by Robert Earl Houston
Sigh . . .
It seems like everyday a different provocateur of the modern Christian Church is posting the obituary of the Church. They proclaim death, destruction, apostasy, and a mass exodus upon the Church in favor of a societal shift away from the Church.
But are they right?
Is the Lord’s church dying or is there a shift by our congregants? In my perspective, an argument can be made for a reduction of worshipers, but in the nation at large.
In the last decade, according to US Census Bureau, the 200s (2000-2009) has seen the slowest population growth in over 50 years. The nation has grown only by 8% with only a 3% (Midwest and Northeast) factor.
The fastest growing cities in America, with growth over 170% are not known as great church cities – Lincoln City, CA; Surprise City, AZ; Frisco City, TX; Goodyear City, AZ; Beaumont City, CA; Plainfield Village, IL; Pflugerville City, TX; Indian Trail Town, NC; Wylie City, TX – only one, Louisville, KY, has experienced seismic growth.
Church wise there is a shift but its not always traceable. The Southern Baptist Convention has been losing members steadily for years only to have their numbers propped up by the growth in non-anglo churches, particularly African-American and especially Hispanic-American congregation.
The worship settings for African-Americans is rapidly changing. When I was a child, you were either Baptist or Methodist. Now, the choices have expanded to charismatic, Apostolic, Independent, House Churches, and even churches of different cultures as our sons and daughters become involved with persons of other races. However, we (as African-Americans) continue to see the rise of mega and multi-location churches.
My point is that the church is not dead yet.
Perhaps all of these spiritual prognosticators should consider putting down their pens, logging off of Facebook, and get back to ministry. How about preparing sermons that actually work? How about developing lessons with forethought and energy instead of last-minute preparation? How about spending time in prayer that “the Lord of the Harvest would send forth laborers, instead of decrying and in some cases celebrating the loss or lack of congregants in a church.
And those of us who read need to make a second-look at the emphases that these writers are making. It’s like the Facebook Super-Pastor who says “everyone is not preaching the gospel” when they haven’t left their pulpit in so long that the chair has conformed to their body shape.
I intend to celebrate the church – in all iterations: The mega, the large, the medium, the small, and even the storefront. To have a mega congregation doesn’t mean that their work is more significant or to look at the storefront is to say that they aren’t about anything. The church of the Lord is not a “one size fits all” department store – it’s a mall of speciality stores. I have friends that have memberships in 10,000 or more and I have friends that see 5-10 every Sunday. Both works are important and I celebrate them both.
So when I get e-mails from these “church specialists” many who are nothing more than a Pastor with a laptop, I refuse to celebrate their celebration of the church dying. I’d rather celebrate with the Founder of the Church, of the Church triumphant.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED
One of the greatest frustrations of newly called pastors is what I have termed is the Rubber Band Church.
Often times Pastors come in with different expectations and anticipations than the congregation that has called them. After pastoring over 25 years, I have discovered that churches will adapt to the vision of the Lord through the Pastor with great success or they will snap back and return to their original form which is the Rubber Band Church.
Recently a young pastor reached out to me. He has been at his church 18 months and the church and is frustrated that “they haven’t changed.” He ranted and raved for 30 minutes and then I said to him that churches have a center core. They have certain practices and belief systems that are at their core. You can stretch them or try to stretch them or suggest that they stretch – but at the end of the day (and this is non-denominational), a church will return to it’s center.
That is applicable even during a pastoral change of leadership. How well I remember leaving my former congregation in San Diego. For months, I sat in the audience with my deacons because I was tired of being the focus of attention. I am primarily a worshiper. I wanted to worship without every eye of support, criticism or ambivalence staring at me. I resigned on a Sunday morning, came down to the office to clear my office on a Monday and peeked into the sanctuary, and those chairs that I had removed miraculously and mysteriously reappeared. Chairs in a pulpit were a part of that church’s center core.
I’m not suggesting it’s always a bad thing because all churches need to have core beliefs. The Word of God should never be compromised; Preaching and Teaching the Gospel should never be rebuked; Serving each other and the community should be resident within a congregation. However, brother and sister pastor, they are some things that will always bounce back to center and become part of the lore of that congregation.
Whether it’s a name change or location change or change of worship or change of structure – some churches will eradicate change made by a leader to “get us back where we belong.” It’s akin to the GOP mantra of “taking back our country.”
Three things to be careful of:
1. Make sure that you are stretching the congregation because of the Lord and not because of an agenda. Keeping up with the Joneses is a poor excuse for stretching a congregation.
2. Make sure that you have a firm grip on the process. One of the most painful experiences can occur when you stretch a congregation (rubber band) and then it slips and you get with the force of the rubber band.
3. Make sure that when you stretch make sure that the vision for it is compatible with the amount of effort you’ll be exercising. Never put out great energy for minute projects.
I pray for that pastors and leaders who are challenging their congregations to go beyond boxes, limits and paradigms. And may the church follow and not grudgingly stay in place like a rubber band that will not yield.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED
by Robert Earl Houston
There is a little-known procedure that is fulfilled during the filming of television programs and movies – it’s called “product placement.” When an actor is drinking a cola and it happens to be a Coke – it’s not there by accident. The makers of Coke have paid for the right to put that Coke in that movie or television program.
When the closing part of a movie calls for the hero and heroine to fly off into the sunset and they board that American Airlines jet – again, it’s no accident that American’s jets are featured. American Airlines has paid for the privilege of getting their brand there at that time.
Earlier this week, one of the friends of our church was on her way to work and as she and a co-worker headed into work, a terrible wreck was on the side of the road. If memory serves me right, the car had hit a tree and the safety inflatible bags deployed, and apparently the driver was injured. She pulled her car to the side of the road and she and the co-worker began to assess the situation and help the driver. But check this out – they were both nurses and they were on the scene long before Paramedics could arrive.
That’s product placement.
God has a way of putting people in the right place at the right time. Whether it’s that pastor who preaches week in and week out; or that Sunday School teacher who drops a word of confirmation during a class; or if someone is in need and a believer happens to be there, even though they weren’t even scheduled to be there.
That’s product placement.
I want to say to you my friend that if you’re available – if you just make yourself available to the Master’s will – He will place you. The qualifications of man can be overruled by God when He has assignment written on your life. I’ve seen pastors placed in churches to the awe of friends, family and fellow preachers – because they were placed there by the Lord. I’ve seen divorced men (including myself) get called to churches – because there was something that God needed for that church at that time. I’ve seen barriers broken at churches that were steeped in traditions because the Lord had someone ready to break the status quo and to put the church or organization where He wanted it to be.
So, the next time you wonder – why am I here – remember, that’s product placement.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.
Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 11 Things I Learned.
by Thom S. Rainer (www.thomrainer.com)
I was their church consultant in 2003. The church’s peak attendance was 750 in 1975. By the time I got there the attendance had fallen to an average of 83. The large sanctuary seemed to swallow the relatively small crowd on Sunday morning.
The reality was that most of the members did not want me there. They were not about to pay a consultant to tell them what was wrong with their church. Only when a benevolent member offered to foot my entire bill did the congregation grudgingly agree to retain me.
I worked with the church for three weeks. The problems were obvious; the solutions were difficult.
On my last day, the benefactor walked me to my rental car. “What do you think, Thom?” he asked. He could see the uncertainty in my expression, so he clarified. “How long can our church survive?” I paused for a moment, and then offered the bad news. “I believe the church will close its doors in five years.”
I was wrong. The church closed just a few weeks ago. Like many dying churches, it held on to life tenaciously. This church lasted ten years after my terminal diagnosis.
My friend from the church called to tell me the news. I took no pleasure in discovering that not only was my diagnosis correct, I had mostly gotten right all the signs of the impending death of the church. Together my friend and I reviewed the past ten years. I think we were able to piece together a fairly accurate autopsy. Here are eleven things I learned.
- The church refused to look like the community. The community began a transition toward a lower socioeconomic class thirty years ago, but the church members had no desire to reach the new residents. The congregation thus became an island of middle-class members in a sea of lower-class residents.
- The church had no community-focused ministries. This part of the autopsy may seem to be stating the obvious, but I wanted to be certain. My friend affirmed my suspicions. There was no attempt to reach the community.
- Members became more focused on memorials. Do not hear my statement as a criticism of memorials. Indeed, I recently funded a memorial in memory of my late grandson. The memorials at the church were chairs, tables, rooms, and other places where a neat plaque could be placed. The point is that the memorials became an obsession at the church. More and more emphasis was placed on the past.
- The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing. At the church’s death, the percentage was over 98 percent.
- There were no evangelistic emphases. When a church loses its passion to reach the lost, the congregation begins to die.
- The members had more and more arguments about what they wanted. As the church continued to decline toward death, the inward focus of the members turned caustic. Arguments were more frequent; business meetings became more acrimonious.
- With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter. The church had seven pastors in its final ten years. The last three pastors were bi-vocational. All of the seven pastors left discouraged.
- The church rarely prayed together. In its last eight years, the only time of corporate prayer was a three-minute period in the Sunday worship service. Prayers were always limited to members, their friends and families, and their physical needs.
- The church had no clarity as to why it existed. There was no vision, no mission, and no purpose.
- The members idolized another era. All of the active members were over the age of 67 the last six years of the church. And they all remembered fondly, to the point of idolatry, was the era of the 1970s. They saw their future to be returning to the past.
- The facilities continued to deteriorate. It wasn’t really a financial issue. Instead, the members failed to see the continuous deterioration of the church building. Simple stated, they no longer had “outsider eyes.”
Though this story is bleak and discouraging, we must learn from such examples. As many as 100,000 churches in America could be dying. Their time is short, perhaps less than ten years.
What do you think of the autopsy on this church? What can we do to reverse these trends?