Tag Archives: church growth

5 reasons why churches choose not to evangelize

seekingSo why are so many Christians today neglecting or denying the need to evangelize others? Here are some thoughts:

  1. There is a rejection of the “fire and brimstone” preaching of yesteryear. As I’ve said, this is a dangerous pendulum swing. Not unexpected, but dangerous. We don’t solve anything by going from one extreme to another. We’ve got to get back to a middle ground where our people (our leaders!) feel confident in sharing Jesus in a healthy way.
  2. An age of tolerance makes evangelism seem old-fashioned. Evangelism isn’t tolerant. It doesn’t say, “This is my idea, but yours is just as valid.” Evangelism makes claims of exclusivity. Evangelism calls for an embrace of one set of ideals and a rejection of all others. The spirit of tolerance and a zeal for evangelism don’t go together well.
  3. Evangelism creates conflict. It’s easy to hold forth kingdom values that society in general applauds. Few people openly advocate injustice. It’s rare that someone will argue against helping the needy. So many of the kingdom values that our church today wants to promote are values that society in general is in agreement with. It’s undeniably true that more churches began preaching gender justice when Western culture embraced women’s rights; many assume the same thing will happen with homosexuality.
    But evangelism is counter-cultural. If someone suggests that a Muslim needs Jesus, they’re criticized for their intolerance. If we tell our neighbor that they need to live a Christian lifestyle, we’re seen as judgmental. Evangelism creates conflict.
  4. Evangelistic results are hard to predict and hard to quantify. If it takes $100 to dig a water well, you know that $1000 will dig ten. Predictable. Quantifiable. Easy to fit into a budget. Easy to report on afterward.
    There are no formulas for predicting evangelistic success. Conversions can take years. We know that the more people we talk to, the more likely it will be that some will respond to Jesus. But for people who live by numbers and statistics, relief work is always going to be more attractive.
  5. Theological shifts have left church leaders without motivation to reach out. Here’s where we see a divide between many church leaders and your average church members. Many leaders no longer see the atonement as past generations did. Many choose an emphasis on “bringing heaven to earth” over “helping people get to heaven.” Others embrace a universalism that denies that any will be ultimately lost. These shifts and others have left many church leaders looking to spend their time, energy, and resources in other areas rather than evangelism.

We could name many more factors. Maybe you’ll help me. Why do you think so many church leaders today are hesitant to talk about evangelism and reaching out to the lost?

Growing churches reach out purposefully

seekingYesterday I mentioned a survey which was reported on by The Guardian in an article titled “Literal interpretation of Bible ‘helps increase church attendance.'” I’m not impressed with whoever wrote the headline, for I think they missed some of the most important aspects of this study. The study was published online May 24, 2016, in a journal article titled “Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy” in the Review of Religious Research. (I mistakenly said yesterday that it wasn’t coming out until next month.)

Since I have a degree in social sciences, I do need to note that this survey was carried out among mainline churches in the province of Ontario in Canada. It’s not as broad of a study as I initially thought. Still, I find the results enlightening.

I noted yesterday how telling a leadership’s view of evangelism was in determining whether or not a church will grow. The study also notes a real difference in a church’s mission and purpose. In the first place, the author’s noted, “growing church attendees were significantly more likely to agree” that their church has a clear mission and purpose. Secondly, the survey ended with an open-ended question which asked church members to state what their church’s purpose. In growing churches, almost thirty percent put evangelism at the top; in declining churches, this number was less than 10 percent.

The authors noted:

In terms of the purpose of the church, there was a wide range of responses among both growing and declining congregants, but growing church congregants were more likely to identify evangelism as the essential purpose of their church, a result which is again consistent with their greater theological conservatism, specifically their belief in Christian exclusivity (seen in their responses to belief questions about the importance of encouraging non- Christians to become Christians and the equivalence of world religions).

Since I noted above the limitations of this study, I should include this quote as well:

This finding that growing churches place more emphasis on evangelism is consistent with the work of other researchers who have identified evangelism as a statistically significant factor in church growth (Bibby and Brinkerhoff 1973, 1983, Bibby and Brinkerhoff 1994; Bouma 1979; Hadaway 1978; Nelson and Bromley 1988; Donahue and Benson 1993).

If a church wants to grow it needs to be reaching out to lost people. This outreach needs to be intentional and obvious. The church needs to see this as one of its major reasons for existing. If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, that he is the only way to the Father, then we have a responsibility to share that with others. We do so not only to see growth in the church, but to help those around us not only benefit from Kingdom values, but become members of the Kingdom.

Does your leadership prioritize reaching the lost?

seekingI’m reaching that age where I’m transitioning from criticizing what the church has been to criticizing what the church is becoming. Actually, I’m right at that sweet spot where I can criticize both!

Seriously, one thing that worries me about today’s church and tomorrow’s leadership is a de-emphasis of the concept of salvation. It may just be a pendulum swing that will eventually correct itself, but I know many church leaders who aren’t really concerned about helping people hear about Jesus. Let’s clothe them, feed them, provide housing, and send them on their way. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but if we look closely, we have to admit that many church leaders are uncomfortable with the idea that non-believers need salvation.

Don’t believe me? Many people are talking about a research project that is being published in next month’s Review of Religious Research. The study shows that more conservative churches are growing more than their more liberal counterparts; in today’s Links To Go I refer to an article about that.

But that’s not what caught my attention. Here’s the survey question that caught my eye:

“It is very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians”

In churches that report their numbers to be dwindling, only 50% of respondents agreed with this statement. None of them marked “Strongly Agree”! In growing churches, 99% of the leaders surveyed agree, with 77% strongly agreeing.

Here’s another:

“Only those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ will receive eternal life”

In declining churches, none of the leaders marked “Strongly Agree” with this statement. 6% agreed. In growing churches, 77% of leaders agreed or strongly agreed. I would admittedly nuance my agreement and mark “Moderately Agree,” for I believe that a sovereign God can still save anyone he chooses. Yet the Bible is pretty clear in saying that Jesus is the only way to the Father.

Folks, if your leadership doesn’t believe that non-believers need to be taught about Jesus, your church is doomed. No need to pull punches on that one. Your church is doomed.

Church Inside Out: Talking about discipling

CIOIn Church Inside Out, I present some thoughts on the discipling process. It’s my conviction that we have far too often focused on making converts instead of making disciples. That misplaced emphasis weakens the church and hinders her growth. Here are some excerpts from the book that talk about discipling:

The command is to make disciples. We do that by baptizing those who believe in Jesus, but we also do that by teaching them to obey the teachings of Jesus. In the journey to discipleship, baptism is a critical step, but it’s not the final step. (p.130)

We come alongside new Christians and share our own experiences. We patiently answer questions and gently offer correction. Just as we give toddlers room to make mistakes and grow in understanding, so we extend grace to new church members as they begin their Christian life.
What we do expect to see is progress. It won’t always be linear; there will be ups and downs, advances and setbacks. But new Christians should be growing in faith, in understanding, and in holiness, or something is wrong with their spiritual development. As older siblings in Christ, it’s our task to protect and provide for these young Christians, always pointing them to Jesus as the standard we seek to live up to. (p.132)

We have to pass on a sense of mission. We’re not just sinners rescued from the fires of hell. We are God’s ambassadors, calling people to reconcile themselves to God. We are God’s workmanship, created for good works in Christ. We are a kingdom of priests, bridging the gap between a confused world and the loving Creator. (p.133)

The process of acculturation in the kingdom of God is typically called discipling. In most churches, we do this through Bible classes and sermons. There’s an emphasis on information and knowledge. Although those things are important, they are rarely enough. People learn by hearing; they also learn by seeing and doing.
The best discipling approaches will offer information, but they will also allow the new disciple to work by the side of a mentor, a discipler. He will see what is done and have a chance to try to practice what he’s seen. (p.171)

I also think it’s important to help new Christians understand what they are reading. It sounds romantic to say that we can just give people a Bible, and they’ll be able to learn everything they need to know. In practice, it doesn’t work that way. I look at the story in Nehemiah 8, where the Levites were having to explain the meaning of the Law to the people who were hearing it read. (Nehemiah 8:8) I look at the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, where he bluntly told Philip that he couldn’t understand what he was reading in Isaiah unless someone explained it to him. (Acts 8:31) People need help understanding what the Bible says. (p.176)

As we become citizens of God’s kingdom, there’s a similar process of learning and growing. Where we were once members of some nation of this world, we are now citizens of heaven. Our loyalties are to God’s kingdom, and we renounce all other allegiances. We learn how to live as a citizen, learning the history, the laws, and the community structure. We do our best to honor the new position we hold, that of a member of God’s family and God’s kingdom. (p.180)

This concept gets overlooked sometimes: the body grows as each part does its work. The discipling process is vital to the life of the church because the body won’t be built up unless each member is fulfilling his role. The church can’t be what it’s supposed to be until we help each member live out his mission. (p.191)

Our focus determines our outlook

In yesterday’s Links To Go, I included a post from Jay Guin’s blog. He did an excellent series on the mission of the church, and this post was one of the conclusion articles. He made a point that I want to repeat. In talking about the lack of emphasis on personal transformation in our churches, Jay observes:

Here are some quick and easy tests:

  • When your members have more tenure in your church, do they become more entitled and demanding or less?
  • Are your older members harder to please and appease than your younger members?
  • When your members are unhappy, do they voice their unhappiness by economic/power means (withholding money; threatening to leave) or as family (through conversation; persuasion)?
  • When a difficult change is suggested, do the members respond in terms of how this change will affect the members? Or how it will affect the people they plan to invite to church, have a Bible study with, or serve in the name of Jesus?

Excellent point. I differ with Jay as to the misplaced emphasis. He’s says this happens because of the emphasis on personal salvation, which is seen as being achieved through membership and attendance. I would argue that it’s because we’ve reduced Christianity to a restoration of the early church, with a focus on practice. I do agree that what’s lacking is an emphasis on transformation into the image of Christ. Rather than encourage people to become more Christlike, we encourage them to be better rule keepers. Too many people in our churches know the five acts of worship better than they know the Beatitudes.

If we spend a lifetime focused on rule keeping, we’ll end up dominated by three things:

  1. A critical nature
  2. A contentious spirit
  3. Fear

If we spend a lifetime focused on becoming like Jesus, we’ll end up dominated by three things:

  1. Love
  2. Forgiveness
  3. Peace

I know which I prefer.