CHURCH GROWTH (VIII)
Why Churches Die (1)
Lack of Proper Teaching
There are a number of external factors which can contribute to a congregation’s demise. Such factors as the location of a 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 factors in the decline in 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. One factor which has adversely affected many congregations in this way is the lack of sound teaching and preaching.
The Bible emphasizes that it is important for our teaching to be done in a very bold and plain manner, and preaching must be in strict compliance with the Bible. The early church received a great deal of teaching, and the Bible describes the type of preaching which was done then and must be done today. Note what Paul said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:20-21 in his farewell message to them. He told them he “. . . kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Later, he said he was pure from the blood of all men because he had not failed to declare to them the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). In Jerusalem, the early disciples were being threatened by the Jewish rulers for preaching God’s Word. They prayed to God that He would grant unto them “boldness” to speak His Word (Acts 4:29). Later, Paul told the young preacher Timothy he was to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” He also told Timothy he was not to preach anything contrary to sound doctrine (I Tim. 1:10) and he was to take heed to himself and to his doctrine (I Tim. 4:16). Many years before, God told Jonah that he was to go to Nineveh and preach “the message that I tell you.” Today, we must preach the message revealed in the Scriptures to a lost and dying world.
Realistically, a church can be lacking in sound and Scriptural teaching and still grow numerically. Yet, such a church is not pleasing to God. In fact, at some point that church will cease to be regarded as even belonging to Christ (Rev. 1:13, 20; 2:5). Thus, a growing church, can still be dying in a certain sense, i.e. spiritually. But, a lack of proper teaching and preaching in a congregation may also cause a congregation to decline in its numbers and ultimately cease to exist.
One area of most congregations’ teaching program is their Bible classes. It is important to be very selective in the appointment of Bible class teachers. Some may teach a Bible class on Sunday morning but are not spiritually minded enough to attend services on Wednesday night or Sunday night. Sometimes, being appointed to teach a class is even used as a type of “tool” to encourage a person to attend services. This should not be the case. A person who is not willing to attend all of the services should not be teaching a Bible class. The good that may come will most likely be outweighed by the terrible example they set for the rest of the church and for the people whom they teach (I Tim. 4:12b; Mt. 5:16; Jas. 3:1). In addition, teachers must always be properly prepared for their class and have a well thought out plan of study. A teacher who starts a class by asking, “What do you want to study today?” is obviously not ready to teach.
When a church does not grow, members often blame the preacher. They often see him in the same way owners see the manager of a professional sports team. When a team is playing badly (which may simply be because the team consists of bad players), the owners fire the manager. When the church is not growing, or is even declining in numbers, elders or the congregation will fire the preacher instead of analyzing what is causing the decline.
Often, firing the local preacher is simply a superficial solution to a problem which lies much deeper. A new preacher coming in might cause an initial “bump” in attendance. However, the main reason for the church not growing may still be there, as the problem lies within the congregation itself. Thus, hiring a new preacher has solved little. An example of this superficial approach occurs in the Old Testament during the days of King Saul. Saul turned his back on God so God sent an “evil spirit” on him. His servants brought in David to play his harp for Saul to soothe him, which was a superficial solution to a deeper problem. The real solution for Saul’s problem was for him to turn back to God.
It is true sometimes the local preacher may be a hindrance to the growth of the church for which he preaches. A preacher can cause division over “foolish” and “unlearned” questions (II Tim. 2:14-18, 23-25), and if he is a proponent of false doctrine, he will do great damage to the congregation (Acts 20:29-30; II Tim. 1:19, 20, 4:10). Further, a preacher can be lazy and indifferent which can result in a very weak and disheartened congregation. Some congregations may have a hard time growing until they change preachers.
However, changing preachers because a church is not growing should be done very cautiously. A congregation should engage in self-reflection, looking at other possible factors which might figure into their lack of growth or decline in membership. Dismissing the local preacher may be the solution; it is a question the local church must prayerfully and very carefully decide.
Why do local churches die? Sometimes it has something to do with the type of teaching and preaching they have received over the years. We must demand the kind of instruction and preaching we can read about in God’s Word— that which is Biblically centered, presented with simplicity and with boldness, and motivated by a love for God and a love for those being taught.