Why Is The Local Church Not Growing?
Dennis L. Reed
“Why are we not growing?” is a question which we often hear being asked by members of the church. And another question of similar nature is asked, “Why do members who move into our area not want to worship with us?” These seem to be logical questions, but the one making the inquiry may already know the answers for these questions. This would make them rhetorical questions and not really intended for an answer. They may be asking because they simply want the matter reviewed or discussed again. Whatever the reason for asking might be, the fact still remains that the local church is not growing as it should be. You and I are aware that many congregations are getting smaller and smaller, and some of them have even closed their doors and melted into the “mega” type churches of the area.
The first thing which needs to be considered is a definition of terms so that we will know how we are using the term “growing”. Do we mean in numerical growth? Do we want to know why we are not gaining more members? Could we be asking why the members of the congregation are not growing spiritually in knowledge and usefulness to the Lord? Both of these are certainly factors in the growth process, and you can’t really consider one of them without considering the other. They stand or fall together.
If the local church is not growing spiritually, then it is obvious that the work necessary for numerical growth will not be getting done. We do need to mention that some churches are growing in number while clearly going down hill in spiritual growth because those flocking to these local churches “could really care less about what is going on there”. They are simply looking for a larger social group in which to operate and the spiritual aspect is not even an issue. They can also hide in the “big crowds” and not even be missed when they fail to attend. They will hardly ever be asked to participate in any productive work or to even take part in the public worship services. Many of these are churches which do not stand firmly for the Truth, and you and I know that we cannot have fellowship with them in any failure to abide in the doctrine of Christ. Now, as we return to our important consideration of spiritual growth, the scriptures are vividly clear on the subject: “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard of interpretation, seeing ye are become dull of hearing. For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food. For every one that partaketh of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:11-14). When the local members are not studying and not using the word of God on a daily basis, if they continue to be unable to eat solid food, and if they don’t have their senses exercised to discern good and evil, then this lack of spiritual growth can be devastating to the local work. It is obvious that most of these folks are not teaching the gospel to anyone, because they are not even making use of it for themselves. We are spending an unbelievable amount of time and energy just “pleading” and “begging” many of these members to be faithful to attend the services! And we are continually exhorting them not to “drag in” to services ten, fifteen, or more minutes late. It is just clearly obvious that they have not placed their priority on spiritual matters. Such attitudes will always hinder the growth of the local church. We are finding ourselves listening to a menagerie of excuses given to us on a regular basis, and we are not ignorant of the fact that these brethren are just not really interested in faithful service to the Lord! If they were, they would be among the first to arrive every time that the door was open at the meeting house. When we are pulling and tugging with folks who are just short of being spiritually dead, how can we expect to be reaching many unbelievers with the gospel? Just “who” is taking the message to those who are without God and without hope? And just why would they want to be associated with folks who are obviously unconcerned about spiritual priorities? Not until we get this trend turned around and get the local brethren to truly grow spiritually, will we ever be able to grow in numbers. Let me soberly look at myself! If I have encouraged a person to obey the gospel, will I be satisfied if he or she will be just as lacking in dedication, motivation, and faithfulness as I am? How long do you think that this new Christian will be able to “hang on” with that example before him?
For the Lord’s church to grow in numbers, it will be necessary for us to be genuinely busy with our preaching and teaching. Am I teaching a home Bible study or have I asked someone to come into my home to teach a Bible class for those whom I have invited? Am I present for the services of our gospel meeting and have I been busy inviting friends and neighbors to attend? How many people am I inviting to the regular services each week? How many indifferent and careless Christians have I personally visited to exhort and encourage them? Am I willing to accept the fact that the spiritual growth of others and the numerical growth of the local church is greatly dependent upon ME? If the other members are just like me, how much growth will be taking place?
We also need to consider the fact that there is often a challenge in getting members who move into our area to be identified with us and become a part of our work. Some will attend our services for a time or two and then began to make excuses such as: the number of the membership is just too small, you don’t have adequate classes or activities for my children, there are not enough young families for me to associate with, (honestly, I have never had anyone to say that we don’t have enough elderly people), and that we don’t have elders or a full time preacher or a host of other excuses. Truthfully, I am persuaded that most of these people “want to be served” rather than to serve. They are looking for a place to be entertained rather than for an opportunity to roll up their sleeves and go to work for the Lord. Rather than looking at where they are needed, they are looking for some place to fulfill their selfish agenda. Honestly, brethren, these folks might just turn out to be more dead weight for others to push or pull along. It is also true that a great many brethren are “infected” with the liberal and digressive concepts of “unity in diversity” and they will stay clear of any church which opposes those errors. There will be very few brethren moving near us who are truly looking for a work that is standing firmly for the Truth on the pressing issues of our time.
Another serious factor hindering the conversion of people is the overall condition of the Lord’s church everywhere around us. We see brethren with arrogant and self centered agendas causing ill-will, strife, and division in a great many churches. We are almost splitting and tearing ourselves into shreds and splinters. We have brethren who are literally miserable individuals who seem to have an agenda of “divide and conquer”! And when their agenda doesn’t work, then you have another ugly faction calling themselves the Lord’s church. When you are teaching the gospel to a hungry soul, it usually becomes inevitable that you must explain the terrible mess that the Lord’s church is in. With digression, sinful fellowship, false teaching, and new doctrines and factions arising almost daily in surrounding churches, how successful are we going to be in convincing the folks that this is the one “true church” which Jesus established and where brethren speak the same thing and are of the same mind and judgment? Would we be able to even attempt to convince them that the same gospel Truth is taught everywhere in every church? Surely we can see that such conditions will always be a great contributor to our lack of numerical growth. Our brethren have literally circled the wagons and are shooting in! So the questions which we started with have proven to be rhetorical after all. We do know why the church is not growing very much numerically and we know the attitudes which contribute to that lack of success in saving lost souls. Probably the most important question of all is, “What can we do about it?” or “What are we willing to do in trying to change this atmosphere of ugliness, unconcern, neglect, and very low spiritual priorities?” Before almighty God, I am well aware that I must answer these things for myself. Will you also be searching for an answer in your life?
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