Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why churches wither & fade out:

There's an alarming trend of shrinking churches across America, so the data goes.  Young people are leaving their faith in the dust as they enter their 20's.  Churches are closing their doors; last I read it was in the 100's of congregations per week.  And, the recent census data reveals an increasing selection of "none" for religious affiliation.

I'm not totally sure why the North American Church is experiencing this phenomena, but I have a good hunch why the opposite isn't happening here.  Why aren't we growing?  We aren't growing because we... well wait a moment and let me try a metaphor out, tell me what you think:

There's an old phrase that's been around in the business world for years.  It applies when it comes to reaching a target audience, whether it's in advertising, marketing, or even in evangelism: Low Hanging Fruit.  The metaphor is meant to be reminiscent of nomadic peoples roaming through the forests or orchards, picking the fruit that's within easy reach...  thus, if you are broadcasting your organization's message, you hit the target that's easy.  i.e., the people you've already reached, they represent the "low hanging fruit" while the fruit that's been out of reach rots or is eaten by bats, you trek on.

I think the North American church is not growing because we've been accustomed to the low hanging fruit for so long we don't realize there's a tree full of fruit just out of reach.  We want to convert the nearly converted.  We're more comfortable being keepers of the aquarium than we are being fishers of men.  We enjoy when families of like-minded faith move into our town and join us more than we do reaching over the fence.

Do you know how walnuts are harvested?  There's a piece of mobile farming equipment that grips the trunk of the walnut tree like a giant robotic hand, and then the machinery violently shakes the tree...  and wallah, presto, a fuller harvest is gathered.  So, what am I recommending?  Ingenuity, a revitalized & energetic membership, and hard work.

It's all up to the Holy Spirit to work on people, but the Holy Spirit depends on us to spread the message too.  Romans 10:17 says faith comes through hearing the Word of Christ.  And, Jesus says in Luke 10:2 we need to pray for more workers in the field, "And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."

We need to shake things up (walnut tree harvest) and reach those who haven't been.  I read somewhere it's a terrible thing be lost and it's even worse when no one is looking for you.  Let's prayerfully turn around the trends we see and make every effort to reach those who aren't interested in church because of church as usual.  We need to become all things to all people and not expect unchurhced people to convert to us, but for us all to be transformed into the image of Jesus.   When we focus more on the needs of the people than our comfort zone and when being like Jesus becomes the goal, then good things will happen.

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