Declining churches … Dying churches … why? What can we do?
In some communities, there’s a presence of declining or dying churches,
in relatvely prosperous countries,
without a threat of persecution.
Travelling around, seeing church buildings and land sold, … re-purposed as pubs, art galleries, etc
…. its rather sad.
These buildings and lands are sited in prominent locations on valuable land;
years ago, a thriving congregation lived, worshipped,
and gave sacrificially to purchase the land in the heart of the city, or prime area of a suburb.
Now an empty shell,
In an effort to save such churches, … what are we actually trying to save?
Yes, its true the church is not a building
…. its about people & the Lord, … a community
friendship with God, … friendship with one another,
… friendship with others
… the love of God
So, back to the core, … what’s a church?
Matthew 18:19, 20 (NASB)
19 “Again I say to you, that
if two of you agree
on earth about anything that they may ask,
it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.
20 For where two or three
have gathered together in My name,
I am there in their midst.”
–> the presence of Jesus in our midst,
the presence of prayer & agreement in love,
…. God answers prayers
35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
John 13:35 (NASB)
—-> the presence of God’s love amongst His people,
compassionately supporting one another in agreement
And whoever welcomes one such child in my name
Matthew 18:5 (NIV)
—> all are warmly welcomed … like welcoming Jesus,
… even the very least … a child.
24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must
worship in spirit and truth.”
John 4:24 (NASB)
—> worship in spirit and truth
4:13 …, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.
4:2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 4:2 (NIV)
—> the pure word of God, and the good news of Jesus & His Kingdom is read, shared, taught & lived out.
Just stumbled upon an interesting, passionate “crowd-sourced” analysis of the possible causes.
I rarely read all the reader comments of an article, but the more than 100 comments (and still growing) on this article are worth reading, as each person brings his or her own personal experience to the discussion; a good cross-section of full-timers and lay people …. different perspectives of the elephant … straight from the gut.
The Most Common Factor in Declining Churches (click here)
…. way down the long list of comments, someone penned this insightful thought :
“Reading through all of these comments,
not one touched on prayer.
Our churches should be houses of prayer … “
here’s an excerpt from another comment
“The decline of the church is in large part because it has disconnected from its power source. How many churches still have a regular weekly prayer meeting? Of those that do, what amount of that time do they actually spend praying? And of the time praying, how much of it is for the health and success of those present or their extended family or friends?
God created humans so He would have someone to have relationship with. He loves us so very, very much. What does our actions say about how much we love Him, and the importance of spending time with Him. ….”
Programs, franchised methodologies, activities, good music, Bible study group material, slick packaging, blessings, church consultants, ‘feel good’ messages, .. great coffee, seats, sound system, building facilities,
… relevant, missional, intentional, radical, vision, etc … slogans, taglines, sound bites?
praying leaders, … houses of prayer ?
… that in all things
He (Jesus) may have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:18 NKJV)
And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? …
Mark 11:17 (NASB)
23 But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth,
for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
24 God is spirit, and those who worship him
must worship in spirit and truth.
John 4:23,24 (ESV)
“It is possible to move men,
by prayer alone.”
how wide-spread is this trend?
here’s a simple google search (click here)
So, what’s keeping people away?
Some excerpts from an article describing The decline of the suburban church (click here) in Australia,
“Some people might feel elated at the disappearance of what they would regard as temples of superstition and darkness;
about time too, they would say,
given the Christian Church’s alleged record of slaughter, oppression, paedophilia and all the rest.
What is happening now is that churches are closing for no other reason than that
the people who live around them have stopped going to them.
Most are indications of a wholesale abandonment of religious practice by … the … middle class.
For people of Protestant descent going to church has become a minority activity, like joining a camera club.
Worship of God has been replaced by worship of the body: probably more people attend gymnasiums and fitness clubs than go to church.
As the wave of wealth rose higher, so did the aspirations and pretensions—holidays abroad, endless dining out, cellars (or the garage) stacked with “boutique” wines,
…. Obsessed and distracted by “lifestyle”
these new residents saw no reason to interrupt the pleasures of the weekend
going to church, if indeed it ever crossed their mind to do so.
Their Sunday observance was to put on the lycra and set off on the bike.
For anyone requiring a faith commitment to a higher cause
there was always sustainability and saving the planet from global warming.
As a lady of a cavernous under-used .. church
(.. of two united parishes — the other has been turned into houses) put it,
‘We are cash-rich and people-poor’
But keeping the church open will be of little use when the congregation is dead.“
What’s keeping young people away from church?
Here’s an atheist’s candid experience, … visiting churches
(book: Jim and Casper Go To Church, Tyndale Momentum, 2012)
Here’s some millenial generation thoughts on church:
* Why millenials are leaving the church (CNN, click here)
* Want Milenials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church “cool: (Washington Post, click here)
Millenial thoughts on the Bible (click here), (full report) by American Bible Society & InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
Here’s one about Christians
15 reasons why committed Christians do not attend church (click here)
The “love Jesus, but not the church.” Christians (click here)
A survey of what teens think of church (click here)
We’ll probably may not agree with everything that’s shared in these articles.
However, its clear that there is a rise in “believing without belonging”,
… dis-churched believers,
depending on pastor Google, reverend Youtube, father Bing, church surfing, christian media etc.,
following teachings from celebrities, unknowns, conservative, liberals, etc.
Probably, … a good amount of us spend more time
reading or watching social media
… than the Bible, God’s Word.
Perhaps it’ll be good to ponder on,
how are Christian gatherings different from
office meetings, watching a movie, attending a lecture, watching a staged choreographed performance,
So, … why do we go to church on Sunday?
What’s the kingdom of God about?
If the church is just about delivering well-produced content or performance,
(… from the stage/pulpit, … or upfront)
in a digital world,
how has music, books, movies, and the newspaper industry been impacted by the Internet?
(where content is just a downloadable or streaming file)
want to know something? … just google
… and a neatly summarised list of sermons, videos, articles, etc
is instantly obtained on one’s fingertips.
regular church attendance = regular subscription ?
what’s brand loyalty or subscription … in an ocean of choice & free content ?
have the way we communicate, collaborate changed?
have what people expect from communication and collaboration changed?
is church just a content media, knowledge provider?
Crisis … or … opportunities … possibilities?
On another note,
If a manufacturer of sandals, … suddenly finds his customer base has moved to wearing shoes,
does the businessman complain about the market, .. or the customers?
What does the businessman do?
How have brands or individuals harness the internet and social media?
> merging churches, … sharing resources ?
> is the church message filled with theology, christian jargon, highbrow,
… or down-to-earth, real, accessible, meaningful to diverse kinds of people who come?
> is the Word of God taught? is the gospel of Jesus Christ presented clearly in the language of the people? tangible answers to prayer? worship?
Lack of spiritual interest in the general population ?
Take a look at the rise of meditation, eastern religion/philosophy interests, new age, holistic wellness, mindfulness, etc,
even in the corporate world. Here’s an article from The Economist (click here).
Or … do words like ‘church’, ‘christians‘ … carry ‘baggage’ meanings to others.
Here’s a Newsweek article.
No matter what happens, God is still at work in the hearts of people.
Praise God, God is moving powerfully amongst ethnic migrant communities/surburbs and other nations.
Here’s an article: Think Christianity is dying, … No, Christianity is shifting dramatically
“A question posed by a Jewish friend in the advertising business …
She asks, “Why is it that from Christians,
we hear almost nothing
We hear about a lot of things from you guys,
but almost nothing
about this Jesus””
– Source: Bob Briner, Deadly Detours, Seven Noble Causes That Keep Christians from Changing the World, Zondervan 1996, pg 89
Is ‘what Christians are against‘
‘Jesus’, .. or .. ‘what the Bible is positively for .. & about’ ?
2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths
reasoned with them
from the Scriptures,
3 explaining and demonstrating
that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying,
“This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”
11 … they received the word with all readiness,
and searched the Scriptures daily ….
Acts 17:2,3 6 (NKJV)
Message — Jesus
Daily, … spending time with God & God’s word.
Churches should be places where we experience God’s presence in the company of His people.
Sadly, however, a surprising large number of unchurched people tell us that,
despite all the stellar programming they’ve experienced in church,
the one thing they are seeking
is a powerful, undeniable encounter with the living God
— and they haven’t found it yet.
Of course, a person’s spiritual readiness and attunement to God’s Spirit are part of what makes him or her able to sense His presence. But many people who overcome the internal and external obstacles to visit a church service do so exactly because they are spiritually ready and seeking to tune in to the Spirit. Sadly, some leave disappointed.
Despite all the opinions churchless (and churched) people offer about musical styles, architecture, sound systems, creativity, intellectualism, and the menu of programs provided by churches, none of these is the main attraction. These elements are nice sideshows, but people don’t come to church for carnival rides.
They come to meet God.
People complain about the uncomfortable seats and stale popcorn
when central stage is empty of the main event.
— Source: George Barna, David Kinnaman, Churchless, Tyndale, 2014, pg 175;
based on data drawn from a series of 18 nationwide surveys … interviews with 20,524 American adults, including 6,276 unchurched adults.
(not an anecdotal study … but, evidence based, data driven
Please read the book for further details)
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:
20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock;
if anyone hears My voice and opens the door,
I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.
Revelations 3:14, 20 (NASB)
Why is Jesus is outside, … knocking the door of this church?
Here’s a perspective from Europe – Germany (click here).
I was trying to catch the crippled man
Did he run past this way?
He was rushing home to tell everyone
What Jesus did today
And the mute man was telling myself and the deaf girl
He’s leaving to answer God’s call
It’s hard to believe but if you don’t trust me
Ask the blind man, he saw it all
Go ask the blind man, he saw it all
Here’s an inspiring story of how a church revived from decline (click here)
Here’s a perspective by a lay person from UK,
Prof Roy Peacock, a scientist:
“I had been invited by the BBC to be part of a panel examining the question of why church is diminishing in size and influence, and I found myself alongside a number of luminaries including a bishop in the Church of England. The TV programme was going live and the panel’s individuals put forward a variety of opinions. Eventually, the presenter solicited my opinion, presumably expecting some scientific based thoughts. Perhaps the church would be advised to move with the times, introduce aspects of scientific thinking into its agenda, maybe a synthesis of theology with the best that science had to offer. …
If any of this was expected, I must have disappointed. Casting caution aside, I said that the only way in which the church would grow was by declaring the message of salvation, that man must be born again. And I went on to say that until the church was made up of people who had themselves known the experience of being born again, this would not happen.”
Source – Roy Peacock, Paradigm Shift, Authentic Media Ltd, 2013, pg 113-114
“Many people have grown up attending church and hearing about God all their lives, but they do not have a personal, dynamic, growing relationship with God.”
― Henry T. Blackaby
… what I least of all suspected,
who went to America to convert others,
was never converted myself …”
— John Wesley
In 1738, John Wesley experienced true conversion; ‘at peace with God’.
In the words of Charles journal, “I saw that by faith I stood.”
John 3:6,7 (NASB)
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you,
‘You must be born again.’
Ezekiel 37:3-6 (NASB)
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. 2 He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry.
3 He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
And I answered, “O Lord God, You know.”
4 Again He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them,
‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’
5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath ( רוּחַ, ruwach ) to enter you that you may come to life. 6 I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that
you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord.’”
The Word and the Spirit working to bring to life the bones.
hear the word of the Lord ... and you will know that I am the Lord
hear the word of the Lord, not just a snippet or footnote,
not hear the opinions of men,
hear the word of the Lord,
in His fullness, richness & wisdom,
in His power of the Spirit.
John 6:63 (NASB)
“… the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”
Luke 4:16-21 (NASB)
14 And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district.
15 And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.
16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. 17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him.
And He opened the book (the Word) and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
20 And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.
21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The presence of Jesus,
the Word of God teaching,
& the power of the Holy Spirit
sets people free.
10 So I prophesied as He commanded me,
and the breath came into them,
and they came to life and stood on their feet,
an exceedingly great army.
Ezekiel 37:10 (NASB)
On a final note,
churches which neglect to disciple, nurture and empower the next generation of believers through their lives,
will face challenges to sustain into the next generation.
To Timothy, Paul wrote:
2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15 (NIV)
1:5 I am reminded of your sincere faith,
which first lived in your grandmother Lois
and in your mother Eunice
and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
3:15 and how from infancy
you have known the Holy Scriptures,
which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
After Joshua’s generation,
the generation who lived in the promise land,
… and there arose another generation after them
who did not know the Lord,
nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.
Judges 2:10 (NASB)
and as a result,
In those days there was no king in Israel;
every man did what was right in his own eyes.
Judges 17:6, 21:25 (NASB)
Hence, children and youth ministries are worthy of support with the best people.
Psalm 78:1-8 (NIV)
My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
3 things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
5 He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach their children,
6 so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
7 Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
8 They would not be like their ancestors—
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God,
whose spirits were not faithful to him.
God has only children … no grandchildren.
The Old Church (Vanha Kirkko, a Finnish song)
An old church in the wilderness,
windows broken, doors barely shut,
tottering steeple, leaking roof,
covered in a dark carpet of moss
The old church remembers its youth,
when its pews were full of devout people,
and sermons and hymns in turn rang out,
and the dark hold of sin was broken!
The old church is lonely now
like a mother, meek and weeping;
its congregation sleeps under the grass,
and the old building awaits its collapse
— Vilho Edvard Tormanen , translation: Jaakko Mantyjarvi
Church | Ministry
by 林弟兄, bro Lim
June 10, 2014
Copyright © 林弟兄 bro Lim, Laymanointing, 2014-2016 – All Rights Reserved
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