Many churches, large and small, say that they want to be inclusive and practice “hospitality,” which is defined as “love of strangers,” but something gets in the way, and 85 to 90% of churches have plateaued or are in decline. What are the friction points that cause a church to lose momentum, become complacent and lose their passion for reaching out to the unchurched and the de-churched?
While Jesus made it clear that He is going to build His church, till it impacts the ends of the earth, leading people from all nations to be His disciples, many churches lose focus on their primary purpose from Jesus, and decline follows. Keeping people motivated to obey Jesus’ command is not easy, in fact it is impossible. It only happens as Jesus is doing His transforming work, His incarnation work in human lives.
Warren Wiersbe wrote a book called, “On Being a Servant,” with a couple of great quotes…
Methods are many, principles are few, methods always change, principles never do.
Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels to the glory of God.
We are not manufacturers of ministry, we are simply conduits as God does His work in and through us.
Philippians 2: 13: “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
There are times when, as a Lead Pastor, I felt like I was pulling a freight train, trying to get people in the church to care about the least and the lost. My solace is that there were times when many refused to follow Jesus when he was here in the flesh – John 6:66.
So what friction points keep the church from moving forward by faith?
This is the feeling that the church is owned by church families. No one wants to honestly evaluate a church staff member because the staff person has a family member on the Board. A family member is out of work, so hire that person on staff. The effectiveness of the church is not as important as taking care of a family member in need.
All church socials are a high priority because the church is more about having a family reunion than about inviting others into the family. There is a natural drift toward caring about insiders more than outsiders, becoming exclusive rather than inclusive.
A spirit of nepotism causes short sighted vision, an inability to look beyond the extended family members. Church is limited by the number of people known by the church families and by whether an outsider will ever be accepted by the insider families. This church functions like a fortress, trying to keep evil out, and all outsiders are treated with skepticism before being accepted and embraced.
Those who think that the church functions best as one big family are wrong. The best networkers in the church still do not know everyone, especially as it grows to any significant size. Even in a small church of 100, everyone doesn’t know who is sitting on the back pew. Even name tags doesn’t solve this problem. We have to understand that the most important thing is not that everyone knows everyone, but that everyone is known by God.
This is why small groups are so important in the church. This is the way that everybody can be known by somebody. It is the way of being inclusive, making space for those who are new.
2. Power Brokers
Unfortunately in the church there are those who missed their calling to be Political Campaign Managers, because they are so good at “smear campaigns.” There are those who refuse to practice Matthew 18:15 and deal with conflict Biblically, they would rather send emails to the Board or wait to stand up and start a fight at an annual business meeting. These are the power brokers in the church who don’t necessarily hold positions of authority, but make sure that their voices are heard, whether or not it is Biblical and it causes great grief to any pastor.
This misuse of power inevitably hamstrings the church, crippling and disruptive to forward movement.
It only takes one person like this on a board to create friction that begins to slow things down. It is why the Bible is so clear about the seriousness of confronting these kinds of individuals… (Proverbs 6:19, Titus 3:10). It is why the Bible says that Elders are not to be “self willed” (Titus 1:7).
3. The pastor is expected to be the miracle man.
As the church grows there are more weddings and more funerals and more hospital calls and more meetings and more visitors to visit and churches that expect the pastor to do it all will see the church plateau because every pastor has limits. Heaven forbid that the pastor fail to provide incredible sermons every week, or have struggles with a son or daughter.
Small churches are like mom and pop grocery stores, they are limited to what one couple can do. Supermarkets are organized differently, responsibilities are delegated into departments, the load is shared.
For a church to continue growing, there needs to be clear and realistic expectations for the pastor. If it is required for the pastor to add more hours to the workweek, plateau and decline is not far off in the future.
Failing to delegate pastoral care responsibilities has caused many churches to inevitably lose momentum. Here again, small groups are a great benefit, because much of pastoral care takes place in a small group setting where people are loving one another to within an inch of their lives.
Charles Swindoll wrote somewhere, “tradition is the live faith of those now dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of those now alive.” I think he has a point! Traditionalism breeds the seven last words of the church, “we have always done it this way.”
Traditionalism is not just plaguing traditional church, it can affect any church.
Traditionalism looks back, longing for the past, the glory days of yesteryear. But that takes no faith and no vision. Faith is about writing history in advance. It is about pleasing God today (Hebrews 11:6). Solomon, the wisest man on earth in his day, wrote,
Ecclesiastes 7:10 (NIV) Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.
A compelling vision is required for pulling people out of complacency and dry traditionalism into a preferable future that brings glory to God.
5. Swamp Activities
Rivers are powerful because they are narrow and deep. You never find a power plant built in a swamp. The natural tendency in churches is to spread out, adding more activities and more programs and more options, thinking that more is better, but that is rarely the case. Complexity will inevitably lead to loss of power and momentum.
We must seek to accomplish more by doing less, working smarter, not harder. By doing a few things well, and focusing the energies of everyone on a few things, like making disciples, there is greater movement forward as everyone is headed in the same direction. Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger write some strategic things about this in “Simple Church.” By nature everything tends toward randomness and complexity, and it takes discipline to overcome that kind of drift in the church that naturally will lead to plateau and decline if left unchecked.
Much of what I have shared comes from my own pain as I attempted to pastor a church through these difficult issues… I have blood on my tunic! 🙂 So while it is easy to identify these friction points, it is not easy remove them and regain momentum that has long been forgotten.
At the end of the day, we are simply stewards of what God has entrusted to us as we lead His church. We must always remind ourselves that it is not about us, because apart from Jesus, we can do nothing that has eternal consequences (John 15:5).
Psalm 127:1a (NIV) — Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.
What would you add?