The Bottom Line
Many Christians continue to attend churches that are aging and declining. They have lost most of the young people. Finances get to be more of a burden with every funeral, one less contributor.
Some well-meaning Christians leave a large sum of money to their church in their wills. Intended to be a blessing, this often creates the curse of a false life support system. It keeps a church comfortable in its mediocrity. This is unintentional enabling. The church misses the opportunity to change ineffective methods and styles of reaching people for Jesus Christ.
Many Christians are concerned about their churches. They feel hopeless and discouraged. The following true story is taken from unsolicited correspondence. This church was consulted in 1994. The first letter, quoted below, was a report in 1996, two years after the consultation. The second letter was written March 29, 2016, 18 years later and 20 years after the consultation!
As you read the following material of both letters, keep in mind a few important issues:
- The pastor gives the glory to God, not himself. Of course he was instrumentally used by God, but it is important to keep in mind, it is God working through him.
- Notice the pastor’s reference to some of the issues he identifies as the stumbling blocks that hindered the church.
- Recognize that this church hived off a group of people to start a new church. This may have been necessary in this particular instance, but it is not always the case. This author has pastored two churches, one urban and one rural, that were revived without a church split.
- Finally, recognize that this material is not provided as boasting about Church Doctor Ministries’ consulting. We have the same attitude as the pastor: we diligently serve God and give Him all the glory when the work is blessed. We are painfully aware that some churches we serve fail to respond to our recommendations and are unable to achieve their potential, for numerous reasons.
Note: The story shared here is drawn from correspondence written by a pastor and his wife. Their names the names of the churches and the city have been changed to honor their humility and respect their desire to give God the glory. Otherwise, everything below is factual.
A Case Study
This case study begins with a consultation in 1994 for “ABC” Evangelical Community Church of “XYZ, PA.”
Letter of April 1, 1996:
Just a short note to let you know what has been happening in our lives here in “ABC.” As you can imagine, last year was a great heartache and burden for us — yet we have found great comfort and strength in the Lord’s unfailing faithfulness. From the first day I came to ABC Evangelical Christian Church as their pastor, I had great hopes and dreams for God’s holy anointing upon the body of believers that would move them from the vain traditions of yesterday, into the fullness of life and worship that God would desire all His children to experience. The reluctance, and even opposition to this fresh touch of God’s Spirit, grieved our hearts — yet, we saw a growing number of people who wanted to go beyond the mere formality of “playing” church. But their efforts to move into more meaningful and dynamic modes of worship and discipleship seemed to be met with skepticism and even animosity. This resistance was all the more difficult for my wife and me because of the freshness and vitality of church life which we left behind at our previous ministry. My wife likes to make the comparison, that if all you knew was plain vanilla ice cream, it would seem to be pretty good. But once you’ve enjoyed ice cream, with hot fudge, peanuts, sprinkles, whipped cream and topped off with a maraschino cherry — you hardly want to settle for plain vanilla. We had known the full “ice cream sundae” experience in church life, and we struggled with going back to plain vanilla.
But how we thank God that we are once again enjoying the true “sundae experience.” We have been thrilled with what the Lord is doing at “DEF” Church in our new location. This past Sunday we hit an all-time high in attendance of 157. The “bleeding” from “ABC” Evangelical Christian Church has stopped, and the folks we now have coming are new people from the southern part of the county. During the month of March we averaged 19 visitors per Sunday. We have established nine Home Bible Study groups, which last month averaged 70 participants each week.
And then there is the freshness of the worship experience, with a wide variety of people who participate in worship leadership. I said to my wife on Sunday morning that I am having too much fun in ministry. My preaching has never been so Spirit-filled, and I am experiencing wonderful freedom in the Lord. Our children’s ministries have grown to the point, that at least on a temporary basis, we will be moving the Sunday school work to an adjacent property. We have also begun a youth group. Several people have come to know the Lord as Savior, and on any given Sunday, we have a number of people who are unchurched and unsaved in the services. The whole thing has been more than we could have ever dreamed or asked for (Ephesians 3:20).
I am more convinced than ever that God was the author of the “vision statement” which was presented to “ABC” Evangelical Christian Church — but God allows us to make choices, and when we are blinded to the power and creativity of ministry that the Holy Spirit wishes to initiate and bless, God will allow us to have our own way, but we often reap “…leanness to our souls” (Psalm 106:15, KJV).
I praise God that He has brought marvelous healing to our spirits. My wife and I hold no ill will or animosity to those who masterminded the “confidence — no confidence petition,” and we are praying that God will bring revival and growth to “ABC” Evangelical Christian Church, even as we are praying the same for “DEF” Community Church. Things are not going all that well at “ABC” Evangelical Christian Church, but I still pray that those with a sense of vision will be able to prevail over those who wish to retreat to the “good old days,” or is that spelled “good old daze”?
Sincerely in Christ,
Eighteen Years Later
Letter of March 29, 2016:
I felt led of God to update you on what God has done in the ministry of “DEF” Community Church, in “LMN,” PA which was a daughter church brought about as a result of your consultation with “ABC” Evangelical Church of “XYZ,” PA. “DEF” Community Church was founded in 1995 following your consultation work in 1994, beginning humbly with about 35 people in August, 1995. After meeting in rented facilities for 10 years, we purchased property in “LMN” and erected a multipurpose facility in 2005-2006.
This past year, we celebrated our 20th anniversary, and celebrate we did! It is truly amazing what God has accomplished from those humble beginnings. We have seen scores of people coming to Christ and hundreds finding a new and vital relationship with Jesus. We presently conduct three Sunday morning worship services and are exploring the addition of a fourth Saturday evening service. For Palm Sunday, we had about 1,050 people in attendance and for Easter weekend, our attendance was just under 1,400.
Our budget for this year is more than $1 million, with more than 10% of that going to missions, and we have reduced our initial indebtedness for our $2.3 million building to less than $700,000. For the past several years we have run a budget surplus, and we do all this without passing an offering plate — we simply have offering boxes by the auditorium exit doors.
I want to thank you and your ministry for the vital part you played in helping to form a vision for “DEF” Community Church! You and your ministry’s guidance was invaluable in helping us “plant” a successful, thriving church to the glory of God! To “God be the glory, great things He has done.”
Sincerely in Christ,
So what is God saying to you? And what are you going to do about it?
This is excerpted from the May/June Church Doctor Report – Is There Hope for Your Church? Evidence from a Real Case Study.
Kent R. Hunter has consulted hundreds of churches in North America and taught thousands of church leaders in a dozen countries. His 30 books are widely read with translations in six languages. Contact him at (800) 626-8515, by email, Twitter, Facebook, or visit www.churchdoctor.org.