There are many Christian churches in our world. The World Christian Encyclopedia (Barrett, Kurian, and Johnson; Oxford University Press) says that there are over 33,000 various denominations. Most have certain distinctives that makes them unique. However, one thing that almost all have in common is that they want their churches to grow. However, wanting a church to grow and getting it to grow are often two different things. Dr. Elmer Towns in his book, The Everychurch Guide to Growth, dealt with barriers that keep churches from growing. In this article, I want to discuss some of these barriers that he mentions.
A Sick Body Will Not Grow
Dr. Towns said, “A body does not need to be challenged, coaxed, or have a goal to grow. The body automatically grows when it is healthy” (1998, p. 10). I was at a church growth conference years ago and I heard someone who said,
“Healthy things grow
Growing things change.
Change challenges us.
Challenge forces us to trust God.
Trust leads to obedience.
Obedience makes us healthy.
Healthy things grow…”
This is a powerful truth. Think about the analogy that Paul uses when he discusses church growth. “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6, NIV). Notice the care and effort necessary to make sure the crop has all it needs to be healthy. It should be noted that this is the underlying principle of Natural Church Development Theory by Christian A. Schwarz.
“The first disease is called ‘ethnikitis.’ It is the inbred allegiance of the church to one ethnic group and its lack of adaptation or openness to other groups” (Towns, 1998, p. 11). The fact is, our nation is growing. Our cities are growing and becoming more and more diverse. One-way New Vision Church has tried to address this is by beginning a second-language preaching service. We are also seeking other groups to partner with to reach our community and city with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15, NIV).
Ghost Town Disease
The author went on to talk about a community that has become old and not many people are moving in or out of the neighborhood. Although a stable community has many advantages, when no one is moving in, prospects for evangelism diminish. In these conditions he advises, “Reach people going through transitions (seasons of the soul) in the hospital ministry, funerals, birth of a baby, etc. Don’t set unrealistic growth goals. Give attention to maintenance ministry, not growth ministry. Begin pioneer works in another community that is growing” (1998, p.12).
It would be wise however, to make sure that your appraisal of your community is not distorted by your own discouragement. For example, although our church is in an older neighborhood, yet to the south of the church is a large mobile home park. Also, on the street that the church is on, there are many duplexes that are constantly seeing new families. What I am saying is that sometimes we can become so fixated on the lack of growth that we fail to see the harvest all around us. “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35, NIV).
“The word is based on the Greek stem [koin] which is the root of the ‘fellowship’ words in the New Testament. [Koinonia] is fellowship. But it is possible for a church to go to ‘seed’ on fellowship. When the relationship among church members is so important that outreach is neglected, the church has a disease- [koinonitis]” (Towns, 1998, pp. 13-14).
This barrier happens when the church makes other things besides the Great Commission the top priority. In this particular case, it is necessary to create an others mentality. This is not to say that fellowship is not good or even needful. Acts 2:42 stated, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (NIV, emphasis mine). The problem is when the pendulum swings too far in one direction and the church gets out of balance.
Although I do not have the space to mention all of the barriers that the book mentions, I would like to add one final one, what our author calls, “Hypopneumia.”
“‘Hypopneumia’ is a church disease caused by a subnormal level of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of the church” (Towns, 1998, p. 17). “So he said to me, ‘This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6, NIV). I believe it is vital that Christians remember that in the end, it is God, not programs, facilities, or prestige that builds churches. And the only cure is found in God’s rebuke to the Ephesians, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Revelations 2:4,5, NIV).
It is my prayer that Christians everywhere will consider the health of their churches. There are a multitude of people in our communities that need to hear the Good News. God has planted churches in these communities to herald the Gospel. May God help us to fulfil His will through our labor and lives.
Question: What are some ways to turn a church around?
Towns, E., Wagner, C. P., & Rainer, T. S. (1993). The Everychurch Guide to Growth: How Any Plateaued Church Can Grow. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.