost. We don’t exist to be a comfortable place for Christians to gather – until they all die and the church closes.
Jesus gave us one job – to win the lost. If by changing, adjusting, tweaking just one of our practices, preferences or traditions, we may win one to Christ, then change we must.
If what you are doing is working – if people are regularly finding Christ, if you are making disciples, if your church is reaching the mission field around it and loves are changing – keep it up. But, if you realize the church could do more, what are you willing to change in order to see that happen?