One Way to Shrink the Church

One church drifts as numbers slip month after month. Another sees visitors who never return. (They’re One and Done People.) Another church has zero traction, so it sits in comfort in the same place . . . and gets visits from Christians who flutter from one church to another as they cycle through the community. The churches have no energy . . . no converts . . . no baptisms. Drift, drip, decline.

Besides the obvious nasty sin problems that infect leaders and others in the church, there’s one problem that’s easily seen and lays directly at the feet of the preaching pastor and the church’s other key leaders. It’s failure to cast Compelling Vision.

The church’s vision—the picture of the preferred future—is easy. Jesus gave it to us. The church is to make, baptize and teach disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). I sat with two senior pastors this week who have read the latest how-to books about vision and techniques to grow the church. Yet one church is stagnant and the other is in a spiral of decline.

Maybe there’s some value in the vision books, but vision isn’t a mystery. The trouble is that the vision some pastors are selling isn’t very compelling. Their vision doesn’t move people to dump their little distractions to pick up devotion to Jesus Christ and his church. So, when the guy who sleeps late on Sunday morning and hollows out a seat in front of his TV set asks, Why should I show up at your church?, no one has a compelling answer. Even when that guy does show up on Easter or Christmas, there's no compelling reason for him to come back on any ordinary Sunday.

The preacher and the church’s leaders need a fire in the gut that sparks intensity in the church. Christ is better than football, movies, bars, sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. He’s better than a cool job, the fancy house, the hot car and the perfect lawn. He’s better than religion . . . and all that’s connected to it. Problem is, some preachers and church leaders have no fire, no unction. Maybe they're so beaten down that they've lost their first love. They’ve become spiritually flabby, leading to a comatose drifting and the eventual death of the local church.

What drew people to John the Baptist’s ministry? Hear from A.B. Bruce from the book The Training of the Twelve: If the followers of John were at all like himself, they were men who hungered and thirsted after real righteousness, being sick of the righteousness then in vogue. They said Amen in their hearts to the preacher’s withering exposure of the hollowness of current religious profession and the worthlessness of fashionable good works, and sighed for a sanctity other than that of pharisaic superstition and ostentation.

It’s that same intensity that drove Paul. Everything is minuscule in comparison to the value of knowing Christ . . . Philippians 4:8.

Certainly John and Paul were unafraid to cast a withering exposure of the worthless distractions in life and in the religiosity of their culture. Most thinking people long for something more. They sigh in their spirits and say, There must be more than this. And there is. It’s Christ. And the ones who get that picture embrace the amazing privilege of worshipping and serving the great Savior in His church (Colossians 3:23-24).

It starts with an enduring fire in a few. They’re unafraid to cast a Compelling Vision of something more in this life. That’s a key responsibility of the preacher and all of the church’s teachers and leaders.