Why Are We In Decline? What Appears to Be a Math Problem is Actually a Spiritual Problem

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Imagine the AAA Widget Company. AAA Widget was started 80 years ago by an energetic team of entrepreneurs. They had a vision and they executed the vision for 50 years with excellence. The problem today is that they haven’t added a new customer in the last 30 years. The only way to add customers is to be a qualified salesperson and the only way to become one of those is four years of intense study. Salespeople spend 60-80 hours a week doing everything but getting new clients or selling widgets. The salespeople are aging and burned out. Each branch only has one salesperson and 100 other employees who are working hard to keep things how they are. How long are they going to make it?

If we just do the HOW without the WHY we won’t get anywhere. We can make all kinds of adjustments to the engine but if we don’t correctly diagnose the problem, we may be working on the transmission when what we have is an electrical problem.

Albert Einstein once said insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

If we keep going the way we are going we will keep going the way we are going. It is true for a road trip. It is true for church life. How many people were baptized in your church last year? Are you happy with that number? If you are, keep doing what you are doing. If not, consider something needs to change.

Something has to give. Often we get fearful of making changes because we know that requires change and we are typically a change averse people. We have in our DNA a suspicion of change and “innovation.” But we shouldn’t. Innovation is all around us, even on Sunday and that’s okay because not all change is bad. Church now isn’t exactly how it was 50 or 100 or 200 or 2000 years ago and that’s okay because things do change. Can we acknowledge that? If we can’t acknowledge that, there isn’t really much we can do. We will be stuck in 1950.

I said in the Stan Granberg podcast that there is a difference between going to a museum and going to a triathlon. The museum is all about preservation and protection. The triathlon is about activity, energy, motion and achieving the goal.

Here is the big point I want to make, a constructive point not a deconstructive one – Here is why we aren’t growing – we are aging out, we aren’t reaching our kids, and we aren’t reaching new people. Maybe, maybe we aren’t reaching new people because we care about other things more than we do the lost.

We aren’t reaching them because we don’t make disciples, even of our own children. We don’t make disciples because we opted for evangelism and coversion instead (evangelism – study the Bible through a set of propositions and closed ended questions & conversion – change of mind rather than change of life). Then we made the group of people qualified to evangelize limited (the professionals).

We can say it is lack of energy or poor worship or whatever else but if we aren’t even trying to reach new people how do we even know that?

So we limit our actions from training disciples and disciple makers to evangelism (mind-change rather than life-change) and we limit who can do those actions to the trained.

See the problem?

This is why we are in decline.

Too often we want to focus on the HOW without getting into the WHY. How do we fix it? Any fix that doesn’t consider the why will be superficial.

Why are we shrinking? Because we are aging out without growing on the other end.

This appears to be a math problem but it isn’t. It is a spiritual problem.

If you would like to know the exact numbers you can get some of them here

13 Responses

  1. Matt I preached Sunday on being “Ambassadors for Christ”. It was a well received lesson by my congregation, calling them to be ambassadors in their own way. I hope to show them ways to focus on leading people to Jesus not just one way in the future. Part of the lesson I talked about the problem of accepting or paradigm and seeing wrong goals. We count attendance, rather than focusing on true worshippers. We look at baptism as the end result, not making disciples. We are happy with attendance going up, even if we aren’t having conversions. The solution is to focus on the results God wants. He wants people to worship him in Spirit and in truth. He wants disciples not, shallow decisions. He wants us to carry the message. I think we have set the wrong goals.

    1. This is so good Joe. I truly think better days are ahead but we are going to have to start talking about these things and creating paths forward – or at least getting ourselves out of the way so God can show us the path forward. Big difference! Thanks for all you do for the kingdom!

    2. Yes, I believe that we have set the wrong goals. God wants disciples that love Him and then allow that love to empower us to love others. Do our lives reflect that kind of love? Are we a truly transformed people? Maybe we need to not be afraid to come before God and ask Him to show us ourselves….

  2. https://thomrainer.com/2015/02/fifteen-reasons-churches-less-evangelistic-today/

    It is amazing how great minds think alike. And Rainer and I do, too.

    I just found this, based on a question I wrote for Google, “Is there a correlation between more trained ministers and decrease in evangelism in churches of Christ?”

    Answers 1, 5, 6 and 9 resonate with me, especially. Those are the same thing I see looking around “our brotherhood.”

    This last Sunday we heard a speaker, talking about “Being called…” To me, that is another one of those phrases which are “new” in our vocabulary. That people “have to feel called to…” And yes, God has “called” some people ‘personally’ for specific purposes and specific times. As I am teaching a class on the Minor Prophets, I am well aware of the notion of ‘being called.’

    But within the church, we are all called to proclaim. It is no longer the specific individual for a specific time. ALL of us are called to preach. But by professionalizing ministry, too many of us no longer have that concept of being called…

    1. More education tends to be correlated with less evangelism/disciple-making. That doesn’t make education bad. We just need to prioritize and train better and in some areas we have neglected.

    2. I am all for education! After all, I work for a school district… 😉 But like so many other things, we trust the professionals to do a better job than the amateurs. I mean, do you want me to pull your sore tooth, or my friend Alan, who actually is a dentist?

      And, like the #5 in Rainer’s list, we have hired the professional(s) to take on that job…

  3. The article says that, “If we keep going the way we are going we will keep going the way we are going.” That, “Something needs to change”, that “we get fearful of change “, and that “not all change is bad.” All of which, is sesnsible and true. But, with all of the talk of the need for change, nothing (that I noticed) is said regarding WHAT change(s) is/are needed. Are we talking about the need for all of us as Christians, to be more faith ful to God? Or, changes regarding how we “do church” on Sundays? Exactly, what changes do you have in mind? I mean, I dont see how saying “changes are needed” will help, without ever specifying the changes that are actually needed. Surely, we don’t mean “change, just for the sake of change”?

    I also woild be curious to know the stats regarding other well known churches. For example, the Baptists. Or, Methodists. Or, Lutherans? Are they declining and aging out as well? How do “we” compare statistically with them? I’m just wondering if the decline is a COC problem, or a problem of an overwhelming unspiritual world we now live in?

    Lastly, I think its important to remember that God not all growth is good. Often times, having a greater/growing number of members, can actually be a bad thing. Jesus himself lost lots of followers after many of his teachings. Yet, we would never say that he needed to change. The people did.

    Just my thoughts…

    1. I think progressive Church of Christ members are always enamored with change just as the most conservative members worship the status quo. It seems to me that members with the more reasonable mindset of rejecting those changes that really are unscriptural, but who are willing to consider changing those things that are only our traditions wind up split among the two types of churches, conservative and progressive, and are therefore a minority at both. So most churches wind up in either one camp that treats any proposed change as heresy even when the bible is silent on it, or another camp that makes change simply for the sake of change.

      As for other churches. My understanding is that churches are generally in decline in the US and that the decline in the Churches of Christ is in line with it. I think it’s simply a result of the decline in the belief in God in the Western world.

      Regarding you last point about numbers, I agree, but I think there’s real problem that goes beyond just numbers. Even the Christians that don’t leave often do not have the mind of God. The average American spends 5 hours a day watching TV. “Smart” phones with access to the internet are turning us into walking zombies. From age 3 to 22 our children are in schools which are AT BEST neutral with regard to Christian values. We are all programmed from birth to think like the world. Four hours a week at church can’t undo that.

  4. I just look first at the question of why the children can’t even be converted/retained. I look at what is taught and what is omitted. There was little teaching on Jesus and the faith. The service had a lot of singing, a long sermon, and the dirge of communion. There was little reading of the Bible besides a single verse or two aside from those out-of-context verses in a proof-tested sermon. There was no praise of God (Gloria, Doxology, Trisagion), no confession which applied to everyone, no holidays, and no being told in the communion that this is the body given for you. There was also no faith formation aka catechism class nor confirmation. The focus was on Paul and getting church right.

    That said, the conversion was to the cofC way of doing church, not to Christianity. I remember hearing that some people had been studying with a Baptist and that he had been converted. These people felt like they had really done something as if they had converted a militant atheist.

  5. Einstein didn’t say insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Back in the day it might have been difficult to verify quotes (though no less necessary), but in the internet age it usually only takes a moment to check if someone actually said what you think he said.

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