Where is your church going?

The life cycle of any church is often pictured by a bell curve. As the church grows, the curve goes up. But at some point, without direct decisions being intentionally made to continue the upward direction that first birthed the church, a church will plateau, grow stagnant, and begin a slide to its death.

It is inevitable for every church, including yours. You are either heading up from starting as a new church, plateauing and becoming stagnant, or heading downward, losing focus and members as you spiral toward death. 

A new church is exciting as it grows. It will dream its dream of how it will make a difference. Core values are established. Vision is cast. Goals are set. Plans are made and ministry begins. Eventually structure is put in place that allows the church to grow and thrive.

All successful plants have at their core evangelism and disciplemaking where it is part of the DNA that every member is sharing their faith and multiplying disciples. 

However, there comes a time where many churches suffer focus drift. Too often, the structure of evangelism and disciple-making gets pushed out of the way for the structure of buildings, staffing and programs. People want their needs taken care of at the expense of the evangelistic fervor of reaching the lost that marked the early days of the church. 

Unless intentional decisions are made to find its original purpose, the church will plateau, eventually heading down toward closing the doors. In other words, your church is either heading up in health and ministry or you are heading down in sickness, stagnation and death. Where is your church going? 

where-is-your

Robert Dale, author of To Dream Again: How to Help Your Church Come Alive, writes that when a church loses its way up, grows stagnant and begins the freefall toward the end, its leaders will make changes – either change policy about how to do things, change personnel by firing the pastors /electing new leaders, or create new programs. But they often miss the most basic and important of all: clarify your purpose. 

What is your church’s purpose? 

Glorifying God is always the goal of our lives. We glorify God by making disciples which is the mission of every believer based on the Great Commission.  But evangelism is the main purpose of every church that then leads to disciple making, which glorifies God. Even when you start the disciple making process with one who is unconverted you have as your hope that such a person will convert to Christ. So our purpose for church is evangelism through disciple-making. 

Biblically, evangelism is an active word. It is the going out in order to proclaim the message of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ to the unsaved people of the world. Matthew 28:19-20 tells Christians to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach to obey. If there is no going, there are no new disciples to baptize and teach to obey.

How is your church actively taking the gospel to others? 

Paul saw this as his goal in planting churches. He said to the Corinthians, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor. 15-3-4, NIV).  How are you doing with this?  Can you list ways that each of your ministries are taking the gospel to those who need it? 
Questions to ask your church leaders: 

  • What are your activities at church? While your programs may be good, do they have evangelistic disciple-making as their main activity and purpose?
  • How can we phase out those programs that do not advance our main purpose?   
  • Just how passionate is your church about evangelism? When was the last time someone intentionally shared their faith? When was the last time there was a public testimony declared of evangelistic attempts by members of the church?

Have you begun to slide down? 

Evaluate where your church is on the bell curve.  Are you still excited about what started the dream of planting a church?  Is most of the congregation still committed to evangelism and disciple-making?  Or has your church peaked, grown stagnant and coasted into a maintenance mode?  Is church just doing status quo ministry? Have you begun to slide down?  Is there an attitude of frustration and questioning about ‘why can’t we do church like we used to in the good old days?’  Rather than people being won to Christ and coming into the church are people only coming when it is convenient and starting to check out? The commitment of convenience is a mark of a dying church. Changes need to be made or the death knell of the bell curve will begin to toll.

It is time to dream the dream again! That original dream based on the original purposes that got your church started. As author Robert Dale says, “Churches must constantly open themselves to revitalization.  They must dream again.  To stand still is to die!”

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Peter Johnson

Associate Superintendent at Eastern District Association
Peter has served as an associate pastor in NH and at Montvale Evangelical Free Church in Montvale, NJ. For nearly ten years he served as senior pastor of Northern Valley Evangelical Free Church in Cresskill, NJ before joining the Eastern District staff in 2007. Peter and Karen make their home in Hershey, PA, where Pete enjoys painting (art, not houses), gardening, and talking to his neighbors across the fence.

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