One of the final stages of dying and declining churches is that decisions are no longer made based on ministry effectiveness or on reaching the community. Rather, decisions are made based on whether they’ll keep people happy. I say this is one of the final stages, because at this point, a church has become completely inward-focused.
This is disturbingly similar to medical decisions made in hospice care: The goal is simply to keep the patient comfortable.
I think the letter to the church in Laodicea is a good guide for this situation:
I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. (Rev. 3:15-16)
The church at Laodicea had completely lost sight of its mission. Jesus actually described it as “lukewarm” – not really existing for any purpose whatsoever. Because they were no longer seeking the things of God, Jesus says He is about to spit the church out of His mouth. This means that, while the body may have continued functioning as a social club or a religious organization, it would not be a New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are many tough realities that occur when a church is focused solely on keeping the peace, or on keeping the comfort and preferences of its members. Here are two of these tough realities:
1. Mission is diminished
It sounds harsh, but this is what happens when a church exists – and votes – to keep the peace and their preferences. They no longer are focused on reaching their community, because that may require change and would be uncomfortable. Thus, even seemingly small changes (like the color of the carpet, moving from pews to chairs, or allowing folks to bring coffee into the sanctuary) can seem like a major threat to the comfort of the existing members. Even longstanding outreach programs like Vacation Bible School may be abandoned because “We are all just too tired and it’s too much work.” The church is no longer asking, “How can we reach our community?” and instead asks, “What will continue to make the existing attendees feel good?”
2. The gospel is marginalized
The message of the gospel is that God has radically transformed us by forgiving our sins in Christ and sanctifying us by the Holy Spirit. When a church exists only for the comfort of its members, the message of gospel transformation is marginalized at best or completely lost at worst. In this case, the church is no longer declaring the power of the gospel to its neighborhood; instead it is declaring to a lost and dying world that the folks in the church don’t really care about the eternal destiny of their neighbors.
So what is the answer for a church that finds itself in the lukewarmness of voting to keep the peace and preferences? It’s actually pretty simple: repentance.
As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be zealous and repent. See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:19-20)
Jesus’ call to the church at Laodicea could not be more clear: Repent. Turn around. Stop what you’re doing and follow Jesus instead! The call to lukewarm churches today is the same.
And don’t miss that Jesus’ call to repent and to let Him in is given to believers! Folks who claim the name of Christ had shut Him out.
I’ve heard it said that true revival happens when God’s people get right with God. This is what Jesus says to churches that focus only on their own comfort and preferences.
If this describes your local church, I believe Jesus still has a plan for you. He can still use the body gathered in your building, but it will require repenting of wrong attitudes and actions and returning to Him.
Published March 29, 2023