Is There Something Wrong with Our Church?
Over the last few years, one observation on Sunday morning is that our attendance has changed. Some have asked, "What's wrong, we are not growing?" Yes, this observation is disheartening and it concerns me and the Elders. We have assigned Mark to work on some new programs to try to address the situation, but is the lower number an indication that our church is in trouble? Here are a few observations to consider:
First, we still hear stories about how God is touching people through the ministries of the Congregational Bible Church. Our finances are doing well (supporting 2 full time pastors). Our boards seem healthy, and so is our staff. We have launched new programs from time to time that seem to energize the congregation. Our facility is used seven days a week by those inside and outside the church. We have numerous Bible studies throughout the week. And the consensus seems to be that the preaching and worship services are good.
Second, unfortunately, Americans tend to place a high value on growth, numbers, and size. If membership is increasing, programs expanding, and budgets growing, there is reason for rejoicing, but if there is a decrease in growth and tight finances, then the church appears unsuccessful. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that bigger is better! Francis Schaeffer wrote, “No where more than in America are Christians caught up in the twentieth-century syndrome of size. Size will show success. If I am consecrated, there will necessarily be large quantities of people, dollars, etc. This is not so. Not only does God not say that size and spiritual power go together, but He even reverses this (especially in the teaching of Jesus) and tells us to be deliberately careful not to choose a place too big for us.”
Third, our situation is not unusual. Gary McIntosh, in his book Taking Your Church to the Next Level, notes that the first 10 to 20 years of a church's existence are quite often the best years in terms of numerical growth. He says that most churches reach their maximum size in year 20 to 25. All churches are inclined to follow a basic pattern of growth, plateau, and decline. Remember, we have been around close to 100 years, so we have seen the ups and downs.
Fourth, there is a basic assumption that all churches should be growing numerically all the time. Nonstop numerical growth is not a Biblical expectation. Paul did not judge a church by numerical growth. John, in the book of Revelation, criticizes the seven churches, but not for the lack of numbers, but for moral and spiritual compromise. A church’s spiritual influence should be seen in the lives of the church members and its affect on its community. I have seen healthy churches that are small (100) in size, and I have seem unhealthy churches that are large. The healthy churches are ones that offer solid preaching and teaching, ministering to the needs of the body, and reaching out. Real growth doesn't just count noses on Sunday morning, but in making disciples for the Kingdom of God.
Fifth, healthy churches go through life cycles. They have seasons of growth and blessing, but also seasons where they plateau, decline, and even receive pruning from God. The size of a church is not in our hands, but God’s hand. Just like personal evangelism; our role is to share the gospel and it is God's role to bring the harvest. The same is true of church growth.
Sixth, who knows why a church suddenly starts growing or stops growing. Sure, sometimes it is a pastor or a program. And yes, poor and sinful leaders do contribute to the decline of good churches at times. However, leadership needs to understand that they should not take too much credit in a season of growth, and also learn not to take too much blame in a season of plateau or decline. Change can take place because of a variety of reasons; pastors, leaders, programs, and community. The church leaders are responsible for the health and ministries of a church, but God is responsible for size and scope of influence.
-Pastor Mike Kotrla