We are told that 80 percent of the churches in America today are plateaued or declining. The vast majority of those churches are declining. Approximately 5,000 churches in the US close their doors every year. Surveys reveal that the fastest growing religious group today are the nones. These are the people who when asked their religious preference respond with "none." Many churches are growing smaller and grayer each year as they find increasingly difficult to reach youth and young adults.
One of the disturbing things about all this is that the church seems to be unaware that any of this is happening. They continue to function Sunday after Sunday much as they did 20, 30, even fifty years ago. The same thing can be said of many denominations and seminaries. Denominational leaders wring their hands and express concern about where the church is going, but few are doing anything to intentionally address these problems. Many seminaries continue to train their students to be managers of institutions that are rapidly disappearing.
What can churches do given the realities we face? I believe we need to start by asking some hard questions. The answers to these questions will determine our next steps. Although I am sure there are more than five questions every church needs to answer, let's begin with these five.
- Why are we here? This goes to purpose and mission. If we cannot identify a God-given purpose our church is in trouble. If that purpose does not involve the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, our church is still in trouble. But, why does your church exist in your community in 2015?
- How will we accomplish our purpose? This goes to vision. Each church must have a God-given vision for how it will accomplish its purpose. Without a common, unifying vision for ministry a church will spend much of its time drifting, in chaos, and dealing with conflict.
- What will hinder us from achieving our purpose? This goes to leadership. A clearly defined mission and vision accomplishes little without someone to lead the implementation. After 30+ years in the ministry, with the last 14 years in denominational work, I am convinced that the pastor is the one who must provide primary leadership.
- Who are we here for? The church must be the one organization that exists for its non-members. The church was never intended to be a hotel for saints but a hospital for sinners. Unfortunately, too many churches exist for its members. If you're not sure where your church is on this question just check out your church checkbook and program calendar.
- Is what we're doing here today worth the life of the Son of God? When we look at what many churches spend their time and resources doing we really have to wonder if that is really why Jesus gave his life.
You may want to begin by taking these questions to your leadership and inviting them to work through the answers. After your leadership has had a chance to work on the questions it will be time to take them to the congregation. Working as a church to answer these questions can bring about a turnaround in the way your church thinks and does ministry.