Well, the New Year has officially begun. With the New Year come new resolutions. Some of us have decided to lose weight, get in shape, or whatever we didn’t do last year. The New Year gives us hope that things can change for the better. The New Year gives us an excuse to do what we didn’t do last year.
Just as individuals look to start fresh with the New year, churches do, too. One of the questions on the minds of many a church leader this planning season is “Why aren’t we growing?” Many answers will be proffered. We’ve got the wrong worship style. We need a different evangelism program. We should change our name. We were growing when we had such and such a ministry. On and on the excuses go. Some are good. Some are valid. Most are incomplete.
I’d like to suggest another reason for the fact that most evangelical churches aren’t growing. Our people aren’t evangelizing!
In many churches, the congregation expects the Protestant priesthood — the staff — to be the ones reaching out to the lost. They should be. But, they shouldn’t be alone. On the flip side, our ministers expect their people to be sharing their faith with the lost. They should be. But, they shouldn’t be alone. Nearly everyone in the church seems to expect that the next great evangelism training program will solve this problem. It won’t because it can’t.
The problem is much bigger than flawed expectations and far more systemic than most admit. Our churches aren’t growing because our people aren’t evangelizing because:
They are sinning. The church has been given a clear, non-negotiable directive to reach out to the lost with the Good News. By referring to Matthew 28:19-20 as the “Great Commission” we may have unintentionally blunted the force of Christ’s message. In this passage the church is commissioned as Christ’s missionaries but Christ’s words are more than an inauguration of the missionary few. Christ commands His followers, all of them, to make disciples as they go out into the world. Our people have seemingly missed that point. This is the “Great Commandment” not the "great suggestion." To disobey the command of the Master is a sin and needs to be treated as such.
They are insenstive. Many in our pews aren’t sharing their faith because they really don’t care about the spiritual fate of their neighbors and co-workers. “Oh, yes, I do,” they’ll protest. But, if they really did, they’d be telling more people about Jesus. Instead, they wave as they walk by. They pay for their groceries. They pick up the children from school. And, they say nary a word about the only hope for mankind. Remember, actions speak louder than words. The actions of most Christians say, “I’ve got mine. You get yours.”
They are sinners. Back in the evangelical church’s heyday, those halcyon years of the 40s and 50s when our churches were exploding, church growth came easy. New people flooded through the doors. They came. They joined. Their children grew up. And … our churches grew stagnant.
What happened? Some “experts” point to the changing culture. Others blame changing theologies. Maybe we need to blame ourselves. Maybe, we were so passionate about seeing our churches grow that they grew with the wrong kind of people. Maybe, we admitted into membership people who were interested in religion but weren’t really Christians. Maybe, our church rolls and our church pews are filled with people who aren’t regenerate. Maybe that explains why they’re not sharing their faith. They don’t have a faith to share.
After all, real Christians ought to be concerned about the spiritual condition of those around them. When they are, they’ll do something about it. And, real Christians don’t want to disobey their Lord and Savior. They seek to be obedient. They repent when they’re not. They change their ways not once a year but immediately. Real Christians share their faith because their faith is real.
So, this New Year, let’s make some churchwide resolutions. Let’s resolve to be faithful to Christ’s commands. Let’s resolve to be more compassionate toward the lost and more passionate about their salvation. Let’s resolve to reach out to the unbelieving beginning with those in our pews. Let’s resolve to glorify our King by telling everyone about Him.
Then, and only then, will our churches begin to grow the right way.
Peter Beck (Ph.D. Southern Seminary) is assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina and a former Senior Pastor. Dr. Beck also writes at his Website, Living to God.