Thursday, September 14, 2023

Church Decline

Whenever we start talking about church growth and branching out our family tree, some folks are quick to hold up their hands and say, wait a minute. If we do all this branching out, what happens to the church that we've established? What happens to our building and our name and our pastoral staff and our structure and our programs? 

It's the same as the folks who are asking whose house we're going to have Christmas at when grandma dies. 

Too many churches are afraid of losing the way they've done things for so long. They're afraid of having to move buildings, of having to downsize what they do inside their walls, of having to look outside for fundraising, of all kinds of things that might signal a church in decline. 

Oh, no! A church in decline. It's the one thing that churches seem to fear the most. Are we dying?

And churches will often do a lot of desperate things to keep from dying, or from looking like they are. Ironically, it is in trying to save themselves that most churches end up putting the final nail in their coffin. They lose their entire sense of who they are, of who they've always been and try to become something they're not...or they cling so tightly to things that need to change that they end up going down with the ship. 

There also comes a point when a church feels like it's dying that you can tell that it is more concerned about itself, really, than it is about Jesus. If your church disbanded tomorrow, the question you really have to ask yourself is whether your community would lose more than just a place to worship on Sundays. Would your collapse pull on the little threads of Jesus that you've woven into your community...or have you even woven any? And if you've woven those threads, as He called you to do, won't those threads stay strong in the tapestry even without your building? 

The "death" of a church building isn't always a bad thing if the folks inside it have done what they were called to outside of it. It just spreads Jesus around a little more and takes Him to new places...instead of bringing new faces to an old place. 

But most churches aren't really in danger of dying in this way. Most churches - okay, healthy churches - can do a lot of branching out and growing without ever posing a significant threat to their core.

Because churches invest themselves so much (so often) in their structure, they have a solid foundation. They have a solid root system. At least, they should. As such, a healthy church can support a lot of branches. 

When we talk about the passions that persons in your congregation have, we have to understand that not all of those passions take them outside of our walls. And we're thankful for that. That's how we have our pastoral staff in the first place; it's also how we continue to operate most of our programs. Some of the hearts of our folks are going to draw them deeper into the church, and that's going to make sure (ideally) that our church continues to function and to grow and to branch out and to support those branches for a long time. 

Sometimes, we even find that someone whose passions look like they are burning outside the church has an even more fruitful ministry when we work it inside the church. You think, maybe, you're starting up a program for single parents, whatever that ministry looks like for you, and suddenly, you realize the overwhelming number of single parents in your own pews who are using that ministry and it doesn't take much to shift that ministry from the bulletin board at the community center to the inside flap of the church bulletin and suddenly, it becomes another really strong branch off your core that is able to support a lot more branches. 

So don't fear church growth because you think it might lead to church decline. In some cases, it does, but that's okay - it was never about our churches anyway. At least, it wasn't supposed to be. (It's always about Jesus. Right?) But in most cases, our churches - healthy churches - are strong enough to do both: stay and grow. 

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