5 Painful Sacrifices Flatlining Churches MUST Be Willing to Make
Most churches aren’t reaching people. They have no pulse. They’re flatlining.
Most churches are either small churches reaching no one at all or large churches reaching mostly former members of small churches.
Part of the reason most churches in America are struggling to reach people is because they are unwilling to make sacrifices for the kingdom. Unfortunately, it is often as simple as that. Usually this unwillingness is motivated by one or all of these:
1. Fear – What will happen to the church if things change? Will people leave? Will God provide? Will our church lose tithers?
2. Selfishness - Many people & churches struggle from what I call “Jonah Syndrome” – the spiritual disease of the prophet Jonah that is grateful for His own salvation but has no desire to see others experience the same salvation.
3. Laziness – No one seems to be able or willing to put the time, energy, and resources necessary forth to reach the lost. Everyone is too busy with work, kids, school, and life in general to pursue the difficult work of reaching people.
If your church is one of the many small churches out there failing to connect with new people and draw them in, here are some things you might need to be willing to sacrifice in order to reach the lost people of today in your community.
1. Your Music
“Music isn’t everything. It shouldn’t be that crucial. People should be able to worship to anything.” No, it isn’t everything and yes, they should be able to. But it’s no easier to sing praises to God through terrible music than it is to grow through terrible preaching. Like it or not, music is a vital component of today’s church and it is one of the most important things visitors to your church will take notice of whether or not they are believers. AND – it is an incredibly important method of communication with and worship of God that churches ought to strive to do excellently.
I’m not suggesting all music should be any particular style. What I am suggesting is that church music should be good. For some churches in some settings, that will mean all hymns and a piano. But for others (most churches in our world today) that will mean a more contemporary style with more contemporary songs (or as close as you can get to it).
You and your church MUST be willing to adapt your music. Asking, “What does the current congregation enjoy most?” is the selfish question and attitude. The selfless, humble, mission minded question is “What kind of music will help us reach more people?”
One last thought here – you MUST be willing to invest what it costs for a strong music ministry. It might require reducing funding elsewhere if your budget is tight. But if you want a good, strong music ministry in your church, you need to be willing to invest what it costs.
2. Your past ministries
Odds are, even if you are a small and declining church, your ministry programs keep chugging along with the handful of people who put just enough into them to keep them going. Of course, there are some bright spots and healthy ministries, but most of them are just squeaking by doing the same old same old year in and year out.
If these ministries have not grown or connected with current members or new people, they most likely need to go. No matter how good they seem to be, if all they are is a few faithful people performing CPR every week on a flatlining ministry, something needs to change. A ministry doing little to no discipleship, little to no prayer or mission work, with little to no fruit production is just Christian busywork.
You and your church MUST be willing to put an end to some things that have been very important ministries in the past, sometimes even the recent past. It may mean ending support for a mission agency that you have no real partnership with. It may mean ending a ministry that has had 4 faithful people meeting for 15 years but is producing no real fruit. What is it for your church?
This will be a painful thing to tackle. People will need time to grieve the loss of something that was so close to their hearts for so many years. It’s a guarantee that people will get upset and it is likely that someone will leave the church. But fruitless, unproductive, flatlining ministries that require lots of energy just to keep alive need to be lovingly closed down. If they don’t, ministries reaching no one and producing no fruit will continue to suck the church dry of its resources without any kingdom fruit being produced.
3. Your personal preferences
Here is another painful one. The reality is that most small flatlining churches have become a lot more concerned about their personal preferences for church function than for a type of Christian living that produces fruit and connects with the unchurched. All they really care about is the music they like, the carpet they like, the bulletins they like, and the ministries they enjoy the most. Of course every church has the right to make things as they want them to be. But what they want them to be should be less about what they personally enjoy and more about what will be most conducive to effective gospel ministry.
You and your church MUST be willing to surrender personal preferences of all types for the sake of gospel ministry. Believe it or not, your bright red carpet in the sanctuary, 30 year-old bulletin format and design, dated and dirty children’s room, and the organ just might have something to do with why no one wants to be a part of your church. Every church is different, but every church must be willing to sacrifice personal preferences in order to connect with the lost people in their lives and community.
4. Your building
You probably thought the list was going to get easier since I started with “no-nos” like music, ministries of the past, and personal preferences. Nope.
Many flatlining churches have buildings that are paid off. Some are in disrepair because the congregation has aged and the budget has dwindled. Others are in great shape, mostly because of ministry underuse. Along with personal preferences like carpet color, podium style, and paint colors, you and your church MUST be willing to sacrifice even the building itself in order to reach people.
It may be a simple as making no-brainer renovations and updates to your building. Or it may be as complicated as selling your building to a growing church that is reaching people in your community and moving to a new place where you might do ministry more effectively. Every church scenario is different. But you’ve got to remember, the church is the people, not the building. If your building is preventing you from reaching people, you need to do something about it one way or another. It won’t be cheap, it won’t be easy, and it may not make any financial sense – but kingdom work rarely does.
5. Your Idols
Most churches aren’t flatlining because their music is bad, they’re doing too much, they won’t give up their preferences, or their building is problematic. Of course those are all factors, but those are all overflow of the real, spiritual problem – idolatry.
Idolatry in the church today (throughout history for that matter) is the only real problem. It’s the cause behind all other issues. If your church is struggling to survive, there are almost certainly major idols that plague your individual members (kids, sports, leisure, entertainment, relationships – the list could go on) and your church collectively (the 4 “Golden Calves” listed above as well as many more).
Without being reinvigorated by a rediscovery of the gospel, the love of God, and the mission of God week in and week out, your church is destined for decline and eventual death. An idolatrous and unfaithful group of people that view God and Christian living as a once or twice per week thing, or worse, as something to consume or “add on”, will always die. It will also be severely judged by a jealous God.
Dying churches MUST confront the idolatry of their members as well as the idolatry of the church. After identifying them, they must be destroyed. Only once we’ve given our WHOLE selves to Jesus and his mission will we ever be able to see revival and growth happen in our churches.
What else would you add to the list? What is the key for small and declining churches to unlock productivity and fruit through their ministry?