Why Churches Die, Part 5: They are content ‘doing’ church instead of ‘being’ the Church

By JimBo Stewart

We live in a fast-paced society. Churches easily become caught up in the routine of running programs and activities and lose sight of their true purpose: Churches are made up of believers called to carry out the Great Commission and make disciples of all nations who make disciples of all nations.

Despite this, one of the reasons that many churches die is that they have become satisfied with simply “doing” church, rather than being the Church. This is likely not because leaders made explicit decisions, but rather the slow seduction of comfort and complacency.

Over time, missional drift leads churches to care more about maintaining the infrastructure necessary to stay comfortable than about their identity as cross-bearers. This is not unique to dying churches. We all are susceptible to this seduction in our everyday lives. However, when maintenance becomes the modus operandi for church leadership, we idolatrously confuse doing good things with being who God has called us to be.

When we allow the infrastructure of our preferential programs to take priority, we also are in danger of being seduced by overly pragmatic church revitalization solutions that only pour gas on the fire of our idolatry. Before cleaning up our programs, policies and procedures we need to ask several questions:

  1. What has God called the church to be as an organization?
  2. Who has God called me to be as a church member or leader?
  3. Why are we doing the things we do?
  4. Are we chasing our preferences or God’s purpose for our lives and the life of our church?
  5. Are we actively and sacrificially on mission or are we in maintenance mode?

As we explore these questions, we can find the foundation for our answers in the identity of who God has called us to be. Then, we can discover the commands God has called us to. We are the bride of Christ, more than conquerors, salt and light, adopted, redeemed, ambassadors of Christ ministers of reconciliation.

Only when we are firmly rooted in our biblical identity are we ready to ask God what He has for us to do. What does it look like for us to act on our identity? It looks like Jesus. It looks like Acts 2, Ephesians 4, Romans 12 and so much more.

“Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us – to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph. 3:20-21 CSB)

Approaching ministry with an identity-first mentality will not be easy. Asking God to identify and chisel out the idolatry in your own heart and in the church will be painful – but it will be worth it. Ministry is not about comfort; it is about denying ourselves and bearing our crosses for the glory of God.

If churches want to avoid dying, they must stay true to their biblical identity as the body of Christ. They must focus on their mission to make disciples who make disciples who make the community noticeably better.

Published February 9, 2023

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JimBo Stewart

JimBo Stewart is a follower of Jesus, husband of Audrea, father of three, Replant Pastor of Redemption Church, Revitalization and Replanting Strategist for Jacksonville Baptist Association, co-founder of replantbootcamp.com, and currently pursuing a D.Min. in Church Revitalization at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s also a classic car enthusiast and (unsolicited) amateur food critic.