On behalf of church leaders everywhere, I’m sorry.
The American church isn’t growing in most areas. In some areas the growth that is happening is slow and often times fueled by births. However, the death rate and rate of abandonment in churches is overcoming the birth rate and evangelism rate.
As I’ve been thinking about such a statistic, I’ve realized that this is largely our fault – the leaders in your churches. So, I’m sorry.
We teach weekly about the need for salvation for all. We tell people what the scripture says about sharing their faith. We show the theory behind the great commission, and yet we decline in numbers as a movement.
We evangelize. We bring people to the churches. We study with them in small groups and personal bible studies, and we even bring people to the Lord! But these conversions cannot overcome the rates of evacuation from deaths and people leaving the church.
As a teacher I should know better. I have been taught the most effective way to train people. Yet I fall into the same rut of the status-quo church expectations of mere teaching and preaching. I try to lead by example, but this is done at a distance. And, in effort to not offend anyone, I try not to put people on the spot as often as possible.
Yet I know that growth doesn’t come from mere information gathering or even casual observation but from intentional training. Growth comes when I invite someone to walk with me and see, up close, what I do. Growth comes when I begin to pass responsibilities on to the ones I’ve called to walk with me. Growth comes when I stop talking and doing and let others take on roles in spreading the Gospel as I encourage, guide, and shepherd.
Jesus walked with his disciples for around three years. How many preachers have taught the same people for over twenty years yet the churches are stagnant or in decline?
Jesus allowed his disciples to walk closely with him – watching him in his every movement and doing life with them that they may emulate him. How many church leaders don’t involve church members in their everyday life? How many church leaders are satisfied with their friends (many times often other church leaders), so the main part of the body wanders aimlessly with no physical examples?
Jesus gave responsibility and authority to his disciples a little at a time. This charge wasn’t by volunteer – they volunteered to follow Him. This charge was a delegation, an encouraged expectancy hoping and watching for the disciple to grow through personal experience. How many churches are full of people, but it is expected that only a handful have the talents and abilities to continue the work of the church as it has always been done? How many church people have been turned away when they desired to volunteer because some leader wasn’t sure of their ability? How many church people have given up volunteering because of leaders that have to maintain control in spite of a lack of success or sometimes even effort?
Jesus eventually left his disciples in charge to make new disciples. He didn’t stick around and micromanage them. How many church leaders will only allow someone else to take over a ministry if it is done in the way THEY did it? How many church people don’t feel empowered by the leadership?
Dear church, I’m sorry.
So what can we do to fix this? How can we become a church that thrives and grows again? We do so by following the example of Jesus beginning with our church leaderships. We walk with people and invite them to join us in ministry. We model for them. We mentor them through encouraged involvement and responsibility. When the time is right – before we are dead – we turn responsibility over to the next generation and/or encourage new activity and ministry within the church. We actively seek to multiply the work God is doing through us by raising up disciples of Jesus who learn to walk in His ways by following the ways of His followers.
Learning can happen through listening, but learning and growing and maturing happens most often through modeling, mentoring and motivating. These are actions. The church is to be on the move, not stationary. The people are to join in the work of God by actively seeking to spread the kingdom daily in their lives.
If you don’t feel that your church leadership is mentoring you in this way, ask them. Encourage them to take you under their wing. Watch what they do. If they follow Jesus, follow them. If not, look for a mentor who does. Then, as you grow in confidence in the Holy Spirit who lives in you, you go be the leader, the evangelist, the minister, the missionary, the disciple.