CHURCH GROWTH (X)
Why Churches Die (3)
A Failure to Evangelize
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 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. For example, some congregations may eventually die because they do not receive sound preaching and teaching; others may die because they have a leadership problem. Another reason for the demise of congregations is a very basic reason — the failure to evangelize.
The importance of teaching the Word of God is emphasized throughout the Scriptures. The Great Commission requires us to teach others (Mt. 28:18-20). Further, Paul told Timothy, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (II Tim 2:2).
It is clear the early church grew a great deal (Acts 2:41, 4:4, 5:14, 6:1). Why did it grow so rapidly? Acts 5:42 reveals the secret: “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” It was daily teaching on the part of the early Christians which resulted in daily growth. Even persecutions did not even stop them (Acts 8:1-4).
There are many methods a church can use to spread God’s Word. In many cases (with good results) congregations have mailed teaching bulletins to their community, used newcomer mailings or newcomer visitation programs, and have canvassed neighborhoods passing out literature Churches have also successfully used newspaper articles, Gospel Meetings designed for non-Christians, and radio programs. In more recent times, God’s Word is being spread using the internet. Churches use web sites with teaching material and online correspondence courses. Various forms of the social media are also being used. There are many methods which can be used in teaching the lost. However, we must remember that a method which may work at one time may not work at a different time. Furthermore, what works in one place may not work somewhere else. For that reason, brethren must keep an open mind about the methods employed. Although we must learn from history, simply because a method did not work a given number of years ago does not mean it will be ineffective now.
What is the best method to employ in teaching? The above methods can be very effective and ought to be tried. But ultimately, the best way to convert people is to have individual Christians (which includes elders and preachers) talking to others about God’s Word in the course of their daily life with the aim of eventually setting up Bible classes that can either be taught by themselves or by someone else. Influence among people we know, such as friends, relatives, and co-workers, can be much greater than we realize.
A number of years ago, a gospel preacher, W.R. Jones, made an observation in a bulletin as he looked back over his many years of preaching. He said, “When all the members, or even a sizable number of the members become interested in soul saving; in taking the truth to others, in bringing them to hear the truth preached and were fully enthused about the truth themselves, we had conversions. When brethren were too wrapped up in material things, too busy to be concerned about others, and too indifferent to be enthused about the work of the church . . . we stood still.”
Some churches may grow without the above enthusiasm existing. A church may grow, for example, because they have a good location for their meeting house, because they are the only “sound” church in town, or because the other churches in the area are fussing and fighting. But usually when a church is enthusiastic about the gospel, eventually growth will occur. Sadly, many Christians are content with “housekeeping” for the Lord, being content with simply maintaining a building. Some brethren demand growth, but they are not willing to do what it takes to achieve it.
There are a number of factors which can be counted on over a period of time which will adversely affect the size of a congregation. Some people, for example, are going to die; some will move away; a few may get mad about something and leave; some will quit attending, and there may even be a “split” (friendly or otherwise).
There are a number of other factors which cannot be counted on to increase numbers. We cannot count on such methods of growth as Christians moving into the community, people coming from other congregations, or people who simply “walk in off of the street” expressing an interest in studying. The effort we put into personal work is a factor which we can control. It is true that effort, by itself, will not necessary result in conversions; people with whom we study with will not always obey the gospel, but if enough people are busy enough teaching enough classes, growth will most likely occur.