There are many experts on church health and church growth who work for the convention, Lifeway, state offices and parachurch ministries who I am sure have a list of reasons why the SBC is Shrinking. I want to share one thought with you today. I’ve been part of a handful of churches both as a member and on staff. I have been part of growing churches and learned great lessons from them. I have been part of platued churches and learned a few things. I have sat in declining churches and taken a few notes, and I have seen a few things in common.
In my opinion, the number one reason that churches decline (and the SBC as a whole) is our unwillingness to be uncomfortable. You know where this is going, it’s the C word. Change. I have discovered that every church says they want to grow. What they really mean is “we will grow as long as it doesn’t effect me or anything I like or I am doing”. Here are a few places we don’t want to budge.
Sunday School. If you still have a Sunday School program (which you should), you should study the work of a man long since dead. You know him and love him, Arthur Flake. He wrote a formula that is pretty simple. To summarize it, make some space, start some classes (yes, divide your people) and then go get people and fill those classes. This is going to require a few things. You will probably have to get creative with space. Maybe hold some classes off site, get a portable building (I know they are ugly), have a men’s class is the bathroom, whatever you need to do. Make some space. You need to motivate some people to teach and help and lead. They probably won’t want too at first, they are happy to sit in class and skip when they want to go fishing. I get it, I’ve recruited Sunday School teachers. It’s hard, do it anyway. Make Sunday School a priority for the leadership, talk about it and celebrate it. Finally, go invite people. Use FAITH from Lifeway, use Evangelism Explosion, stand on the corner with a sign that says “come to Sunday School”, I don’t care but invite people, go get them, bring them with you. Then you can be shocked when it actually works and your church grows. I’ve seen it happen folks, it works.
Make some space. Now first is the obvious. You know that you are going to stop growing when the worship center is 80% full. We have known that for years. Know what else gets full? Parking lots. Atrium, hall ways, bathrooms. You gotta make some space, and most of that time that means adding a service. It’s hard, preaching the same message twice can be taxing, I know I’ve been there. The worship team has to play twice, I’ve done that too. It’s not easy, and the people don’t like it. They say “but we will have 2 churches” and maybe you will. Dave Miller wrote a great post about his experience with the 2 services. People will get angry, and sometimes you feel like you are banging your head on the wall. You start an early service and 3 people show up and the second service is still too full. Cast the vision, give it time, share the reasoning with key leaders. It’s important to make the space.
Go outside. This is something I have to tell my kids, because they would sit inside and play video games all day. We live in an age where life is more interesting inside. Things seem to be pretty nice in the church. We like our little groups, our Bible Studies, our programs and activities. We love to sing or play on the worship team and we love to fellowship with our friends. These things aren’t bad, but it keeps us from growth. Go out and help people, talk to people, share with people. Have a block party in an actual neighborhood and not in your parking lot. Find a park, have a Back Yard Bible Club. I know, all these things take workers and volunteers. They don’t want to do it, and this is my point, this is why we aren’t growing. Gotta find a way to motivate them, we gotta get out there. Have church and a Baptism service at the lake, it’s a cool thing. Fix up some houses, go caroling, find something. Get out there.
Start new churches. You can do that you know, and it’s gonna hurt. Take 10, 20, maybe 50 people and go start a church. Take some funds, pick an area, hire a guy to church plant and start a church. Partner with another church, with your state, with NAMB and start new churches. Send people out to do work in new areas. Raise up missionaries, train leaders and pastors and planters and then release them to do ministry. You will find that as people go out, people will come in. It’s true and it happens and there are lots and lots of stories that a church sends out 20 and then grows by 50. There is a principle of sowing and reaping. I’m not saying that if you send out people, then new people will magically show up, but there are some sound principles. First, you create room. Next, you are involved in the community. Lastly, planting generates excitement and that draws people. Plant a new work and see how God moves in the new church and in the existing church. It’s powerful.
There are lots of other things, of course sharing Christ is central to everything we do. The number one issue why we don’t do these things is it requires change. It requires commitment and work and sometimes our churches turn into country clubs. We don’t want it to happen, and we don’t want to admit it when it does, but people are people. We attend regularly, we give regularly, we like our church and we want it to stay that way. We don’t want to do things we don’t like. We don’t want things to change, and we don’t want to give up what we have. The gospel, however, is all about giving up the stuff that isn’t eternal for the stuff that is. Giving up your fun class with your friends so you can teach a bunch of kids who don’t really seem to listen anyway, that is the heart of ministry. Having your biggest supporter and best giver leave to plant a new work, that is where we learn to depend on God. Doing the things you know God is calling you too when it’s unpopular, that is often what Jesus calls us too. Growth isn’t always comfortable, but as we can see, comfort has lead us into decline. Just my thoughts. What are yours?