Churches of Christ in Decline? Reflections

Did you notice? The church planting plan I linked to in the last post was organized very much along the lines of Lencioni’s Silos, Politics and Turf Wars. That is, it has a short-term vision (plant a church). It had intermediate goals (launch an ad campaign, have outreach events, etc.). It had eternal principles (reliance on prayer, theological foundations, etc.). And it had measurements (number of mailings, dates of events, etc.)

It doesn’t use the terminology of Lencioni, but the fact is, a church that is truly on a mission — where everyone is on the same mission and intensely so — will necessarily fit that pattern. Of course, very few established churches do.

And planted churches will not be involved in in-fighting. They’ve agreed on what they want to do and how they’re going to do it. They’re just working the plan all the members have signed on to.

It’s an interesting phenomenon — the model for church planting fits the model for eliminating silos, politics, and turf wars. Why would that be? What does the fact that growing churches by nature do the things that prevent infighting tell us about why non-growing churches don’t grow?

Surely, part of the reason we’ve been so ineffective within God’s mission on earth is that we’ve been busy doing the wrong things. We’ve tried to be a social club or a study club or a debating society or even a bunch of lobbyists. As a result, we’ve been pulled in 20 directions, with different members, ministries, and churches having different agendas. And we’ve argued about altogether the wrong things.

Take any issue of the Gospel Advocate or our other print periodicals. There will be next to nothing about helping those in need, lip service to evangelism, and pages upon pages about doctrinal purity. Now, I’m big on doctrine, but spending our energies fighting about doctrine is like an army that does nothing but argue over the best troop formations. At some point, you have to do what you’ve been called to do or you’d may as well go home.

You see, arguing about doctrine distracts from arguing about methods for serving in God’s mission. A healthy, growing church talks about how to reach the neighborhoods and apartments and how to help the people they are meeting. They talk about how to equip their members for service in and out of the church.

An unhealthy, ineffective church talks about how many praise songs the older members will tolerate and prays to one day be allowed to have a praise team. A healthy church wants to serve the community and its converts, even by giving up musical preferences. An unhealthy church fights over who gets what they want for themselves.

Hence, I conclude that a part of the cure what ails the Churches of Christ is for each congregation to set a short-term vision that is at the center of God’s mission — evangelism and concern for the needy — and to lead the entire congregation to become involved in that vision. It can’t be a sideline or one of many options. It has to be churchwide. The entire church has to be on the same mission.

However, it will take some time as the leadership lovingly and patiently instructs the congregation on God’s priorities and the freedom we have in pursuing God’s mission.

Now, I’m sure there are approaches other than acting like a church plant that would work. But ultimately the cure requires a culture shift, away from the leaders serving the members to the leaders equipping and leading the members to serve a lost and hurting world.

But I’m going to stop talking about this now, because I really don’t know what I’m talking about. There are people who do, who are genuine, experienced experts in planting new churches, and I think it might just be a good idea to ask them how their methods might be applied to an existing church.

And while I’m in Pepperdine, I’ll see if I can find me an expert church planter. I’ll let you know what I find out.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Churches of Christ in Decline? Reflections

  1. Joe Baggett says:

    May I suggest something? When we helped with a plant, we realized that the main problem was not the method or format; it was our theology, attitude, and spirit. We were a group of five families that had been through all the baggage that the cofC has to offer church splits, preacher firings, disfellowshipping, family problems, judgementalism, authoritarian elderships, and arrogance and so on. Truth number one we are products of our teaching.
    We simply prayed and fasted for 40 days. God showed us that we must make spiritual and attitudinal changes before tying to reach others. The majority of the lost and un-churched people in the USA today are white people over forty who used to go to church somewhere. If you don’t believe me then go to the store or your work or wherever and ask people. The response you will get is I am a non practicing ………..fill in the blank (Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran church of Christ). So a reality of organized religion in America is this it has failed! These people are not about to set one foot in a building that looks anything like the failed organized religion that have already left. Failed? Failed to produce spiritual fruit in the lives of those who grew up with it. This is evident when we look close enough. In fact studies show that those who go to church once every month to once a week are some of the most racist people in the country. The problem is our teaching, thinking, theology, and attitude that is why our mission suffers.

    So for the existing church and potential church plant, problem solving will be the key. Getting and knowing how to use good information is especially important here. If the root problems are not addressed then the band aids we are currently employing will eventually loose their effectiveness.

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