No little attention is being given to the news that American churches of Christ stopped growing over the past several years. It should be noted that numbers is but one gauge of spiritual health of congregations. With that caveat, it’s not hard to discern the causes, once modern practices are placed beside Scripture.

First, many churches have lost their mission. Budgets are showing increases in benevolence and disaster relief at the expense of the preaching of the gospel. The former are now classified as missions. Supposedly, the former are done with saving souls in mind, but they are ineffective and few have strategies implanted to take advantage of opportunities of evangelism.

Second, local churches no longer have evangelists, but preachers and ministers. Churches do not unleash people for evangelism, but tie them up in self-serving projects. Churches no longer have gospel meetings, but lectureships in which the disciples speak to themselves. Note how many talk about preaching the gospel but their thinking is on what happens in the pulpit on Sundays.

Third, congregations are placing on preachers the responsibility of evangelism rather than seeing it as a priority for congregational involvement. And evangelism is but one responsibility among many for the ministers, and not the priority. Housekeeping is the order of the day. Preachers do more to keep the cogs turning smoothly in the congregation than they do to reach new souls in the fulfillment of the great commission.

Fourth, Christian colleges do not train evangelists but keepers of the churches. Preaching schools may do some better, but depending on the school, not much. Churches are dependent on schools to train the saints rather than doing what ought to be done in-house, as Jesus did.

Fifth, the church loves its buildings too much. This is an old criticism, but valid still. Today’s Christians have an almost impossible time imagining how a church could succeed without a building. Time and investments in property have little to do with first-century faith.

If the Lord were to put me in charge of the church (what an awful thought!), I’d probably sell off all the buildings, close all the Christian colleges, and—if I didn’t fire all the preachers—lock them out of their offices and put the elders in the pulpits. Much of this happened when the first great division occurred in the late 1800s, and it seemed to provide impetus for growth in the church.

Ironically, the division is happening again, and the Lord may be preparing his people for another spurt of growth. The grain is being winnowed, and it could not have come at a better time.

18 thoughts on “Why the church stops growing

  1. Benevolence was the first mission of the early church, and the reason for the first church conflict was because the church was doing too LITTLE, not too much.

    Disaster relief was the occasion for the writing of the very passage we use as the foundation for our collections.

    In light of John 13:35, I would appreciate some Scriptural evidence that evangelism was a budgetary priority in the early church before hearing an attack on “modern practices” like benevolence and disaster relief.

    The Master did *not* say, “They will know you are my disciples by your door knocking campaigns, gospel meetings, and Open Bible Study techniques.”

      • Love among brethren that, if Jesus’ teaching and example on the topic are to have the preeminence, should extend beyond the borders of the church family.

  2. Your article is very much on target. (Romans 10:14-17) . Our mission is not benevolence with a little evangelism on the side. The mission of the church is evangelism. When we evangelize, we have an abundance of opportunities for benevolence.

  3. Maybe the Church doesn’t need to have one universal model to serve as a cure all for every culture and context. Could God be calling different leaders to different areas of service for the purpose of raising up disciples?

    Our forms of buildings or styles of preaching or methods of outreach aren’t the power of the Gospel. But the message of the Gospel, hope for sinners, love for the unloved, purpose for those at the mercy of the waves of this world, salvation for those who deserve nothing of the sort – this message of God’s work in the world can be carried out in faith and practice and message. Isn’t it important our faith be practiced in deed and in word and not one to the exclusion of the other?

    Rather than tearing down all the other faithful callings on God’s people, look to the unique ways the Lord has gifted and called you to evangelism and model this gift for the greater edification of the Church and glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ our Lord.

    I’m from Chicago. It’s a little different from Brazil. The cultural models of effective outreach SHOULD be different. In Chicago there’s dozens of cultural groups with different needs and methods of effective outreach.

    Let’s allow a little grace for each other to model what works in our given environments as we work toward our common calling to effectively make disciples throughout the world.

  4. Randal, I agree the Church and family should be training the preachers, and the children, and I too, would close down the christian colleges, most of the preacher schools, and the youth ministries as well. The problem is that the Churches want a degree or certificate, Biblical or not, that’s what they want.

  5. My apologies for delaying approval for some of the comments. I was locked out of my website for over a week. The server thought my IP was a bad guy. I appreciate the input of each one.

  6. Is it possible that because we do not “plant and water” there is little growth? The knowledge that we possess about “God causing the growth” is valuable only IF we plant and water. Where there is no planting and watering, there will be no growth. When I use the term “we” I include myself as well as other brothers and sisters in Christ. Is it possible we no longer believe He is returning soon? Just sayin’

What do you think?