Three necessary ingredients for a healthy church are to be biblical, relational, and missional. Most churches that I am familiar with handle the biblical and relational elements pretty well. They understand and have dedicated themselves to being a theologically sound church and strive to teach the whole counsel of God correctly. The relational element is normally handled well also. Churches know the importance of unity and are focused on protecting their harmony.
After blogging my article The Three P’s of Evangelism, this is what a friend commented, “Isn’t it amazing that so many are identified as evangelicals yet so few evangelize.” That statement seems so sad and yet it appears to be so true. In U-Turn Church the authors say, “The gravitational pull of the church naturally pulls us inward, toward each other. If we are going to move outward toward those who are lost, it will take more energy than most of us dream.” The natural inclination of any group is to become inwardly focused on who is already a part or member.
The Southern Baptist Convention just held their annual meeting in Dallas, Texas. They reported that worship attendance in their churches had increased by 119,772 or 2.3%. During the same time the total number of baptisms decreased by 26,651 or 9.49%. Please do not think I am trying to make them look bad or that I think anyone else is doing any better. There are many godly people in the SBC who are burdened and praying for this to change. This trend of “growth”, while baptisms continue to decrease, describes most churches that are not declining.
In Jeff Christopherson’s book Kingdom First (in my opinion a must read) he addresses this trend. He states, “Evangelism is an unfinished task until those evangelized find themselves evangelizing.” He reminds of the calling for any church striving to be obedient to the Great Commission, “The Kingdom-centric new church (applies to any church new or old) holds as its highest value the redemptive mission of God.” Andrew Murray said these convicting words, “There are two classes of Christians: soul winners and backsliders.”
Jeff challenges us to take a hard look at how we are growing and is that growth actually expanding the Kingdom of God or are we just shuffling the Christian deck? Here is more of his convicting conclusions, “It should be troubling to a potential gospel-centered church planter that far too often his colleagues, while claiming to be gospel centered, build their new churches on foundations of the already evangelized.” Many churches are convinced that they are superior to the other churches in their area as they “compete” for new members.
A church promotes “better” fellowship or “better” music, or “better” programs or “better” preaching. Jeff states, “Neglecting the lost sheep, we tirelessly work to gain our fair share of the prepenned ninety-nine.” Is our strategy to create a spirit of discontent in the other sheep pens? Some great advice I received years ago was, “What makes you think you can make them happy if they have not been happy somewhere else.” Adrian Rodgers said, “A change of scenery never guarantees a change of character.” Is our focus the redemptive mission of God?
Are our methods increasing attendance or are they also expanding God’s Kingdom? Jeff challenges church planters with this thought but it applies to all churches, “By gathering the sacred pieces that will take us on the shortest route to self-sustainability, we may simultaneously be gathering the pieces that will lead us to evangelistic sterility.” When we do focus on the “prepenned” sheep we must be aware of the possibility that “eventually the discontented will gather together and demand that their prophet lead them back to Egypt.”
The temptation is to always default to what we know how to do and what we have learned to do well. We have learned to “do” church far better that actually “being” the church. When you ask the average church attender what is in their life that verifies the Christ and the gospel they represent they will often “default” to, “Well, I go to church!” We are thankful that they do attend but anybody can do that in a country where there is freedom of religion. So, what evidence of my faithfulness to God do people see?
Jeff continues to challenge us by describing what truly characterizes Kingdom-centric churches.
- “They are convinced that good deeds and good news cannot and should not be separated from any orthodox understanding of the gospel. The good news always clarifies, and good deeds always verify.”
- “Kingdom-centric churches believe ministering and serving are natural expressions of everyday living out the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Yes, we must clearly and correctly articulate the gospel message but we must also verify it by our good deeds.
In Kingdom First, Jeff offers one of his most haunting and convicting observations, “First-century results rarely come from twenty-first-century priorities. What made the first-century church so potent was its absolute disinterest in itself.” Are we more consumed with our own personal preferences and agendas than we are concerned for the lost who without Christ will die and spend eternity in hell? Luke 15:4, “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it?”
Evangelism is the missing element is far too many churches!