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7 Inconvenient Truths for Churches (the Final 4)

May 22, 19
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Part 2 of 2

Studies point to several disruptive trends that will force a reevaluation of America’s location-centric definition of church:

  • Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994) are less loyal to institutions than prior generations
  • A small fraction of millennials attend religious services on a weekly basis
  • Convenient, online sources of sermons, scripture lessons and worship music are widely available
  • Believers are forming communities and connecting through social networks across distant geographies
  • Our consumer culture drives church hopping (shopping) and exchanges of dollars for value received (and giving to churches is declining)

The majority of Millennials still self-identify as spiritual or Christian, so they desire fellowship with like-minded individuals, but increasingly outside of a corporate church setting.

In light of those trends, it is more challenging today for a pastor to rejuvenate an aging congregation and keep up with rising expenses of a brick-and-mortar facility.  Those pressures tempt leaders to compromise the vision God gave them when they first received their call to the pulpit.  Most never imagined that one day they would:

  • Advertise to draw attention to worldly “competitive advantages” – comfort, programs, buildings, messages and music – to attract visitors
  • Define next steps and progress toward Christian maturity and discipleship around levels of involvement in the church (e.g. joining, serving, giving and inviting others)
  • Push engagement in church activities more frequently than engagement with Jesus

In many cases getting more involved in “church as we know it” does lead people into a closer relationship with Christ, but we must be careful not to make access to personal discipleship contingent on first jumping through church hoops.  Ironically, in Scripture those steps are reversed – people develop a deep relationship with Jesus first and then out of obedience and love for Him decide to engage in serving and giving.  Following the Lord’s church growth plan entails defying America’s prevailing “Invite, Involve and Invest” model, which is designed around building institutions and not disciples.  Desperation to close the membership “deal”, hoping new families will sign on the dotted line, is understandable in this age of fewer frequent attenders and increasing availability of alternatives for discipleship, fellowship and worship – but can undermine biblical mandates like the Great Commission.

Today, let’s continue laying out the 7 “Inconvenient Truths” we began discussing last week, concepts glossed over by many pastors who develop selective amnesia to survive an era in which roughly 80% of churches are in decline or have plateaued…

Truth #4 – Growth is Often a “Red Flag”

Why It’s Biblical

Jesus refused to entertain casual observers or interested bystanders for very long.  He preached His toughest sermon at the height of His public popularity.  The health of a church is not a measure of its organizational characteristics but the sum of the health of its members.  Jesus chased away those unwilling to believe, commit or change.  Revelation warned the Church at Laodicea not to tolerate those who remain lukewarm.  Paul regularly urged purity within the church, instructing leaders to drive those persisting in sin from their midst.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Have you ever seen a pastor intentionally preach a congregation down to a smaller number?  Do you know a church whose growth strategy is to shrink?  Is it common for those who refuse to walk away from a sinful lifestyle to be asked to leave the premises?  How many large churches are blowing up the org chart and decentralizing (e.g. into small discipleship-oriented groups designed to reach neighborhoods throughout a city)?  Those are biblical imperatives yet would be scoffed at if presented to the elder board of a “thriving” or “struggling” church.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

As a result of challenging members to eat right (e.g. dive into scripture) and work out (e.g. practice the Great Commission), the collective church will lose weight – and get healthier.  Shedding unwanted pounds is a key to better health for many Americans – and for churches as well.  Building into a committed few is the Lord’s math – multiplication rather than addition.  Perennial fence-sitters and church consumers who will never give their lives fully to Jesus, but simply shop for the best “customer experience”, do immeasurable damage to the body of Christ.  They poison healthier parts of the body.  Their presence tempts pastors to make efforts to retain and appease them to avoid losing members and income, depriving mature Christians of the “deeper truths” Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians.

Truth #5 – Christianity Won’t Make Life “Better”

Why It’s Biblical

Following Jesus is the sole source of joy, peace and hope – but is unlikely to improve your life’s circumstances.  A prayer, care and share lifestyle may even invite more trials and challenges:

  • Jesus’ disciples were martyred
  • Those living a lot like Jesus tend to attract Satan’s attention (e.g. see Job)
  • You’re looking for trouble, running toward the storm, if you’re actively sharing Jesus with a world bent on living for Self and seeing faith as foolishness
  • God repeatedly (and lovingly) disciplines His children throughout Scripture
  • The Lord allows for pain, suffering and even death to show His glory (e.g. man born blind, Lazarus)

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Inadequate answers to the question, “How can God let bad things happen to ‘good’ people?” keeps many people from coming to faith.  Telling visitors at your next worship service that bad things may be even more likely to happen to them the “better” they get is unlikely to fill your church’s pews or coffers.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

It’s not just the oft-maligned “prosperity” gospel that ignores this inconvenient truth.  Any teaching of a correlation between your life’s circumstances and what you do for a church is akin to Job’s friends who the Lord condemned for advising that bad begets bad and good begets good.  God doesn’t repay because He owes us nothing.  A higher perspective is that we’d rather make Satan mad than God mad – and we’ll risk the consequences of Satan considering us a threat.  The great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 willingly endured terrible hardships in this life because they looked ahead to eternal rewards.  Imagine how your church would grow if you could count a handful of “great heroes of faith” among your members.

Truth #6 – Church Wasn’t Intended for Non-Believers

Why It’s Biblical

The biblical meaning of the word “church” does not refer to a place, but to people.  Paul describes the church as those “baptized”, “sanctified”, and a “holy people” forming “one body”.  Church is an assembly of those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is meant to be comprised of believers who are saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, undefiled by those not yet declared righteous.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Redefining “church” around a building and pastor ignores this inconvenient truth in order to promote church growth in two ways:

  1. Convincing Believers to Come Back – Not burdening churchgoers with responsibility for evangelism and discipleship, hoping that lowering expectations might encourage them to return next Sunday
  2. Convincing Non-Believers to Try it Out – Requesting that members invite their non-believing family, friends and coworkers (those who don’t worship the Lord) to a worship service, increasing the overall number in attendance next Sunday

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

Consider the Kingdom impact of reverting to the biblical definition of “church”.  It would mean equipping and mobilizing every congregant to share Christ with those in their circle of influence.  If each of them adopted their intended role as disciples who make disciples, commissioned by Jesus Himself, then they could invite those they personally led to Jesus to join them for authentic, corporate worship.

Truth #7 – Repentance Isn’t Optional

Why It’s Biblical

It’s interesting that Jesus’ first messages at the inception of His ministry began with a call to repentance.  John the Baptist, Peter and Paul came out of the gates preaching repentance as well.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Yet “repent” is a four letter word today, rarely heard from America’s pulpits.  Because there are so many non-believers within our churches, pastors hesitate to bring up repentance or properly portray it as a mandate.  People hate change and for most non-Christians repentance requires significant alterations in lifestyles, thinking, habits and actions.  So pastors ignore this inconvenient truth to avoid a mass exodus.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

Recognition of one’s sin, sorrow over sin and confessing sin are essential in coming to Christ – an intense desire for forgiveness and commitment to turn from sin.  Failure to address and confront sin (out of fear of alienating those with no desire to stop sinning) may prevent discomfort and increase attendance but misses what Jesus and His disciples saw as the key to leading people to salvation (i.e. repentance), inhibits the floodgates from being opened to God’s amazing grace, and diminishes the holiness of His Church.

It’s Your Turn

Are any of these inconvenient truths evident within your church?  Can you think of other biblical truths that churches today conveniently ignore?

1 Comment

Bill Rawlins  June 1, 2019 at 10:52 am

The church today is spending all its tithe money on newer and bigger buildings. What happened to the widows and orphans (James 1)? What happened to the poor and sick and those in prison (Matthew 25:31+)?
We (the church) have become the spectators in the big marketing show. The churches have toned down the message and turned on the fun machine to keep the spectators happy.

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