By Dr. Jim Grant
March 17, 2015
What is the answer to decline and death of a continuing multitude of churches across all denominations in America?
Now that you have the full question; I wonder what you have heard is the answer? Recently I have been fixated on what could possibly be done to turn the tide for Churches.
I recent heard that churches are closing their doors at a rate of 4000-6000 annually. I have heard that upwards to 91% of all churches are plateaued, declining or dying. I read that the halo effect when conducting surveys has distorted the true numbers of committed Christ followers. There is debate even among researchers as to whether the church is really dying.
If we couple with these facts the increase in crime, immorality, apathy and just plain rebellion against authority in our cities; it seems that America has a crisis on its hands.
What the answer is depends on who is seen as the cause; some are toting a political cause to the nation’s woes. Others are blaming the bent toward immorality such as homosexual marriages as the problem. Still others would look at the Church itself as the problem.
Reports outside of “Western” Christianity do not indicate Christianity as dying. While there is great conflict in other regions of the world, with many becoming martyrs; faith in Christ is anything but dead. The Church is the Bride of Christ; He said “He would build the Church and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:18] I do agree that the Church will not be gone from the pages of history. However I do believe that there is a cleansing of the Church; a winnowing of the wheat and chaff.
I put forth a number of suggested answers based on the theory that the Churches are the problem. Please note I said churches are the problem. It is no secret that the church has gone through many changes recently, not all for the good. The desire for “entertainment” seems to be the order of the day. Evangelism efforts are minimal, with upwards to 70% of all churches adding no one to the Kingdom of God. I often tell my church “there is too much world in the church and not enough church in the world.”
I have agonized over the condition of evangelical churches. Many in the mainline denominations have waned for years, but now that the problem [closing churches] has moved into the Southern Baptist ranks, many are seeking answers.
One answer could be Reformation. There are some that think that the Church is on the cusp of a Reformation like in the days of Martin Luther. It can be argued that the Church has lost its relevance and identity and that a full blown Reformation is the answer.
Another possibly answer is Replanting. Replanting is basically placing another congregation in a failed church. This answer could also be coupled together with the emphasis that continues to grow of planting as many new churches as possible. If the hope is plant more churches than the number that is closing; this would not be an answer but a soothing of the conscience. There is an attrition rate even within new church starts; estimates indicates that in five years after a church start, a little over half will still be open. Replanting a church in a failed area is usually done with a different ethnicity. While this might sound good, to put a beginning work in a failed area, to include giving it an old building doesn’t address the problem.
A third possibility is Return. Many books and articles have promoted the soon Return of Christ as the problem. This view holds that all the problems in the world [America] that this indicates Christ’s soon return. This has taken a stronghold on many in the Churches; especially the elderly. I am saddened that more people in American churches are looking for the second coming of Christ, while others outside Western Christianity are waiting to hear of Christ’s first coming. It is easy to think of the church at Thessalonica, and how many had quit their jobs just to wait for the soon return of Jesus. It cannot be denied that Jesus’ return in eminent, but still that is no reason to quit working.
A fourth work called Revitalization is put forth as a viable solution. Revitalization is the work of the Holy Spirit to renew the Churches who have languished in the more recent past. It requires that there was a time when the church was alive and accomplishing the Kingdom of God in their community. There is a problem with this solution; with such a high number of churches needing immediate revitalization; where do we get the people for the work? If there is only a select few for church planting and revitalization, it seems like a losing battle. Revitalization is what I believe was the work of Jesus in His writings to the Seven Churches of Revelation. Once thriving ministries, these churches were warned to “repent and remember,” and to “to wake up and strengthen that which remains.” The church then and now were experiencing gross immorality and heresy. The churches appeared to relax their faith and befriend the World around them. This is not new, for Israel did the same in the Promised Land. Both examples failed, Israel went into captivity and many of the churches, although warned – died.
Lastly, there is the option of Revival. Revival is for the Church, not the Lost. One familiar with Church history in the Western world will recall the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings, along with the Welsh Revival of 1904-5. The condition of the churches and the community were deplorable. It took men like Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, The Wesley brothers, Evan Roberts and Jeremiah Lanphier, to bring such a spiritual renewal. Western Christian is a mirror of the conditions then. It is obvious that America needs a revival. I have a saying; revive the people revitalize the church.
In conclusion, it is this writers opinion that Western Christianity needs both Revival in the Pews/Pulpits and People. But it also needs Revitalization in the Church. There must be clear preaching of the Gospel, there must be brokenness in the people. But there also needs to be a return to being the Church of God, not culture.
The Churches are dying because they are filled with dead, carnal Christians. Judgment must begin at the house of God. The world is the way it is because Churches/Christians are the way they are! When we quit crying out about everything else being the problem and admit our own sin, repentance and restoration become real. A restored, revived and revitalized church will change the world we live in.
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