CHURCH GROWTH (IX)
Why Churches Die (2)
Not Having Needed Leadership
There are a number of external factors which can contribute to a congregation’s demise. Such factors as the location of the building, the wicked times in which we are living, an inability to attract Christians who move into the area, and a lack of young people in a congregation can all be elements in the decline in the membership of a church. Other factors may exist which pertain more directly to the spirituality of the members who make up a congregation and which, over time, will cause a congregation to die. For example, some congregations may eventually die because they do not receive sound preaching and teaching. Other churches may suffer because they have a “leadership” problem. Leadership is critical to the growth of any congregation.
It is important to understand that God has revealed in the Scriptures the way a congregation is to be organized and led. The Bible teaches each congregation is to be overseen by elders (Acts 14:23). Elders are to “feed,” or “pastor” the church (Acts 20:28; I Pet. 5:2; Eph. 4:11). Although elders are to serve as good examples for the flock (I Pet. 5:3), they also “rule” the church (I Tim. 5:17). Elders watch out for the souls of the congregation (Heb. 13:17). In the New Testament, we also learn that each church was autonomous, and the elders of a local congregation only oversaw the church “among them” (I Pet. 5:2), i.e. which they were a part of. Sometimes, elders (instead of overseeing the spiritual needs and growth of the church) become more like business managers, focusing primarily on matters pertaining to money and the maintenance of the facilities. For sure, elders are to make decisions in this area, but they must also be the spiritual leaders and the shepherds of the church they oversee. Failure to do so can be very detrimental to the growth and strength of the congregation.
As leaders of a congregation, faithful elders can be a very important factor in church growth. Understandably, an important issue to many people when they consider placing membership at a congregation is whether or not the church has elders. If a church does not, they will often seek a congregation that does. However, in many congregations, because of a lack of qualified men, elders do not exist. Decisions must be made in meetings by the men of the congregation. In this situation, no one, including the preacher, is vested with any special authority in the church. Yet, when congregations do not have elders, it is still important for certain faithful members to take on the role as leaders in the church.
In any group of people, at least someone will tend take on a leadership role. For example, consider citizens serving on a jury. They listen to the court testimony, and then they are asked to deliberate in the jury room. When they get there, someone will usually speak up and say, “We need to appoint a foreman.” The person who makes this remark takes a leadership role. If no had spoken, the jurors would never have gotten started. The person who is appointed as a foreman has a leadership role, although he doesn’t have any more actual authority than the other eleven. Similarly, it is important to have leaders in the church — people who will make suggestions, encourage others, and get people started. Without leaders, without people taking some initiative, a church will not prosper.
Many are hesitant to take a leadership role in a congregation because a leader is subject to criticism. It is easier to not be a leader and instead to just sit back and be critical of those who are. People who are leaders in the church are often criticized. A preacher, for example, is in a difficult position. If he tries to be a leader, he may be criticized for trying to “run the church.” If he does not, he is criticized for not being a good leader. In reality, one can actually step over the line, while trying to be a leader in the church, and end up improperly assuming authority in the church (III Jn. 9-10), but leaders (acting in a Scriptural fashion) are still needed.
Sadly, some will only take a leadership role in the church when they think the elders or the preacher ought to be gotten rid of. At other times, they sit back doing nothing in the area of leadership in the church.
In conclusion, elders need to have the courage it takes to actually lead the church, and those not leading the church need to start doing so. Elders are not just to be “vote counters” for the congregation. But, even with elders, and especially without elders, the church needs “vision” — it needs people who will say “Let’s get going,” and who will work themselves and will encourage others in the same direction.