Why do churches die?
It is sad to see a church whither away. Yet, anyone middle-aged or older can think of congregations that were once strong and vibrant that today find themselves either on life-support or perhaps they have ceased to exist at all. Churches can—and often do—die!
Dying churches do not reach out to the lost. If you want to prevent tooth decay, brush your teeth. If you want to keep your body from decaying, control your diet and exercise. If you want to prevent church decay, evangelize. A church that is not actively reproducing through evangelism is going to die.
The church grew because of “untrained” evangelists! Christians forced to scatter from Jerusalem went everywhere teaching the gospel and saving the lost (Acts 8:4). We each have a personal responsibility to spread the good news about the Lord. It is a work we all must do.
They fight and divide. There is little doubt that the church in Corinth would have faded away quickly without Paul’s first letter. They had a host of problems: immorality (ch. 5), disputes between brethren (ch. 6), divorce (ch. 7), influence of idolatry (ch. 8), gender roles (ch. 10), the Lord’s Supper (ch. 11), spiritual gifts (ch. 12–14), etc. But their greatest struggle was division (1 Corinthians 1:10–17).
We are called to have one mind as we work for the Lord (Ephesians 4:4–6). There is no room for division, strife, or dissension. A church that is constantly fussing and fighting will die. We are told the world will know we are Christians if we know how to get along with each other (John 13:34–35). If we want the church to avoid death, we must be united and love one another—that’s a personal responsibility.
Dying churches forget what is most important. Isn’t that what happened to the majority of the churches in Asia? Ephesus left their first love (Revelation 2:1–7). Pergamum didn’t stand up to false teachers (Revelation 2:12–17). Thyatira tolerated Jezebel and sexual immorality (Revelation 2:18–29). Sardis had a good reputation but they were dead (Revelation 3:1–6). Laodicea was lukewarm (Revelation 3:14–22). Each group was in danger of having their light put out by the Lord. They were literally on the brink of extinction.
It seems these problems could be avoided and fixed if churches simply remember to “put first things first.” Jesus said to seek His kingdom and rule above everything else (Matthew 6:33). We need to understand that the congregation can die out as a collective because the individuals fail to have the right priorities. We will never be a Matthew 6:33 church if we aren’t all Matthew 6:33 Christians individually.
What ties all of these things together? I do. You do. We do. What we learn is that churches die when people fail to do their part. In other words, the success of the collective hinges on the heart, work, and commitment of the individuals. Are you committed to keep the East Shelby Church of Christ from dying? I am. And I pray you are to!