What does a nonessential church look like? Certain commonalities exist among those churches that are not reaching the next generation. In the next section we will describe seven sins of dying churches that are the driving factors behind losing the generational battle.
Seven Sins of Dying Churches
The age-old adage rings true for churches: if you are not moving forward, then you are moving backward. Stagnation equates to dying. Your church may look the same week in and week out, but if you are not winning the next generation for Christ, then you are losing the battle. We will categorize some of the more prevalent transgressions that dying churches commit. These seven sins are not mutually exclusive and are often interconnected. The list is not exhaustive, but we almost always observe some combination of these sins in dying churches.
Sin 1 - Doctrine Dilution
Certain absolutes found within Scripture are so crucial that a Christian should be willing to sacrifice his or her life for them… Teaching anything less than the absolute truths in Scripture will make the younger generation feel betrayed when they learn that a large gap exists between what the Bible really says and what they were taught in church.
Sin 2- Loss of Evangelistic Passion
Dying churches have little evangelistic passion. They putter around in sharing their faith… Dying churches stop speaking about Christ to the world. Evangelistic fervor becomes apathetic disinterest in a lost world. As we will see later in the book, much responsibility rests upon the leadership of the church. It is the responsibility of the pastor and other key leaders to exhibit this evangelistic passion. In many thriving churches the driving force behind obedience to the Great Commission is the passion that the senior pastor maintains for the lost. This passion will flow from the top down. As the congregation sees his zeal, they catch the same fire.
Sin 3 - Failure to Be Relevant
Relevance is a buzzword among churches today. We believe that it is a good one. And there is nothing more relevant to a lost world than the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The unchanging truths of Scripture will always contain the answer for those searching to fill the void of their lives. The church, however, must find ways to relay this gospel message to the culture around them. Churches that do not find ways to become relevant in their respective communities will eventually falter. Churches that keep their internal culture unchanged for fifty years while the world around them goes through continual periods of metamorphosis typically die with that old culture. Churches that ask the question, “How can we best relate the unchanging gospel to the shifting culture around us?” are one step closer to relevancy and reaching a new generation.
Sin 4 - Few Outwardly Focused Ministries“It’s all about me!” is the anthem chant of the dying church. As crucial as Bible studies and fellowship are, dying churches gorge themselves on closed study groups and church wide fellowship events while neglecting outreach in the community. The country club church can remain so for a limited amount of time. In order for the American church to survive, it must reach into the community with outwardly focused ministries. Dying churches heavily skew their ministries internally. Essential churches think outward into the surrounding communities and into the world, earnestly seeking ways to win the next soul for Jesus.
Sin 5 - Conflict over Personal Preferences
People within the church can squabble over the most insignificant things. And these internal conflicts smother a church. These quibbles overshadow the true purpose of the church. When the church focuses on trivial matters, the greater gospel message is left on the sidelines. Essential churches grasp the primacy of the gospel. Languishing churches are mired in conflict over paltriness… They do not see the imperative to win people for Christ due to the blurriness of their own selfishness. The essential church breaks through the quagmire of personal preference and unites the people around the common causes of spiritual growth and missions.
Sin 6 - The Priority of Comfort
Dying churches are comfortable with their ministries. They do nothing outside the bounds of their comfort levels. Church members do not come to the leadership with reservations about the next ministry goal because they are not spiritually stretched… Churches that flourish get outside comfort zones and reach into areas that are uncharted for them… Essential churches hunker down and prepare to get uncomfortable in following God’s call. Dying churches refuse to stretch beyond their limited zones of comfort.
Sin 7 - Biblical Illiteracy
We are to be diligent to present ourselves to God, workers not needing to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth (see 2 Tim. 2:15). One of the major sins of a dying church is the neglect of theological teaching. If a church member does not understand the basics of Scripture, then they are hampered in their witness. Those who do not comprehend the Scriptures will also have trouble remaining obedient. Biblical illiteracy runs rampant in floundering churches. Since the people of the church do not understand the foundation of their faith, they stand on shaky ground and falter during the first time of trouble.
Reading that section caused me to pause and think about not only past churches that I have attended but also my current church home. As member of our Pastor Search Committee, I find myself focussing on "sins" number 2, 4 & 6 at this moment. I believe that the leadership of a church is vitally important and that there is a difinite "trickle down" effect on the congregation with regards to attitudes about evangelism, outreach and the passionate pursuit of God and furthering His Kingdom. The challenge set before the PSC is to find the man that God has equipped for our church and challenge him to take us where God wants us as a congregation to go - which is not necessarily where we want to go. We like our comfort zones and we are deeply entrenched.
My prayer is that God would ignite in us a deep, disturbing desire to lunge out of our trenches and charge the field of souls that is ready to be harvested.