Over the past twenty-five years in working in the ministry of church growth, I have observed many churches in various stages and conditions. Some are growing, some are declining, and some are stagnant. There are certain patterns that tend to exist in non-growing (declining or stagnant) churches. Allow me to share the following seven reasons that some churches tend to stop growing:
1. Reaching the lost becomes a low priority in the church. Of course, if you were to ask them if evangelism was a high priority, all of them would say, ‘yes, absolutely!’ But in observing their calendar, their organization, and their various ministry activities, it quickly becomes evident that their actions do not match their words. What should have been the heartbeat of the entire church has diminished enormously as a priority in the minds of its members. Evangelism will be only one item of many on a very busy agenda. They have allowed non-outreach activities to continually push evangelism activities aside.
The solution is to develop a number of solid evangelism ministries, each with its own leader. These will be ministries such as visitor follow-up, home Bible study, door knocking, promotions, C.C.C., bus ministry, street evangelism, and others. The pastor should then strongly encourage all members to be faithfully involved in at least one organized evangelism activity. Finally, the pastor should meet with all evangelism ministry leaders each month to plan outreach activities for the upcoming months. When looking over the church calendar, you should find an equal or greater number of evangelism activities as social activities. Evangelism training should be a calendar priority as well.
2. Reaching the lost becomes a low priority for most of its members. Few of the members in non-growing churches are involved in any organized evangelism activity. And if you were to ask church members if they had witnessed or invited anyone to church during the past thirty days, the majority would whisper, ‘no.’ In addition, few members will have received any training in how to witness, how to teach a home Bible study, or how to follow-up on a church guest. Also, most members in non-growing churches would feel uncomfortable trying to explain to someone the plan of salvation from their Bibles.
The solution is to make a determined effort to return evangelism to it proper place in the minds of all church members. The importance of being a witness must be regularly emphasized. This is then accompanied with practical training in the art of witnessing, as well as how to teach a home Bible study. Training of this nature can be offered on regular Bible study night or as a special Sunday school class on Sunday morning. Occasionally Saturday seminars can be held for those who wish for more detailed instruction. Finally, at least once a year all the various evangelism opportunities in the church need to be presented during a major service and members should be given the chance to complete a commitment form indicating what evangelism areas they wish to be involved in that year. Evangelism ministry leaders should then be given these lists and they should work diligently to encourage all who committed to become actively involved.
3. Few goals are set and no real effort is made to develop and implement a plan to reach these goals. Non-growing churches tend to avoid the practice of annual goal setting altogether. Most understand the importance of this biblical concept (see Proverbs 28:19 and Phil. 3:14). But they fail to set and follow through with goals in a systematic manner. And a few will try to dismiss them as unbiblical (“Take no thought of tomorrow…”). For whatever the reason, non-growing churches, when you ask to see their written goals for the coming year, are seldom able to produce them. Nor do they have any written plans of how their goals will be obtained.
The solution is to first understand that goal setting is one of the most biblical concepts in the Bible. As far as the church is concerned, goal setting is nothing more than faith. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Throughout the Word of God all great men of God had a goal. Noah’s goal was to build an ark and save his family. Moses’ goal was to deliver the children of Israel. Solomon’s goal was to build a temple. Nehemiah’s goal was to rebuild the fallen walls of Jerusalem. Even Jesus had a goal and that was the cross. A pastor needs to set down each year, pray and seek God’s direction. Numerical goals need to be set for attendance, converts, retention rates, evangelism, finances, and more. Quality improvement goals need to be set for facility improvement, church equipment, spiritual growth, leadership training and more. Then a plan needs to be developed for reaching each goal and a ministry team appointed to labor until the goal is obtained.
4. Most of their evangelism methods are relatively ineffective in winning souls. The bottom line of any outreach method must be: does it bring results? Are souls being saved regularly from this activity? Too many churches are seeing little growth as a result of the few evangelism programs they are using. They are doing them because, ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.’ No effort is made to explore new or different approaches to evangelism. Nor are they evaluating their existing programs to see if they are producing souls.
The solution is to take an honest look at the evangelism ministries you are currently involved in. If any are not working well, either fix them or abandon them. Church members have precious little time to waste with ineffectual methods. The church should then consider launching several new ministries that have a proven track record. Historically, the four most effective evangelism methods of evangelism in Apostolic churches have been these: (1) bringing visitors to church (and then following up on those visitors effectively to encourage their return). (2) Teaching home Bible studies. (3) Encouraging your saints to witness on a regular (weekly?) basis (this is what gives you visitors and home Bible studies), (4) and children’s ministry evangelism that includes using a bus, van or car ministry.
5. Evangelism focuses on conversion only, not on making true disciples. Non-growing churches tend to see the altar and baptismal tank as the end of their responsibility. All efforts are to bring someone to salvation. Following conversion, the new convert is often abandoned with a ‘sink or swim’ attitude. They don’t realize that the altar is only the beginning and the real task still lies before them – that of making the new convert into a strong, healthy Christian who is able to go out and win others.
The solution is to implement a good new convert care program. In most churches this requires a new convert care director to be appointed. This person makes sure that the basic needs of all converts are effectively met. These basic needs come from Acts 2:37-42: Instruction, fellowship, and involvement. Instruction often includes first week counseling, a new convert’s class taught on Sunday morning, and a home Bible study course taught in their home. Fellowship involves making sure each convert has a ‘care partner.’ This spiritual parent agrees to accept responsibility for mentoring this new babe in Christ. They will spend much time with them and will help them make friends in the church. Churches have also had success with assigning a different couple or individual each month to spend some extra time with the convert in fellowship. Holding occasional new convert socials and outings have worked well for many. Involvement simply means that within a few months after coming to the Lord, the convert should be encouraged to become involved in the various evangelism and social ministries of the church.
6. There is little or no emphasis on training members for evangelism. Personal evangelism training, home Bible study instruction training, visitor follow-up training, bus worker training, altar worker training, Sunday school teacher training, leadership training, and other similar instruction is almost never taught at non-growing churches. On the other hand, growing churches tend to provide this type of instruction on a regular basis.
The solution is obvious. Start training, and the sooner, the better. Some training, like how to be a witness, can be held on Bible study night. There are literally dozens of courses available that come complete with lessons, handouts, power-point slides, video clips, and more. Granted, most of these are produced by denominational authors. However they effectively teach how to develop friendships, how to steer the conversation toward spiritual topics, and how to lead someone to repentance. The additional instruction needed on how to lead them to baptism and seeking for the Holy Ghost, any pastor can provide.
Other training in the areas of home Bible study, follow-up, bus ministry, and others simply require finding a good book and teaching it point by point. Or, if you can afford it, bring in a good Apostolic expert who can light a fire under your members to be more effective in their evangelism efforts.
7. Conversion is made overly simplistic with little or no price involved. In their desire to see souls saved, non-growing churches will present the gospel without a price; a ‘Pentecost’ without a ‘cost.’ When people fail to truly repent and don’t have a true conversion or change of direction, they often do not stick.
The solution is simple: we must not be afraid to preach and teach the ‘whole counsel of God.’ Granted, new spiritual babies are not ready for strong meat. But converts must not stay children forever. At some point every convert must be challenged to put away the world, take up the cross and follow Christ. Holiness, moral purity, tithing, and other sensitive topics can be taught in an advanced new convert’s course. Doctrine and holiness should be a common theme in regular church services. Growing churches know that a watered down Gospel will do little to light a passion in the hearts of members. Today’s fastest growing churches are those that stand for truth and righteousness and continually challenge their members to reach for a higher level spirituality and separation than the world can ever offer them.