Saturday, September 1, 2012

Who are you willing to lose?

A few years ago a pastor called asking if I would lead a visioning process for his church.  He believed if things remained the same that church had maybe ten years left before it would close its doors.  A few weeks later I presented what I would do to help them discern a fresh vision from God if they invited me to do so.  Following the service we had a Q&A session which went fairly well until one older lady spoke up and said, "I was feeling good about what you were talking about until you said if we began to change we might lose some people.  When you said that I looked around the room and didn't see anyone I was willing to give up."  As she spoke I noticed heads nodding in agreement and knew this church was not ready for transformation.  A few months later the pastor resigned for another church.

What I wish now I had said in response was, "The reason you don't see anyone you are willing to give up is because they are not here.  You've already given them up.  They are your teenagers, your children, and grandchildren who do not attend church here or anywhere else.  They are the new people who have moved into your community who find no reason to come here to be involved in your ministry.  They are the persons who may face eternal separation from God because you are more concerned about the relationships you have with a dozen or so people than you are about people who need Jesus Christ."  I expect the results would have been the same (I wouldn't have been invited back) but at least I would have left them with something to think about.

One of the great tragedies in the North American church is how many of them are totally engrossed in their own comfort and fellowship and have little or no regard for the people God has called them to reach.  How many churches will spend weeks preparing for a rummage sale that will allow them to send $100.00 to a missionary overseas but won't spend an hour reaching out to the unchurched people in their own communities?  We have forgotten the purpose for our existence which is found in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

Our young people are leaving the church in droves, and I doubt many of them will return.  They simply find nothing in their churches that compel them to stay.  No sense of mission, wishy-washy doctrine, continual turmoil, and a preference on styles and traditions that no longer make sense are not appealing to the younger generation.  Some will abandon the Christian faith entirely and seek to satisfy their spiritual hunger in other ways.  Some will maintain their Christian heritage but develop other forms of church that may be much different than what we are now used to.  In either case, buildings that were built with a vision of providing needed ministry to a community will become empty testimonies to the loss of vision in later generations.  They will become monuments to a church that turned its back on its God-given purpose and found, in turn, that people turned their backs on the church.

80 percent of our churches are plateued or declining, and I believe the vast majority of them are declining.  Depending on how far down the life cycle they are there is still hope they can create new ministries and rise up from their decline, but that won't happen unless they are willing to expeience significant change.  Yes, change may cause some people to leave, but you're already losing people.  Are you willing to lose a few that feels uncomfortable with change or are you willing to give up entire future generations when your church is closed when the last few faithful members are gone?

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