March 18, 2019 • Adam Wyatt
I love good research. Recently, Lifeway published some “groundbreaking” research. The title of the research published hereis titled “Small, Struggling Congregations Fill U.S. Landscape.” According to the research, 70% of churches are subtracting or declining or plateauing. While these percentages have been thrown around since I was in seminary, it is really starting to bother me and, I suspect, it bothers some of you as well.
If you are like me, you pastor a church that, according to metrics, is a plateauing or declining church. We are not growing numerically by leaps and bounds. We have not seen tons of baptisms (which I lament). We have not built any new buildings or added a worship service. We are just an average church in small town USA.
When I got into seminary I was taught (not by all professors!) the lie that in order to change the church landscape, I had to actually do something. And while there is some wisdom in this, I was told that I had to embrace some sort of new program in order to see my church grow. Being young, I feel for this lie. First, it was Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven stuff. Before that it was programs like Evangelism Explosion, or GROW. A recent example of this is Robby Gallaty’s Discipleship material that is making the rounds. I have pastors telling me that if I want my church to grow that I need to embrace this. This is not to say that these programs were bad but it helped feed a monster in my soul and in my ministry that if my church wasn’t growing then I needed to embrace something “new” or something that was working for others because to not embrace a new program was to admit that my church’s lack of growth was my fault.
These programs are fueled by these statistics.
Churches are declining so let’s do something. The problem with that line of thinking is that it depresses pastors like you and me who are already doing something. They are faithfully pastoring their people for the glory of God. That is their program. These stats, while needed, can easily depress those of us who are faithfully preaching the gospel and loving our people. Additionally, these stats feed a few additionally lies. forgotten.
You need to be a CEO instead of a shepherd
Church growth programs feed the lie that you need to simply make decisions instead of shepherd your people. While ministry is full of decisions, deciding whether or not to go down to the nearest Lifeway is the most important one that you can make today, or so they say. What you need to do is buy the newest church fad. But scripture calls us to shepherd our people. (1 Peter 5:2)
Your church is about you
You are the under-shepherd. Act accordingly. When you believe the lie that you must be the single agent of change in a church, you will make an altar of your ministry. Do not do that. You cannot bear that weight.
Your church’s growth is about you.
When we think that our church’s growth is dependent upon us making a good strategic decision, we miss the obvious: our church’s growth is about the Spirit of God doing what only he can do (Acts 2:42-47).
Your church’s health is due to your decisions.
This is not to say that we cannot be responsible for bad decisions but we must understand that if make decisions that end up making our church flourish, it is only because of the Lord’s hand on our ministry. If your church grows towards health it is only because of God. Know your role.
You are not good enough.
When I continue to hear about the 70% of churches that, according to stats, are struggling, I am reminded of the 70% of pastors that are serving these churches. When you get wrapped up in numbers and believe the lies above, you will end up thinking that you are not good enough to be a pastor. You will believe that you are not talented enough; that you are not a good enough preacher or pastor; you will eventually lose hope in your ministry. The problem is this: when you believe your ministry is about your own effort you leave yourself open for failure. We aren’t good enough. That’s why we need Jesus. We aren’t good enough communicators. We need Jesus. We aren’t good enough pastors. We need Jesus. Trust in the Sovereign Lord. Let him guide your ministry.
Your church isn’t worth it.
One of the lies that these numbers tell us is that your church is insignificant. This is not the case. I do not care how small or seemingly insignificant your church is…it is a part of the Body of Christ and has a purpose. Don’t you dare, as a pastor, believe the lie that your church (regardless of statistics say about it) isn’t important.
Your church is a failure.
Dear pastor of one of the 70% of churches in America, we need you. We need you to step up and be the church that God has called you to be. Regardless of what the numbers say, if you are preaching the Gospel and loving your people, you are setting the foundation for a successful ministry. When we build our ministry on the Gospel and cause of Christ, we will be able to see God build a ministry in the life of our church.
Brother pastors, fulfill your ministry: preach the Gospel and shepherd your people. And, one day, let us all do what one of the Reformers, Zinzendorf said: “preach, die, and be forgotten.” After all, its not about us.