“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 12:12
As I travel around the country meeting with pastors and lay-leaders I’m often asked to comment on the apparent decline of the Christian church in America. Approximately 80% of the 325,000 churches in this country have either plateaued or are declining in membership. Why is this the case? What is happening with our churches?
Rather than looking at the church as a place where we escape the sin of the world, we need to use it to reach those who are in the world. It is not uncommon to see new ministries start their services in bowling alleys, motels, theatres, vacant warehouses, mortuaries, and other public gathering places. Often the greatest growth and the time when the church has its greatest impact is during these start-up times.
The ministry formation period requires people to be involved. Chairs and PA systems need to be set up and taken down. Usually snacks, coffee, and other items must be stored and brought from the homes of the members. There is a committee approach to putting the service on, and the members are united around the common vision and goal of reaching new people for Christ.
Unfortunately, once the new property is purchased and the church built, many members feel it’s time to turn the operation over to the full-time staff. After the organizational structure is put into place, participation is very often limited to attending service on Sunday morning. Seeking new disciples too often becomes secondary to “putting on the Sunday morning show.” In many instances, we see churches become a social gathering place for the saved rather than an equipping center to place people back into the marketplace to meet and encourage those who are broken, confused, and in despair. Pastor Robert Lewis in his masterful book The Church of Irresistible Influence talks about the need for pastors to be in the marketplace. As I contemplate his work I suggest we consider the following:
Our goal as marketplace ministers is to influence those around us for the kingdom of God. To be most effective doing that, we need to be places where unbelievers gather. In business circles, it is not uncommon to be in a hotel where the lounge or bar becomes the place to gather after meeting… The goal is reaching the lost or misguided. Jesus is the perfect role model for this. He was among the people where they lived. He didn’t expect them to come to Him; He went to them. He was among sinners and was considered by them as their friend.
I believe we can lose our way within our churches if our focus is on building big facilities instead of building people of great faith. When a church catches the vision that Christ projected to the First Century Church we will once again prosper. Let’s find a way to make Matthew 28:18-20, The Great Commission, our commission. Encourage your pastors, no insist, that your church have as a major focus the making of true and authentic disciples (Spiritual Mentors). You can find out more about this concept by obtaining a copy of our book The Spiritual Mentor published by Thomas Nelson.
What is God telling you to do about making disciples (personally mentoring someone)? How can you share your life-story with someone who might have shown an interest in spiritual matters?
Dr. Jim Grassi