The Great Commission is a call to an ongoing ministry. Baptism is the front door to the local church; the entry point to an ongoing relationship with the family of God. Disciple-making will continue throughout our Christian life, and teaching all that Jesus commanded will take some time, too. That is why we need churches. A church is like a disciple-making factory. As disciples mature, they are sent out to places in need of the gospel to form new churches. Every church those disciples form is a new door into the kingdom of Heaven, bidding sinners to come inside.
Churches make disciples. Disciples make churches.
As aggressively as we work to build the church, the enemy is hard at work to try and destroy it. The work you are doing will be opposed at every hand. 1 Peter 5:8 instructs us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Jesus warned His disciples to, “stay awake at all times” (Luke 21:36), and the Apostle Paul warns, “be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” These warnings are not just vain rhetoric. Church planting is difficult work and church planters should not be out in such a dangerous land without the backup of a Sending Church.
Churches in America are closing at an alarming pace. The Huffington Post reports that, “Between the years 2010 and 2012, more than half of all churches in America added not one new member. Each year, nearly 3 million more previous churchgoers enter the ranks of the “religiously unaffiliated.” When you head off to church this week, consider the fact that about 170 churches have closed since you went to church last week—that’s 24 churches a day, 750 churches a month and 9,000 churches a year melting under the heat of our increasingly secular society.
The American church is in steep, steady decline. Western Europe went through a similar season over the course of the 20th century, particularly during the 1960’s. Today, the streets of major European cities are lined with church buildings that outlived the congregations that built them. Hundreds of buildings throughout Europe are now being used as restaurants, nightclubs, concert venues, cafés, modern condominiums, museums and even mosques. They stand as a stark picture that Western culture has rejected Christianity.
Plateaued and declining churches
According to researcher Win Arn, approximately “350,000 churches in America, four out of five, are either plateaued or declining.” So, why not just help those churches? Yes! We have to increase the birth rate by planting new churches and decrease the death rate by helping old churches. We should do everything we can to help renew churches in our city that have fallen on hard times, but church renewal is not enough. We must also plant new churches. Arn continues, “Many churches begin a plateau or slow decline about their fifteenth to eighteenth year. 80-85% are on the downside of this cycle.”
So, for those that are alive and remain, how do we respond? We make sure that our congregations are not the fruitless branch on Jesus’ family tree. We make disciples and then send them to make disciples. As church leaders, many other things will clamor for our attention and the focus of our church’s resources and ministry, but nothing will bear lasting fruit like church planting.
There is only one thing worse than being lost, and that is being lost with no one searching for you. Most of the individuals making up our communities and the communities around us do not have any church in pursuit of them. May it be that God would use our churches to carry the gospel to the lost in our communities through preaching and evangelism, then carry the gospel to the rest of the world by planting churches that will do the same.
This blog is an excerpt from Clint Clifton’s e-book, Deploy to Multiply. Get the entire e-book here.
Published August 3, 2017