Title: But, Our Church is Declining!
Author: Harry Rhodes
Most of us think of evangelism and church growth as two peas in a pod, but there are some important differences.
As I visit churches I find that the need for evangelism is expressed often, usually in the context of concern about the future of the church. People realize that the average age of the members of their church is getting older, the attendance is declining, it is harder to get volunteers and, perhaps the most worrisome, financial support is decreasing. People express the need for a pastor who will attract new people to the congregation. Occasionally, it is recognized that attracting new members is not solely the responsibility of the pastor, and so the congregation forms an evangelism team with the goal of attracting new members.
But think for a moment about the Biblical teachings. The obvious starting point is Matthew 28: 18-20, “the Great Commission”. Jesus tells us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching to obey everything that Jesus has commanded. Jesus also told his disciples to “bear fruit” in John 15. And Luke and Paul repeatedly write about efforts to spread the Good News and the large number of persons who turned to God through teachings about Jesus. The church was not an institution then but note that these passages of Scripture are about spreading the Good News to reach people and lead them to change their lives, not to grow a church.
But as I listen to us talk about this, the emphasis is not about the persons whose lives will be changed by our efforts to spread the Good News, it is what new people can do for our congregation. The effects of this kind of thinking are many, none of them good. I remember a congregation that did not have enough young adults to have a viable young adult group but was unwilling to partner with another congregation for fear that the persons attracted to the group would join the other congregation. The young adult group never materialized. I have heard persons who are new to a congregation complain that they felt like the church viewed them as resources rather than partners in Christ.
There is a lot of wisdom in the book, Irresistible Evangelism, by Steve Sjogren, Dave Ping and Doug Pollock. The focus of the book is servant evangelism in which Christians go outside the confines of the church to serve others with no strings attached. The authors advise us to not be concerned about whether the efforts increase the size of our congregation. The important thing is for people to be changed by what we do to spread the Good News. So true, but it is difficult to remember that when our churches are declining. But we must.
A Note About This Post:
As Christians, we have Good News to tell! Formerly known as the Evangelism Committee, the Good News Team invites the Virlina District into a discussion around sharing our stories about evangelism. Between now and District Conference, we will be publishing a new story each week, or thereabouts. Written by members of the Good News Team, the stories recount experiences of when the members told or showed the Good News to others. Evangelism is not just about asking a person about his or her faith. It’s not just about going door to door inviting people to come to church. The Good News of Jesus is told through our words and actions, and its impact is often unseen and unknown by those who share it.
Do you have a story to share? Would you like more information about evangelism, or do you have questions for us? We invite you to check out our exhibit at this year’s District Conference!