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Aging Disobedient Churches

The Atlantic had an interesting article by Jonathan Merritt on November 25 about “America’s Epidemic of Empty Churches.”

Here is a little of what he said: Many of our nation’s churches can no longer afford to maintain their structures—6,000 to 10,000 churches die each year in America—and that number will likely grow. Though more than 70 percent of our citizens still claim to be Christian, congregational participation is less central to many Americans’ faith than it once was.

Any minister can tell you that the two best predictors of a congregation’s survival are “budgets and butts,” and American churches are struggling by both metrics. As donations and attendance decrease, the cost of maintaining large physical structures that are in use only a few hours a week by a handful of worshippers becomes prohibitive.

“Years ago, the neighborhood church was the place many in America got together and, along with local schools, was where they got to know their neighbors. But this model is no longer relevant for many people, so churches have to think creatively about how to help people encounter others and God in their everyday lives.”

Mainline churches have been declining for years, partly because the congregation members continuing to age, and fewer younger families are attending those churches. 

The Minneapolis Star and Tribune reported that the decline of some churches is an opportunity for other churches

The clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is a likely factor behind its membership decline. The ELCA, the largest Lutheran denomination in the country, has seen at least 600 congregations leave since it voted in 2009 to allow for openly gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships.

A major factor in the growth of Evangelical Protestant Christianity has been the group's consistent emphasis on starting new churches.

Most newly formed Evangelical churches are growing because they attract a younger demographic, and have a much more flexible message than the more traditional mainline Protestant churches. Churches in general find themselves encountering cultural dynamics that are not easily navigated. I do believe that the mainline denominational churches are in decline because they are the churches of an older generation. They also are declining because of their compromise with the Christian message. They have traded the gospel of exclusivity for a message of tolerance at all costs. The gospel was never meant to be an easy message nor was it to be a socially engaging icon for peace loving people. The gospel was a bloody cross where torture was used to punish and condemn. There was nothing nice about what they did to Jesus; it was a horrendous murder from which we based the foundation of our faith. 

So when we go to church and listen to homilies about how Christianity is everything but the cross, you are being cheated from hearing the truth. This is why our churches are empty. Who wants to go to a gathering where nothing is spoken about what’s on God’s heart? Listen, mister preacher, who cares what you think? You have an opinion just like the seven billion other people on planet earth, so keep your opinions to yourself we don’t care. Sounds mean right? Wrong, I want to hear a man or a woman speak about God in such a manner that it changes lives by challenging others to follow Jesus. People change because they encounter a living God - not a dead Mass or sermons on love. Dead churches are dead because the people leading them are spiritually dead.  

Jeremiah 4:22 “My people are foolish and do not know me," says the LORD. "They are stupid children who have no understanding. They are clever enough at doing wrong, but they have no idea how to do right!"

Churches that are growing may be just as bad spiritually. They know how to grow an organization of encouragement, but they don’t know how to grow people spiritually. Jesus calls us to sacrifice, to deny ourselves, to pick up our cross, and follow Him. The cross becomes the symbol of our devotion to Jesus, yet we have mega churches whose congregations are always in flux. I was told recently about the attendance percentage of one mega church where people attend once every three weeks. Now I understand that discipleship may not be built upon how often you attend church, but it might say something about how commitment is defined. However, that church is not dying it is growing. That begs the question, “is all growth spiritually healthy?”

Before you get too upset with me about any of this, just remember Jesus was not too inclined to be overly encouraging with the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3. Why?  Because they wanted to grow the way they thought they should, but Jesus had a different idea didn’t He?

The key for me as to whether a church is dying or growing is based upon how we yield to Christ. If you look at Deuteronomy 28:15-68 it tells us that there are curses for disobedience to God. These curses happen because you claim to know God, but you do not follow His commands. Churches today are not exempt from being cursed by God simply because they make a claim to ‘know’ Him. I did not place all the curses here, but this is what it says about disobedience:

However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you.”

In my opinion, this curse applies to churches that do not preach the whole counsel of God and by doing so, bring this curse upon their ministry. 

The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. 

So if you are a minister of the Gospel or a church leader, your inability to see success in your work just might be more about your obedience than your giftedness…just sayin’.

Keeping it honest and truthful…K 

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