Many churches are growing; some even seem to be growing exponentially. But is overall church membership in the United States growing? Not really.
In his book, The Shepherd Leader, Timothy Witmer writes that “despite the publicity given to the exploding numbers of people flooding into megachurches, growth of the church at large in the United States is essentially stagnant” (p.179). He goes on to describe what he calls the “Wal-Mart effect” whereby much of the growth of the larger churches or megachurches “is drawn from the smaller churches in the region” (p.180).
In their book, Comeback Churches, Ed Stetzer & Mike Dodsen write,
Of those churches that are “growing,” most of the growth is from transfer growth and not the result of making an impact among the unchurched. (p.27)
Are we reaching the lost or just re-shuffling the deck? That is certainly not what we are called to do. We are called to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20), not simply to redistribute the disciples that we already have.
According to one recent article, it seems that the Great Commission has become the Great Omission, at least here on the home front.
Thom Rainer writes,
We go to churches that do not reach the unchurched. We only reach one person for Christ each year for every 85 church members in the United States. That is a frightening and terrible ratio. One of the key reasons we do not reach the unchurched is that many Christians in America are members of churches that do not reach the unchurched.
You can read his entire article here.
I think the way that he states it is a bit strange, possibly even redundant. He says that, “One of the key reasons we do not reach the unchurched is that many Christians in America are members of churches that do not reach the unchurched.” (The churches are made up of their members, so it is not the churches in the abstract that are not reaching the lost, but rather their members who are failing to do so.) The real point, however, is clear: the vast majority of the members of our churches are not reaching the lost with the message of the gospel.
Those Christians who are members of churches that reach the lost are in churches whose members themselves are reaching the lost. But for most of us, that does not seem to be the case.
Now, I do not know where he gets his statistics, but if they are even remotely accurate, it paints a pretty discouraging picture regarding the domestic mission focus in the church. It would seem to indicate that the vast majority of American Christians are either not sharing the gospel at all, or at least not very effectively.
We all need to be reminded from time to time that every believer is a missionary of sorts wherever we happen to be. There is no ‘plan B.’ If the lost do not hear the gospel from you and me, where are they going to hear it?
Perhaps it is because we kinda believe for ourselves but are not convinced it is a true enough thing, a life changing enough thing to warrant telling others about it? Or perhaps the gospel we understand is enough different from the gospel that is preached that it is hard to bring others to church because they will not be introduced to the Jesus that we have come to know. Kind of like the man in John who was told to get up and walk so he did. Then the Pharasees and religious elite of the day firt attacked him for carrying his pallet on a Sunday and then tried to get him to point out who did this miraculous thing on a Sunday and encouraged the man to break the religious law.
If we were truly gripped by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we would not be so hesitant to share the good news of the grace of God in Christ. We share (i.e. talk about) that which our hearts treasure. We talk about our kids, our sports teams, politics, movies, etc. because we enjoy them and (to some extent) find our identities in them.
Maybe we fail to talk about Jesus Christ more often because we fail to enjoy Him and do not sufficiently find (or grasp) our identity in Him.
Perhaps. Aren’t we to lay hold of him as he has laid hold of us? He has to prove himself real to each one. We cannot force the issue. We are to be the responder in our relationship with God and then serve as His voice and His hands of love to others with gentleness, patience and true humility. Love does not force its way in.