“Ever been in someone’s home as a guest only to have your hosts start to argue with each other? It doesn’t happen that often, but the few times it’s happened when I’ve been around have made me want to run out the door.” (10 Very Possible Reasons Your Church Isn’t Growing” by Carey Nieuhof)
I have served several congregations throughout forty years of preaching and have accumulated many ideas to answer the question, “Why is the church not growing?” or “What hinders church growth?”
Lack of godly elders. God desires that each church have godly elders. These are men who meet the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5. This is not a choice. Many interpret the qualifications so stringently that no one could meet such a standard. No one is perfect. Paul appointed elders on his second missionary journey. These men had been Christians only a few years, but they met the qualifications.
Fussing and fighting. I knew of a church that was in the process of initiating church discipline on a member. On Wednesday night, one of the elders informed the father-in-law (who was also a deacon there) of the one who was to be disfellowshipped. The man jumped up and started yelling in a very loud and deep voice. The elder asked the man to step outside to continue the conversation. There happened to be three visitors attending that night. Two of the three attended another church he following Lord’s Day and related to some of the members there that a fight had broken out.
I’m reminded of a passage that Paul wrote to the Galatians: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be no consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:14-15). If brethren cannot find ways to love and appreciate one another, how can we expect the world to desire to be part of us?
If you look to the New Testament epistles, many were written to give instruction toward conflict resolution. We need to study conflict resolution in the New Testament. A good place to start is Jesus’ instruction in Matthew: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15-17, ESV).
Who wants to be around you? I’m talking about judgmental, arrogant, angry, holier-than-thou, hypocritical, and narrow-minded. Why would anyone want to be a part of a people of faith who are described like this? One of our biggest problems that hinders church growth is that we no longer manifest the love of God to the world. Oh, we have pretty much gotten the rules down…but we have left love by the side of the road. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, ESV). How can we say we love the lost souls of the world when we don’t even love our own brothers and sisters in Christ? If we have acquaintances who meet the descriptions listed above, do we continue to interact with them or do we avoid them? We need to re-learn what the New Testament teaches concerning our love for one another because Jesus sees it as the badge of our discipleship.
Curators of the wax museum. Churches that do not plan for the future may never get out of the past. If you hold gospel meetings, I suggest you plan them 8-10 years in advance. Also, evaluate the financial compensation for those speakers and those whom you invite for a day. If your renumeration was last examined during the Carter administration, it may need some attention.
Does your church (and its building) look like a museum of 1950, or is it filled with present day technology? I understand that for most it’s a money issue. However, consider that any successful business needs to grow with the times to be relevant to its stakeholders and its customer base. Sometimes we in the church are short-sighted and totally lack a vision for the church. Many churches are filled with folks who have never booted a computer, don’t have a smartphone, and know nothing concerning social media.
I remember someone asking the question, “Are we standing on the promises, or sitting on the premises?” If we are living the Christian life, we will be showing the love of God through our efforts.