I read an article recently that indicated churches that had been in existence longer than 10 years typically had 80% of their growth via transfer growth (people from other churches joining that church). Interestingly, churches that had been in existence less than 10 years had 80% of their growth through “conversion” growth (people being saved and added to the church). Why the difference? It’s a great question.
May I offer my opinion? I genuinely believe most “established” churches have turned inward. It’s all about “taking care of the flock” and we’re not interested as believers in bringing anyone new (a true “unbeliever”) into the flock. We spend literally millions of dollars as Southern Baptists entertaining ourselves. Even in our own association I recently looked at the amount of “total receipts” versus baptisms (the association doesn’t keep up with the number of “salvations”) and do you know what I found? As an association of 38 churches we had only baptized 200 people (I’m rounding here…so we can do some easy math) with total receipts of around $7 million. This is pretty easy math and it equates to spending $35,000 per person baptized. That’s astounding to me! Is it to you? It should be! In Wilkes County, that $35,000 is above the average per capita wage earned by a fairly substantial margin. Is this a good return on the dollars spent by our churches? I think not. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is horrible!
So why is this the case? Simple. We, (not just our little association), but the Church in general has become apathetic, complacent and we quite candidly are too busy entertaining ourselves to care. How sad this makes our Lord. What is He thinking when He sees us spending so much money on ourselves and so little on reaching people for Christ through missions? He watches us go on all of our trips in our nice vans and buses. He sees how we spend literally thousands and thousands of dollars on “treating” our people with “fun” things to do. We spend exorbitant amounts particularly on Youth and Children’s programs that just “entertain” and may I go so far as to say…babysit. We take ’em to concerts, ball games, skiing, paintballing, go-karting, putt putting, and you name it! But, what is the rate of return? Are we raising more Godly children for the amount of dollars we are pouring into programs, staff and facilities? Well, look at the statistics. We are losing 78-92%, (depending on the survey you read), of our so-called “Christian” teens by the time they turn 20 years of age. They simply walk away from their faith and the church in droves.
But, wait a minute. We’re spending millions and millions of dollars nationwide on Youth programs, summer camps, concert series and the like and yet we’re losing them faster than we can woo them in with our pizza blasts and our game stations, couches, and wii’s. Why? Because we are just entertaining them. You say, “Wait a minute! Who do you think you are? We do a devotion with them on the bus…(uh…it’s just 15 minutes out of the three-hour ski trip…and uh it’s barely heard…but, uh…we’re doing a devotion)” Let me tell you…I’ve lived this life. I’ve worked with youth for almost 20 years and I’ve done it all. But, entertaining them and amusing and “funning” them to death is NOT the answer. The answer is to reach them and their families at the same time. Because what we do is send them to camp…they get on “fire,” (that’s a relative term and another blog post to come), and then they come back home and it’s like a 5-gallon bucket of water being poured on their enthusiasm…because they are walking into the same house they left before camp. The parents are not leading and teaching them the ways of Christ and they are un-devoted in so many areas that the “mixed message” kills what they’ve seen at the camp or the concert or on the outing. We’ve got to reach the parents…principally Dad’s. Why the Dad? Because as the Dads go…the families go.
I know I parked on the Youth stuff…but, this is the case in almost every area of most of our churches. We simply are just “entertaining” ourselves. We are so inwardly focused that we have become comfortable with our selfish, “religiousity.” Strong words I know…but, it’s true of our “American” brand of Christianity. Can I tell you what we need to be doing? We need to be spending much, much less on ourselves and reaching out as we are told to by Christ in the GREAT COMMISSION and GO and make disciples of all nations. That’s why I have a passion to see people come to Christ in Ethiopia, Mexico, The Philippines, Croatia, Serbia and Brazil, just to name some of the places we have missionaries that we’re supporting. Our church has graciously decided to go beyond the walls of our church and reach people where they are “hungry” for the gospel.
Does this mean we don’t try to reach people in our own “Jerusalem and Judea?” Absolutely not. We have local ministries to our men, called “Iron Men.” We meet weekly and currently have close to 30 men attending and growing in Christ at a noontime lunch on Wednesdays. We work through our local Pregnancy Care Center and our local food and clothing bank, our local Christian Counseling group and much more. But, this is not an advertisement for our church…it’s a blog post to get us to think about how we are spending God’s money. But, I will say that we’ve experienced as much growth in our church than anyone in our area in baptisms and new members. Why? Because I believe we are balancing what we do in our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and beyond. Quite simply…God blesses a church that has a heart for missions!
So let’s sum up why we aren’t reaching people for Christ? I believe ultimately we don’t have a “missions” mindset. We aren’t on mission in our job places, our schools, our ball teams, our extra curricular activities, etc., etc. We are simply and selfishly living for ourselves. We are “building bigger barns” while the rest of the world lives in painstaking poverty and hunger for a Savior that they’ve never heard about. What will we do? We should change the structure of our churches to make our “mission” as a church to spend (or may I say “invest” or “store up treasures”) much, much more on “missions” instead of ourselves. It’s that simple. If we are serious about living out the principles outlined in Scripture that were espoused by Jesus Christ, then we must…we MUST change our mode of operation. If we don’t…we’ll continue to have the pathetic statistics that we have today. We’ll spend lots of money with little results. May God help us!