CHURCH GROWTH (XI)
Why Churches Die (4)
There are a number of factors which may exist in a congregation which pertains to the spirituality of its members. Over time, these factors will cause the congregation to die. For example, a congregation may die because it does not receive sound preaching and teaching. It may die because there is a leadership problem or because of a failure to evangelize. Also, any congregation which consists of members who are lukewarm, spiritually weak, and unfaithful is doomed to failure.
The Bible teaches that Christians are to grow and mature spiritually (II Pet. 1:5-10, 3:18). Additionally, they are to zealously serve God. In Romans 12:11, Paul admonished the early Christians, “Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord” (NRSV). Lukewarmness as a Christian is not acceptable to the Lord. To the church at Laodicea, Jesus said, “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16).
Many congregations, instead of experiencing the spiritual growth which the Bible requires (Heb. 5:11-12), will grow weaker and weaker. Congregations may consist of a large number of people who have been Christians for many years and yet have never grown as they should. The congregation will then typically be lacking in their dedication to God and will often dwindle in numbers as the years go by. A further manifestation of this spiritual weakness is seen by the number of members who do not faithfully attend services, as the Bible teaches they should (Heb. 10:25). For example, some may attend diligently the Sunday morning service during which the Lord’s Supper is served but lack the conscientiousness to attend other services. And then there are those who occupy a pew at every service but do little else in serving God.
A congregation which consists of a number of people who are not growing spiritually will usually not grow very much numerically. Christians who have become lukewarm add very little to the well-being of a congregation. When members quit attending at all or attend sporadically, they negatively impact the spiritual health of the congregation is felt.
Faithful Christians have the very important responsibility of trying to restore, with an attitude of meekness, the unfaithful member (Gal. 6:1, Jas. 5:19-20). Sadly, most congregations have very few people who are willing to do this. Restoring the erring is typically an unpleasant task as the erring may not appreciate attempts made to restore them. Sometimes, if attempts to restore them do not go well, critics within the congregation may surface. Ironically, often these critics will not attempt to help in this endeavor themselves but will not hesitate to criticize others who try. We ought to try to restore the erring simply because God says we ought to, but restoring the erring is also one way to make a congregation grow. Most congregations have significant numbers of lukewarm or inactive members. Our efforts toward these might result in some of them returning to the Lord.
Without a doubt, a congregation’s strength is affected over time by members who are lukewarm and by those who have completely fallen away. Those who are in this state need to repent and turn back to God. Those who are “spiritual” (Gal. 6:1) must do everything they can to restore the erring.