Several years ago I can remember reading the following: “75% of American churches are dying, 23% are plateaued (by taking people from the dying churches), and only 2% of American churches are growing.”
Having worked for three decades in the American church, mostly in attempting to rescue dying churches, I have found four common attitudes in sick churches.
- The people are Selfish
Churches are simply people in a local geographic location. Every church is made up of people in various stages of personal and spiritual development (1 Corinthians 3.1-3). When churches are filled with “jealousy and strife” there is evidence that congregation lives their life in “the flesh and [is] behaving only in a human way.”
- The people are Ingrown
A church begins to die when the members of the church stop seeking the salvation of their family and friends. As Len Sweet says in So Beautiful, “Your baptism is your commissioning as a missionary. We are both ministers and missionaries. Every disciple has a ministry to the body and a mission to the world (31). Sick churches simply don’t bring their friends to worship, they don’t share their faith in the workplace and they don’t encourage people to become members.
- The people are Critical
Corinth was an example of a sick church – as evidenced by Paul’s repeated attempts to bring it back to health through visits and letters. At one point, after great exertion, he writes, “For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder (2 Corinthians 12:20, ESV). Recent polling has revealed that 50% of ministers would leave the ministry if they had another way of earning an income! 85-90% of pastors said their greatest problem is dealing with problem people and disgruntled people. When a church eviscerates the pastor’s heart, decline is sure to follow.
- The people are Kill-joys
Faith is a bench mark for spiritual health within the body of Christ. Faith is risky, apart from a close and personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. Sick churches promote people by popularity, which often means bypassing the Biblical admonitions for character and spiritual maturity. Then, when a ministry leader or the pastor comes along with a God-lead mission, those in leadership start out with their worldly heart and ask, “How much will it cost?” or “Will the insurance cover it?” In little over 10 minutes the wind of the Spirit has been sucked out of the sails of faith and all hope and promise is drained away in a barrage of banality and carnality. Those seeking to follow the leading of the Spirit soon drift away seeking a healthy climate of God-followers and decline continues in the unhealthy church.
Sick churches fill our land these days. Restoring health to such a situation involves correcting these four attitudes. In our next blog, we will discuss how healthy churches exhibit a different set of attitudes.
Excerpted from Dr. Smith’s new book in process, “The Tantrum-Driven Church.”