The Protestant church has faced major challenges in recent years. In 2019, over 4,500 churches closed their doors for good. At the same time, 3,000 new churches were planted and launched in the same year.
While it is incredible that new churches were able to begin, we cannot ignore the loss that occurred simultaneously. Not to mention that just the next year, we would face one of the biggest challenges in the modern church: the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s safe to say that the church is facing challenging times. Launching a brand new church can be scary and the churches that already exist may be behind in their ways of drawing new members through their doors.
How do we help already established churches detect the things that threaten their existence? How can we work to grow the areas that are healthy and learn to heal (or even possibly cut off) the broken parts?
For our purposes today, we want to mainly focus on the digital side of this conversation. However, we need to understand the greatest threat to the Church as a whole.
In the Christian church, we believe we have an adversary. The Apostle Peter explains it perfectly in 1 Peter 5:8-9:
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
While many things threaten our churches and their livelihoods in years to come, the main threat we have is that of the enemy of the Church.
The enemy wants churches to close.
The enemy wants pastors to fall.
The enemy wants us to worry more and pray less.
The enemy wants us to put our faith in people and not God.
The enemy wants us to focus inwardly only and not outwardly.
It is important for us to be aware of the schemes of the enemy, resist him, and stand firm in our faith as believers in Jesus. It is only from this position that we can withstand all of the other threats that face the Church in the digital age.
There is a litany of threats that face the Church, but several of these are ones that greatly affect our growth and engagement. If we want to see fewer churches close in 2022 and in years to come, we must be aware of these threats and employ ways of not just avoiding them, but dealing with them effectively.
One major threat that could lead to your church closing its doors is not a threat from the outside, but it is cancer within.
Churches are full of all sorts of people from many different backgrounds. As you already know, people are complicated. While we have good intentions, our sin and selfishness can lead us to care more about our wants than the needs of the community as a whole.
If not managed well, this type of attitude can infect the church and spread like wildfire. While major moral failures and sins are a huge issue, there are also other issues we need to be aware of too. Gossip, favoritism, and anger are just a few of the things that can creep into a faith community and rot it from the inside out.
If our culture within is unhealthy, we cannot expect to grow a church that lasts throughout the ages. The best way to remedy this issue is to cultivate a culture of belonging in your church. When people go against that culture, we must address it. If we let it fester for too long you may just end up with a church that is uninviting, unloving, and unable to grow.
Many churches are dying… literally. As members of the church get older and pass away, their numbers dwindle. If there is no younger generation to succeed the older, the church itself will die as its members do.
This threat seems like it has an easy solution: have more young people in your church. Simple right? While the solution is pretty plain, generational diversity can be a difficult thing to have in a church.
To face this threat head-on there needs to be an emphasis on diligently raising up the next generation. This effort is multi-faceted. Children’s ministry, youth ministry, and young adult/college ministry are all vital in raising our younger people in the faith. These people are the future and will be the ones leading the church someday.
In addition to this, having a solid leadership/pastoral succession plan is very important in the church. Lead pastors who are planning to retire in the next few years should already be investing in the life of their successors. Also, ministry leaders should be diligent in discipling younger leaders and equipping them to eventually lead in a higher capacity.
Raising up the next generation takes a lot of time and effort, but it is vital if we want to see churches not just survive but grow for generations to come.
Sometimes in the church, we tend to put our hand to too many things at once. We have countless ministries, small groups, and programs. While larger churches have adequate staff and financial capacity to manage these various programs, not all churches have that same luxury.
To see growth in the church, we don’t need to focus on doing everything; we need to focus on the things that work.
As a church, you need to figure out what areas of ministry, outreach, and engagement are working the best.
For example, if you are noticing that there are a ton of people joining you online for church service, it is probably wise to invest some time, effort, and finances into church online. If you notice your young adult ministry is booming, you may want to invest in that area primarily for a season.
Discovering these growth drivers will take some effort (and a bit of analytical work) but it will be well worth it to see what things truly are worth the resources. This will also help you eliminate anything that may not be producing the type of fruit you once expected it to.
Understanding what will make you grow as a church will naturally help to guard you against the threat of closure.
On some level, there needs to be a strong emphasis on growth within the already existing members of a church (remember: a healthy community is key!).
If a church is healthy, the natural flow of things should be the discipleship and investment in those outside of the 4 church walks. Even the disciples had a healthy, generous local church (and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit!) before they were able to spread the gospel.
If we fail to do outreach well, we are setting up our church for closure. Just like we need the younger generation to keep the church thriving, we also need the community around us.
There are countless people in our hometowns that need to hear the message of Jesus. They need an encounter with the God of the universe who loves them so much. This Gospel message is one that radically changed everything it touches.
Getting this message into our communities is of vital importance to the overall growth and influence of the Body of Christ on the earth. Outreach is the key to actually doing this.
There are countless ways you can do outreach. Events, community food drives, and even local service projects are a few options. But one of the best ways is to share your personal experience with God with your neighbor. If we all collectively do this, we will see growth like we have never seen before!
As we focus on the things that will make for a healthier community, we will be naturally protecting ourselves from the threats of church closure. Raising up our younger members, investing in growth drivers, and outreaching to our communities will be key in this too.
When it comes to growth and preventing church closure, we must not neglect to remember that this is not something we can do on our own. We need God to be at the center of all that we do. Although we plant and water it is ultimately God who brings the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7-9).
The church is at a decline in this post-pandemic era. How can you overcome this emergency in your church?
Community is greater than competition every single time. How can you emphasize community in your church?