From Decline to Growth 1

The Attraction Distraction

magnetic.jpg What was once a murmur has become a roar! What is now a roar is becoming a revolution! The stats are in and the truth is graphically clear: Christian churches are in decline. Attendance is shrinking. The numbers look bad.

Now the frenzy of analysis begins. Why are we declining? What can be done about it? Do we need to build a new building or maybe move to a better location? Do we need to hire or fire some staff members? Should we bring in a consultant? Is a Family Life Centre (gymnasium) required? Do we need to remodel our “worship services?” Should we add instruments to the singing? What’s going wrong? HELP!

The Christian Chronicle has begun addressing the problem. A friend of mine recently posed this question publicly and received input from all over the brotherhood of churches of Christ. The range of possible malefactors and solutions was amazing. Nearly everyone agrees that something is going wrong. Perhaps it is the movement from a rural to an urban base. Perhaps is it postmodernism. Perhaps it is growing religious pluralism.

One thing is for sure: Satan loves it! After all, he is winning on every front. He has us right where he wants us: inside our buildings and halls and homes…out of sight…out of his way. You may have noticed that when you or your church dares to venture into the streets and marketplaces is when the trouble begins. Churches and individuals who dare to venture into Satan’s turf become Satan’s targets. Persecution begins in its many forms: ridicule, rejection, ostracism, vandalism, even physical violence. We will draw the devil’s fire. It is uncomfortable, costly, painful, exhausting, demeaning and dangerous. It takes a mature, Holy Spirit-fueled, faith-fired determination to keep from pulling back into more comfortable invisibility.

Perhaps this is why we have concentrated on attraction rather than dispersal.

Most of our strategy consists largely of getting people to “come to church.” (Yes, most of us still use “church” in this incorrect way.) We urge our members to invite their friends to “come to church.” We have a gospel mission or a campaign to get folks to “come to church.” Many of our signs invite the public to “come worship with us (in church)”, and assure everyone that “visitors are welcome.” We have a special speaker or hold a special event and invite people to “come to church.” We hold a Vacation or Holiday Bible School to get children and their families into our building or hall. We have a special luncheon or barbeque to get folks to at least venture closer to the church. It is attraction, attraction, attraction….to our location, location, location.

Attraction’s not working very well these days, is it?

The saying is true and worthy of all acceptance: if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll keep getting what we’ve got! And friends, that’s not much. Perhaps we need to back up and take a look at the New Testament. Where do we find the scriptural basis (or “pattern” if you wish) for attracting people to a location? The crowds converged on Jesus because he and his disciples had dispersed among the towns and villages doing good works and preaching the kingdom, right? Think that might work for us?

There is only one cure for decline and it is a simple one: “Go…and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19)



Filed under Missions/Evangelism, Religion

10 responses to “From Decline to Growth 1

  1. Dwight, you are right on target my friend! Our churches (even in the “Bible Belt” if you will) all over the place are loosing people right and left. We need to do some thing about this alarming trend sooner rather than later. I am re-reading The Master’s Plan For Making Disciples and in the introduction it talks about a lot of people that get together to talk about fishing. They talk about the latest bait, the latest fly rod, fishing boat, you name it and they’ve talked about it. They even go on “fishing” workshops to learn how to fish better. The only thing is, they never actually go fishing. God bless us all to go fishing. Be blessed!

  2. So much to think about. I agree with your observations and share your concern for the shrinking church at large.

    I’m the worship pastor at a startup church, so articles of this nature capture my attention and my mind starts spinning. I just wanted to share a few thoughts to add to the discussion.

    It seems to me that if traditional churches are shrinking in number, then perhaps it’s time to start thinking about our methods. If people have changed in their appetites and desires, perhaps it’s time to change the menu. Or, to use the analogy above, if the fish aren’t biting, perhaps it’s time to try a different “bait.”

    Considering how our entire society is shifting from a “baby boomer” focus to the newer generations, it starts to make sense how we might need to examine our current methods.

    I have 2 daughters. One is 18 years old and it seems like her main focus is relationships. She will sit for hours “texting” or talking at Starbucks. She’s very Internet saavy – she’s into Facebook and MySpace. She and her friends share the latest YouTube video for laughs. Things need to be moving and “edgy” to retain her attention. Her musical tastes are different than my parents’.

    Of course, it’s not all just about getting their attention. We must also offer discipleship. So, part of the problem I see happening in even the more “emerging” or “edgy” churches today is that they have what it takes to get the attention of younger generations, but they don’t have the training or connection-factor to keep them.

    I hate to say it, but if we want to reach tody’s generation, we need to understand what they do, where they like to go, what music they listen to, etc. If you think that’s selling out, consider Jesus’ stories. Were they not contemporary for the time? Did he not use camels, farmers, fishermen, sheep and other “typical items of the day” to get his points across?

    Having said all that – I agree with your ending remark about “going”. There’s a cost, it takes a plan and some effort. We can’t simply keep doing what we’re doing and expecting a different outcome.

    That’s why following God’s so cül. If we ask, He will show us how to do it. He’s inside us afterall – sometimes it’s just a matter of stopping long enough to listen.

    Keep up the great work on this blog!


  3. Good article. The harvest is in the field, not the barn.

  4. Bob Chapman

    Are our worship programmes pleasing to God?

    Not really! – Only the saving of souls creates ecstatic joy in heaven, Luke 15:7.

    We should be seriously alarmed to note that worship was not the central focus of Jesus, the disciples or the early church – evangelism in partnership with the Holy Spirit was the focus. It was from the success of such bold evangelism with power that worship erupted both in heaven and on earth! They knew that all who did not responded to the gospel were lost eternally and that saving them was of the upmost urgency to the Father, 2 Cor. 5:17-6:2, 1 Tim. 2:4. They knew that they had been entrusted with the words of eternal life and until sinners everywhere heard their preaching and responded, either positively or negatively; those sinners were lost!

    Worship at the beginning erupted during the night after a day of preaching in the city streets, markets, synagogues, temples and the prisons where they were often housed for pleading with Jewish and Gentile sinners to repent and be converted, Acts 3:19, Luke 13:3. Such spontaneous worship was nothing like the performances that permeate religious meeting halls of all sizes and denominations today. It gushed forth from exuberant spirits, white hot with the fire of the Holy Spirit’s ever present joy, boldness and power in their lives, Acts 4:13-37; 13:52.

    It appears from reading the gospels that worship was not, and is still not, the focus of Jesus Christ. Harvesting lost souls was and is His focus or, as He said, His meat and the Father’s will, John 4:32-38. He also declared that His Father’s work was and is what we should urgently be about, just as He was urgently about it in His day! John 9:4 “We must do the works of Him who sent me, while it is day: the night comes, when no man can work.”

    It astounds me that believers can come to “worship” once a week to be motivated to stay faithful or be spiritually titillated by professional music ministers, drama ministers, preaching ministers, media production gurus etc., at huge expense and yet, at the same time, thousands of disciples across the world live in poverty and go without the basics needs of life so they can buy Bibles and tracts in order to spread the gospel perilously from house-to-house and village-to-village. Not only that; it astounds me that believers can spend all their energy and funding on getting the “in-house production” right so that people coming to the meeting will return again rather than roll on to a better production across town?

    Let’s stop for a moment and look in the streets around the meeting halls during Sunday’s “in-house production”. There we will see sodomites, who have stolen God’s rainbow covenant colours for their banner, arrogantly waving them to celebrate their spiritually lost state before foolish admirers who line the streets to perve and cheer them on. Those deceived admirers are unaware that they too will be accountable for their consent of the sin being glorified before them, Romans 1:32! Tell me; who is emerging from the “in house production” and pleading with them to repent?

    And in the buildings next to such God-defying debauchery, corrupt politicians conceive of more politically correct ways to inhibit the progress of the gospel, corrupt businesses flourish, woman are raped and filmed for the perverted, drug addicts shoot up, innocent store owners are robbed, houses are burgled, school teachers fill the minds of innocent children with Satanic doctrines about evolution and Harry Potter while their students plan to shoot one another. And all the while these deluded souls are all being deceived by religious preachers who perform heaven-despatching funerals for blatant sinners who think they are saved because they were born in a Western Christian nation! Tell me; who is emerging from the “in house production” and pleading with them to repent?

    Not far down the street from the stench of pending brimstone that wafts around the sodomites’ parade, the next mosque or the next demon worshipping temple of some Eastern religious cult is being built so the blind can lead the blind ever deeper into Satan’s pit! Who is abandoning their religious “in-house programme” to live in the context of the powers of the age come and pleading with these to repent?

    So, does heaven rejoice at our in-house worship programme for a couple of hours each Sunday? I don’t think so! God does not rejoice at the death of the wicked who encompass church meeting halls during lavish or simple celebrations – and neither should we, Ezekiel 18:23. Heaven rejoices when sinners are saved and our mandate for now is – seek and save the lost at all cost to ourselves while it is possible, including on Sundays – Jesus did! Even on the Sabbath He sought to harvest souls for the kingdom of God, Luke 4:18-44; Philippians 2:1-11.

    “And He spoke unto them this parable, saying, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, does not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repents, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance.” Luke 15:3-7.

    Bob Chapman

  5. dwhitsett

    Bob and Eric,
    The working title for the next installment is “The Worship Myth.” I’ll be interested in your reactions to that one.

  6. Bob Chapman

    Yeah, that should be an interesting one. I am off to Nepal at the end of the month, as you know, so I hope I don’t miss it.

  7. Interesting commentary to be sure. To be honest, I was a bit blown away.

    All I was trying to do was express my passion at how creating interesting worship services only helps to spread God’s word. “Word of mouth” advertising (can I call it that?) goes a long way in getting people to invite people to come to a worship service.

    I totally agree that we need to “take it to the streets” and reach people that would never step near a church. But what about churches who are meeting in homes and in high schools? Is it wrong to put together an excellent service with excellent media and music? As long as the focus is bringing people to know Christ – then disciple them with all the passion and love God gives us, I think the first step a person makes to Christ needs all the energy and planning one can give it – as long as the Holy Spirit is allowed to guide and work.

    The colorful commentary that followed, while beautiful to read, seems a bit over the top and misplaced.

    For example, “Let’s stop for a moment and look in the streets around the meeting halls during Sunday’s “in-house production”. Is this suggesting we stop having church altogether? Is this suggesting that striving for excellence in the programming be stopped immediately?

    And, what is all this?: “And in the buildings next to such God-defying debauchery, corrupt politicians conceive of more politically correct ways to inhibit the progress of the gospel, corrupt businesses flourish, woman are raped and filmed for the perverted, drug addicts shoot up, innocent store owners are robbed, houses are burgled, school teachers fill the minds of innocent children with Satanic doctrines about evolution and Harry Potter while their students plan to shoot one another. And all the while these deluded souls are all being deceived by religious preachers who perform heaven-despatching funerals for blatant sinners who think they are saved because they were born in a Western Christian nation! Tell me; who is emerging from the “in house production” and pleading with them to repent?”

    All this because of “in-house production”? Is it completely inconceivable that God can actually change a person’s life who has attended a service somewhere where the giftings of the staff lean heavily to the performing and creative arts?

    I know this: without love, our best gifts and talents are nothing but clanging cymbals. Frankly, my ears are still ringing.

  8. Dwight,

    One of the things that concerns me about this is the belief that if you are a large growing church then you please God and He is glorified. If you are a small or church that isn’t growing … God can’t be happy.

    This is so untrue.

    Our goal is simple: “Bring glory to God by SHARING the gospel with as many people as possible.”

    But we want to believe that glory is only brought to God through embracing and accepting of the gospel. And that’s not true. God is just as glorified in the rejection of the gospel as He is the embracing of it. If that were not true you’d have to write off many of the prophets as failures. You’d have to write off even the Christ himself as a failure because he died with only a handful.

    Our problem is we want to believe that God is only glorified when churches are full to capacity. And when all the programs are up and running correctly. And that’s not true. Instead God is always glorified through the sharing of the gospel to others. Whether they accept it or not.

    God’s not just happy with the large growing churches, but also with the small faithful churches who are doing everything they can to reach the lost. And God bless those churches that are growing and may God bless those churches that are doing everything they can to keep their heads above water.

    I’m very thankful to be a part of a growing church. But when and if it quits growing, I must continue to share the gospel. In that God will be glorified whether it’s accepted or not.

    Make sense?

  9. dwhitsett

    Makes perfect sense! God is glorified when we are Christ to our community. His total aim was to glorify the Father but that led Him to the cross. Jesus never said His mission was to build growing churches.

  10. bjmmckee

    All that has been written is most interesting. I am a member of a very small rural and ‘dying’ church and it seems that nothing we do works! I must say that I LOVE the traditional Sunday morning hour, and I LOVE those old, treasured hymns. They are like a security blanket for me. But, I do understand, though I don’t necessarily agree, with those of younger generations who think that they must have all the ‘stuff’ of their day in church. On the other hand, I grew up in the 50’s, and I would never, ever have thought about expecting rock and roll music at church!! I have thought a lot about the problem of these younger folks, and I don’t think I have any answers. But, I do have a few opinions (which will likely seem from the dark ages to a lot of you).

    I remember that church was (still is) a special place, a place to focus on God and learning about the Bible and how to live as a Christian, how to invest in a relationship with Christ Jesus. I had clean clothes that I wore to church. I was expected to be respectful to the building, the people, and sit quietly during services. I don’t ever remember that I thought church should be any other way. I remember some really good, fun times with various activities and events at church, and I remember fondly a number of the adults who worked with us in various ways.

    In these current times, I think that the world changes so rapidly, it spins out of control. Today’s youth seem to be searching for something they can hold on to. There is a lot to be said about stability. I think young people (including my own children) are looking for a boundary and unwavering guidance. I think they would like to have at least one area in their lives that they know what to expect, where the lines are.

    All of you know the problems with those of younger generations. How do we get them to church? I think that we must start at a much younger age with small group Bible study and mentoring (perhaps around 5th grade), and this should be continued each year. Young people, as most people, want to be a part of a group and this kind of relationship helps build strong, independent thinkers who can resist the main stream secular crowd. Additionally, it is essential that they have positive and good role models. They need careful, methodical and compassonite teaching in regard to the ‘real Jesus’ and a vision of life with Christ.

    Children learn by what they see. Sadly, in our community, far too many children lack parenting and role models.

    Also, many of us in the church were, at one time, consumed with how to make our church grow. How could we revitalize it? What could we offer that would attract others? After much prayer, we realized that our focus should be on developing and nurturing the spiritual journey of ourselves and others. Let the numbers take care of themselves. In the end, it is only that which we do for God that lasts.

    Thank you for your blog, and your insights.

    God Bless!

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