In my opinion, this reason provides the most significant and pertinent issue churches face today. While all of the remaining assessments play major roles in church decline, this reason, expressed in two dynamics, offers the most difficult problem to solve and the most complicated one to immediately assess (in most cases).
A Spiritual Issue
The bottom line of why churches and Christians reject the idea of biblical church growth remains a mystery; yet, for the entire time that I have served in ministry, reaching unbelievers, growing the church, and experiencing a genuine outpouring of God’s Spirit have been fought, debated, and rejected. Sometimes the issues are actually spiritualized by saying that we do not need to put so much emphasis on numbers. Other times, genuine church revival scares people because it means that, not only does their neighbor need to get right with God, they themselves need to get right with God.
A definite spiritual deficiency attributes to the reason why many churches reject healthy growth. It is a spiritual issue. It starts with the pastor, moves to the paid and volunteer staff, and culminates in the life of the congregation. Understandably, people can point to past failures or especially past manipulative measures that were used under the guise of growing the church. Most Christians reject such shenanigans, but they do exist and have been done. We cannot, however, use the example of the impudent few as an excuse for allowing churches to die or for Christians to fall into stagnation. Please understand this one fact: The problem of spiritual deficiency does not necessitate the rejection of the established church as unredeemable.
I have heard people blame their generational characteristics. I have listened to individuals bemoan the concept of growth numbers as spiritually insignificant, only to talk about needing a raise, growing their business, and wanting a certain number of children. Numbers can be just that: numbers. They, in and of themselves, can be incredibly unspiritual. We can make numbers say whatever we want them to say, and we can use them as the sole reason for our existence, even in the church. Those problems do exist and often the established church rejects the idea of growth and health because of them.
The spiritual issue remains, nevertheless. Why would we not want the church to reach those who do not know Christ and those who are in need of spiritual growth to the point that it reflects in our attendance? Big is not always better, but death is worse. To the pastor who goes into the church that has been stagnant or in decline for years, be aware. They may have stated specifically that they want to grow, but the fact remains that they may not really want to grow, especially if that growth demands a price.
Assessing the spiritual condition of a church offers one of the most difficult challenges to determine and even more to repair. If the church does not want to grow and the reason lies in the lack of spiritual growth in the church, the pastor needs to set aside most any major plans or vision and concentrate on developing disciples.
William Henard, Can These Bones Live: A Practical Guide to Church Revitalization (Nashville: B&H, 2015).
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