I love the Book of Proverbs in the Bible. There is such a wealth of wisdom in the, usually, short sayings. One piece of wisdom that stands out to me is Proverbs 24:33,34. It reads, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” God thought it was so important to say this that He led the scribe of Proverbs to include it two times! In Proverbs 6:10,11 we read the exact, same saying.
While some of the proverbs can leave one scratching his or her head, this one is easy to understand. One must work diligently throughout their life, or everything worked for will be gone in what seems like an instant. People will wonder, “How did this happen!”
I often think of this proverb in relation to churches. I’m passionate about the local church. My intensity regarding the local church is too much for many people. I get that and I don’t like that it makes people uncomfortable, but I see the times and I have concern and I grieve regarding the state of the local church.
Here are some anecdotal reasons why. Here in Louisville, there is a nice church facility that was operating as a Baptist church when we moved to the area some 25 years ago. It is now an Islamic school. I don’t begrudge Islamic parents seeking parochial education for their children, but it grieves me that this Baptist Church no longer exists at that location.
There is another church facility near me that was once a large Baptist church. That church is now owned by a Christian school. Again, I’m happy that children are being trained in the Christian faith, but I grieve that the church is no longer worshipping in that location.
A few years ago, there was a church that was very involved in local area ministries and had a building in which they housed volunteer Vacation Bible School workers who came to Louisville for the summer to help various churches. On one occasion I drove by the church and the property was surrounded by chain link fences and was apparently closed. I asked an associational leader what happened. He told that the church had gotten to a place financially where it was largely supported by one elderly woman. She passed away, her support stopped, and the church was no longer able to keep the doors open.
There are many more stories I could tell of Baptist churches that have closed or merged with other churches because they became too small to stay open and or be self-supporting. There are many other non-Baptist churches that are no longer operating like a Presbyterian church that is now owned by Indians (India Indians). Again, I don’t begrudge the Indians practicing their faith, but it grieves me that an Evangelical Christian Protestant church is no longer functioning.
Then there are the statistical studies. For 40 years or more I’ve been told in various meetings that 80% of churches are plateaued or declining. Thom Rainer’s organization did a study and found the number was more accurately 65%; better but still troubling. Recently I reached out to one of our state Baptist workers regarding the number of Baptist church closures over the past few years. He reported that 30 church had closed in the previous four-year period. That is an average of 7.5 churches per year! While not as bad as I had expected, 7.5 churches a year still makes me grieve and that is just Kentucky Baptist Churches. The reports on mainline church decline are much more troubling.
Following is a clipping from the July 13, 2021, Christianity Today article, “Mainline Protestants Are Still Declining, But That’s Not Good News for Evangelicals”, “By their own membership tallies, mainline denominations are showing drops of 15 percent, 25 percent, and even 40 percent over the span of the last decade.”
Finally, in 2009, I served as Part-Time Minister of Music for a church in Louisville. In the 1960s and 1970s the church had as many as 1,200 people attending worship. At one time they were a leading Southern Baptist church in growth. When I came in 2009 the church usually ran 150 in worship with occasional “special day” attendance of 200+. By pre-COVID 2019 the attendance was approximately 70 and now the church is averaging 40.
Certainly, COVID has hurt our church attendance, but it doesn’t deserve all the blame as church decline was well evidenced before the Spring of 2020.
I believe I am justified in my grief and intense passion regarding church decline. I’m no expert in church growth. I have read Thom Rainer’s books and followed his blog for years. He is a leading Southern Baptist professor, author, and researcher on church growth. I have also stayed informed by publications released by The Barna Group especially when George Barna was alive and heading the organization.
I don’t know the answer and the truth is there is no THE answer that applies equally well to each church. A friend, George Yates, has written a book, “Reaching the Summit: Avoiding and Reversing Decline in the Church.” In addition, he has worked as a consultant with many churches across the United States to help them avoid and reverse decline in their church. I’ve heard Reverend Yates say that he feels the decline can be traced back to an initial cause mentioned in Revelation chapter two. God is speaking to the church in Ephesus. Initially He commends the church for their hard work. However, in verse four God says, “Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first!” (NIV)
I think there is a lot of merit to his observation. Too many churches seem to have lost their, or have a seriously reduced, love for Jesus Christ. I fear too many in the church do not have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ.
I grew up attending church and I have a deep love for the local church, any local church, not just the one I attend. I want the churches, including my church, to be healthy and growing. I want them to be a joy to attend. I want to sing with my friends the great hymns of the faith and the great new songs of faith. I want to be challenged and enlightened by a deep look into the scripture and I want to challenge and enlighten those to whom I am sharing God’s word. I know there is a wonderful abundant life in store for those who love God and live according to His purpose, and I get very intense in trying to help people grow in Christ and have that abundant life.
If my intensity has offended you, I apologize. It was not my intent to offend. However, I cannot serve my God with a lukewarm attitude and action. I will try to be less offensive while maintaining my zeal for His church. My prayer is that God will remind you of His love for you and that your love will be restored to what it once was.
Finally, if you know you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and you have never accepted Him as your personal Savior, I urge you to get with me or some other Christian you respect, and resolve this today. Also, if you believe or thought that you had made a genuine profession of faith years ago but today are not sure, I urge you to meet with me or some other Christian you respect and resolve your position with Christ today!