Why Some Churches Die

design-15I’m Palm Sunday sermon prepping. Of course, included in the Biblical texts of Passion Week is the little understood phenomenon of Jesus cursing the fig tree. If you are not a Bible scholar, this “cursing” has nothing to do with inappropriate language. Jesus cursed the tree, in essence, killed it with His words, because the tree was not producing fruit.

Here is the Biblical account as provided by Mark:

“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. (Mark 11:12-14) “In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” (Mark 11:20-21)

There is an obvious application to the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. Though perhaps not as obvious, there is a possible connection with this obscure event and today’s church.

Jesus expected that this fig tree should produce fruit. The purpose of the tree was to produce fruit. While it may serve other purposes (shade, nice to look at), without figs hanging on its branches, the tree was a failure. It was good for firewood.

Fast forward 2000 years. Many churches produce no fruit. The fruit of churches is Christ followers; disciples. Churches are supposed to produce more churches. While a church may serve other purposes, bringing people into the Lord’s Kingdom is its primary purpose. Jesus expects us to produce!

Could it be that Jesus has cursed some churches as He cursed the fig tree? There is no indication in the Bible that the fig tree represents today’s church. But there are indicators that if we don’t produce, we will be cut down. See: Matthew 7:19.

Of dying churches, Thom Rainer says, “Between 6,000 and 10,000 churches in the U.S. are dying each year. That means around 100-200 churches will close this week. The pace will accelerate unless our congregations make some dramatic changes.”

I contend that churches that decide to stop producing new Christians are dead already, regardless if they are still having services. But maybe the final death knell is the Lord drying the church up until it withers away – closes its doors. Maybe it’s a “chicken or egg” proposition: do churches die first and then stop producing new fruit or do churches stop producing new fruit and then die?

We may never know. But let’s learn the lesson provided. Let’s remain productive and fruitful. Let’s be purposeful and intentional about bringing people to faith in Christ through our churches.

p.s. Let’s not avoid the little statement in Mark 11:13 “it was not the season for figs.” Adam Clarke says, “It has been asked, ‘How could our Lord expect to find ripe figs in the end of March?’ Answer, Because figs were ripe in Judea as early as the Passover. Besides, the fig tree puts forth its fruit first, and afterwards its leaves. Indeed, this tree, in the climate which is proper for it, has fruit on it all the year round, as I have often seen. (Adam Clarke’s Commentary).

So there you go.

 

Hope for Dying Churches

where’s the passion?

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Holy Week, sometimes referred to as Passion Week. Beginning with Palm Sunday and extending to Easter, we recall the Passion of Christ, the road He walked that led Him to the cross. It’s a great time for Christ-followers to get re-focused on matters of faith and worship.

Leading into this season of ministry, there are many times that I ask the question, “where is the passion?” Obviously, Christ cared enough and was committed enough to do whatever it took to save us. But it seems, at times, that there is a lack of response on the part of those of us who have been saved. Allow me to explain:

On any given Sunday, during music and worship, I am amazed at how many people have no response. I mean they either just stand or sit there, expressionless, unmoved. They don’t sing, or in any other way engage in the music. I realize one can worship by listening but there is no getting around the idea that we are told in scripture to sing, clap our hands and worship God. Outward worship is simply a way to express love for God, it is a “spilling over” of what is in our spirits. I wonder, do these people sense anything in their hearts? Are they, in any way, moved in their spirits? Sometimes I preach about God’s love, His sacrifice, His intense desire to know us…and there are times when there is no response. In these times, I have to ask, “where is the passion?” This explains why the average Christian will not be in a local worship gathering at church tomorrow.  Recent research indicates that church attendance doesn’t mean what it used to for Christ-followers. Where is the passion?

The real issue isn’t with what is happening or not happening in corporate worship gatherings. I think Sunday is just a snapshot of the rest of life. I believe that the cares of life have acted like wet blanket on a fire. Stress kills passion. Pain has a way of burying it. Distractions prevent us from feeling and discouragement prevents us from expressing love for God.

One of the more disconcerting parts for me is, people don’t seem to hold back in their passion for other things.  Tonight’s NCAA Basketball Final Four will blow up Facebook and Twitter. This certainly is a season of political posturing – most people will gladly let you know where they stand on the issues. But spirituality has become taboo for many people in our culture – including those who have been saved from hell by God. It just shouldn’t be this way.

I am asking you to reconsider your approach and response to God, especially during Passion Week. He gave everything for you. How does that make you feel? Can you contain those feelings on the inside without outwardly expressing them in some way? God doesn’t need your passionate worship, but He wants it – and certainly deserves it.

Tomorrow, I will preach a message at Cross Community Church entitled: Pasión por la Vida. It will describe how passion for eternal life for you and me drove Jesus to the cross. And I plan to challenge the people of our church to be passionate in their response to the Passion of Jesus. Join us if you are able.