Most churches in North America fall into a few categories. This might be oversimplified, but if you know anything about churches, you’ll see the parallels.
Category #1: The denial church.
These are congregations filled with nice, Bible-believing Christians who ignore the reality that their churches are on the road to extinction. Like the frog in the pot of warm water, slowly moving toward a boiling temperature, these Christians are unaware that the death of their church is on the horizon.
Category #2: The program mania church.
These churches operate many programs. They meet people’s needs. They often have great worship and outstanding activities. Yet they have little time or energy for the long-term, seemingly uneventful, quiet but vital movement of discipling. These churches, on the surface, are growing in numbers of people, yet many are transplants from other congregations, driven to programs “our other church didn’t have.”
Spiritual anemia is a hidden plague in the program mania church. It will eventually cripple the congregation. It has all the surface excitement of a healthy church, but spiritually, it is an inch deep and a mile wide.
Category #3: The flash church.
These congregations are guided by an exceptional leader, one with energy and “charisma.” These churches grow by the leader’s personality. Some members may be growing spiritually. Since numerical and spiritual growth is tied to the leader, the church’s vitality is temporary. It is linked to the life of the leader.
Category #4: The activity church.
Following the latest emphasis on social justice, these churches get caught up in helping the poor and those treated unjustly. These can be good Christian ministries, but they get so busy helping people, they forget the mission is about salvation. They say, “We have a very active church. Every day some community group is using our building.” They get lost in busyness, resembling any humanitarian effort. They overlook the spiritual and redemptive mission Jesus called the church to bring. They have missed the balance of meeting needs and making disciples. They lose the distinctiveness of reaching people for Christ and growing them in discipleship. These churches (and whole denominations) will someday die from loss of members and finances.
Category #5: The healthy, growing church.
Nearby every declining, dying, or temporary “flash” church is at least one healthy growing church. It is often identified as a “megachurch” or “the largest church” in the area. God is blessing these great churches. They should be an example, an opportunity for others to learn, and a cause for rejoicing among all Christians.
Instead, there is often jealousy, fear, a sense of competition. Sometimes, uninformed Christians from the neighboring churches declare, “They must not be biblical.” Others may say, “They just entertain people…that’s how they got so large.”
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.