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.