THE REPORT OF DECLINE
Here are some of the stats:
|Southern Baptist Convention||DECLINE||.42%|
|United Methodist Church||DECLINE||1.01%|
|Evangelical Lutheran Church of America||DECLINE||1.96%|
|Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod||DECLINE||1.08%|
|Presbyterian Church USA||DECLINE||2.61%|
|American Baptist Churches||DECLINE||1.55%|
|United Church of Christ||DECLINE||2.83%|
Available at http://www.ncccusa.org/news/110210yearbook2011.html
My read: Our churches are filled with “fast food Christians” who were evangelized but not discipled. Southern Baptist churches have experienced the third year in a row of declines. The message is clear: MAKE DISCIPLES OR DIE! I am reluctant to be so bold but perhaps we need some shock and awe to wake us out of our contentment.
Our churches are filled with “fast food Christians” who were evangelized but not discipled.
When reports such as this are released regarding decline in the churches, many leaders simply retreat to familiar defensive arguments such as, “We just need more evangelism,” or “Our new strategy just has not kicked in yet.” To the first question I say that we have many undiscipled and ill-equipped Christians in the churches who cannot or will not share Christ—and no wonder. Since many of them lack deep spiritual transformation, salvation, or discipleship, how could they be expected to share Christ? If truly unsaved, then they are doing exactly what they know how to do—and evangelism is not one of them. To the second response I say that the Great Commission Resurgence still has a big hole in it, namely—DISCIPLESHIP.
Consider a statement in Simple Churchby Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger:
A  medical study reveals just how difficult change is for people. Roughly 600,000 people have heart bypasses a year in America. These people are told after their bypasses that they must change their lifestyle. The heart bypass is a temporary fix. They must change their diet. They must quit smoking and drinking. They must exercise and reduce stress. In essence, the doctors say, “Change or die.” You would think that a near-death experience would forever grab the attention of the patients. You would think they would vote for change. You would think the argument for change is so compelling that the patients would make the appropriate lifestyle alterations. Sadly that is not the case. Ninety percent of the heart patients do not change. They remain the same, living the status quo. Study after study indicates that two years after heart surgery, the patients have not altered their behavior. Instead of making changes for life, they choose death. Change is that difficult. The majority of the heart patients choose not to change. They act as if they would rather die. (Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger, Simple Church (B & H Publishing Group, 2006), p. 229)
Their assessment may be applied to churches that need to change as related to full discipleship which includes both evangelism and teaching (discipleship).
THE REMEDY—A BIBLICAL UNDERSTANDING OF DISCIPLESHIP
What churches need is a new paradigm for discipleship that includes private, platform, program, peer-group, and proficiency approaches provided in a ubiquitous process way that intentionally saturates the life of the church. In other words instead of a discipleship program, churches need to see the great Commission in a new light. We usually understand the Great Commission to say, “Go and make disciples.” We need a new biblical perspective of the great Commission where Jesus intended for us to understand, “Go and make disciple-making disciples.”
“GO AND MAKE DISCIPLE-MAKING DISCIPLES!”
How many Christians in your church are doing the work of disciple-making? Are they equipped for the task? I recently suggested to a pastor that people of his church should be 1) trained to share Christ (evangelism), and 2) trained to disciple those they win to Christ. His reaction was one of defensiveness and criticism.
THE RESISTENCE—KEEP DOING WHAT WE’RE DOING
Many churches approach the problem of decline by trying harder at what is not working. Church leaders and some congregations have been told, “CHANGE OR DIE!” Their reaction is much the same as the heart patients who are told they have to change or die–they do nothing. More precisely, there are several reactions by churches:
- Many in the church ignore that anything needs to change.
- Some churches become more committed to working harder at what used to work.
- Some churches tweak a few things and think they have really changed.
- A few churches are surrendering their past successes and allowing drastic changes. They are laying down their life so that other people in the present and future might live. (John 15:13)
If you keep doing what you are doing
you will keep having what you are having
As the promises of Jesus Christ are to the individual disciple, so are his promises to the church. The churches that find that reactions one through three do not work will find it difficult to move to option four, but by sacrificing it all for Christ, some churches are experiencing rebirth, renewal, and revival. No, revival is not taking old familiar forms people expected from the past, because God always works in the here and now. Perhaps this is why we see only one “burning bush” event in the Bible, or one Pentecost, or one crucifixion and one resurrection.
Our nature is to try to repeat actions that worked before. God’s nature is to innovate (see blog: Innovation: Where Has the Church Gone?).Our nature is to try to get to the same place where we felt God’s presence before, hoping that he is still there, only to find that He has moved on and wants to do a new work through us. We should examine whether our behavior to get to where God has worked before is rooted in superstition and paganism rather than faith in Christ!
What is the first sign of deep-seated resistance to implement needed change? DEFENSIVENESS! Recently the word “missional” became a popular term used to describe churches that are active and relevant in their communities as well as supporting missionaries in far-away lands. Some churches and denominational agencies have responded with defensive comments of how they are already missional. Really? The perceived need to defend a position is sometimes evidence of the truth of the opposite of the defense.
THE REALISTIC APPROACH
I like to think of myself as a disciplist—one who is called to reach people on both sides of the Great Commission. I agree that evangelism is essential, but discipleship or teaching people what to do after they receive Christ is just as essential but much neglected. To this end I am using my blog that reaches hundreds of Christian leaders to offer my services for what I call Make Disciples Weekend Conferences. The conference may involve evangelism training, new Christian coach training, and a challenging discipleship message on Sunday morning. My goal is to multiply evangelists and disciplists in your church and ultimately create a Great Commission Resurgence in your community. The obvious benefit of a conference such as this is to saturate the congregation with practical evangelism and discipleship tools they can use.
Simple Discipleship Blessings!
Dr. Tom Cocklereece
The Simple Discipleship blog is read by Christian leaders in over 145 countries. Pray for this ministry as God has enlarged our territory!
Simple Discipleship: How to Make Disciples in the 21st Century was published and released by Church Smart Resources in November 2009. It is not a self-published book. To learn more about Simple Discipleship and to order the book, follow the link below:
Dr. Tom Cocklereece is CEO of RENOVA Coaching and Consulting, LLC
Author “Simple Discipleship,” contributing writer L2L Blogazine
He is a pastor, an author, professional coach, and leadership specialist
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