I’ve watched over the years as churches will do everything they can to save their dying congregations. Some will attempt a new building program. Others will try to contemporize their services. Usually they imitate something a successful church is doing; which the fact that it’s not reproducible should be a clear sign that it’s not ordained.
Many churches look to the exterior when they are pointing fingers at why their church is not growing. “The preaching is boring, the music is outdated, the carpet is worn out.” Who would want to go to a church like that?
While I think that everything should be done well, and the abstract should always be updated, the lack of aesthetically appealing forms and practices is not the real reason your church is dying.
“On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he (Jesus) was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” Mark 11:12-14 esv
The church does not belong to anyone but Christ. Sometimes I think we get confused when we assume that we have to do something special to get people to come to our service (Like have a raffle with a $10,000 prize. Believe me, it happens). While it’s good to invite people and it’s important to be hospitable, those are just leaves. What the people visiting really need to see is the fruit of the Spirit.
Don’t think that because your church is full (well maybe half full) of people who really love God that He is bound to bless you. Paul’s warning to the church in Rome should remind us that we’re nothing special. “For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.” (Romans 11:21 esv) If your church isn’t experiencing the blessings of a healthy church, then the proper diagnosis is that something is wrong. These symptoms should cause a church to fear God, not go into denial.
Do not put image over substance. When we over-contexualize in striving to relate to the world, we are suggesting that culture is on equal ground with God’s Word. When we under-contexualize by not updating anything, we’re really just projecting that a past culture has equal grounds with the authority of Scripture. Both of these are idolatry. The exterior should not be at the forefront of our minds; the message should be. A church meeting in an abandoned barn in the middle of communist China probably has more of a spirit of worship than any mega-church multiplex in America today.
Here’s the kicker. If you are passionately pursuing God and your countenance is glowing because of time spent in His presence, you won’t have to worry about the exterior because the work of the Spirit will naturally be exuding from you. This is the aspect of renunciation.
This is not a justification for those who want to snub their nose at anyone who is different from them. Whenever our eyes focus on the exterior we are filling our mind with prejudices. When we see a man dressed in drag, our mind translates that to “Flaming Homosexual” when it should be saying “Lost Son of Adam.” We have to constantly be working against our nature to renew our minds (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Furthermore, this is not a justification to those who say that they don’t need to update their music or re-paint the walls, “Because it’s the heart that matters.” Too often, that line is used as an excuse to hide the fact that people would rather die than change. Change is inevitable and it is happening all around us. The Spirit of God has no problem acclimating to these changes.
Undoubtedly, nobody reading this has this problem. Of course you have someone in mind who does. If that’s the case, then you are more blind than you think. Everyone has this problem. Everyone contextualizes and judges everyone else on their own standards. Until we can get free from this thinking, we will probably continue to have churches imitating the success of other churches, pastors banking on a new building to generate a crowd, and worship leaders dreaming of being famous some day.