Summary: What does the Bible say about why a church isn’t growing and how it can be corrected.
Help! My Church Isn’t Growing
In many ways pastors and churches are judged by whether or not their church is growing. It becomes painful to admit to the brethren that we haven’t seen growth in a church we pastor - whether addition by baptism or transfer. What does the Bible have to say about solving this problem? Several things actually.
I. Who’s Responsible for Growth?
“And God said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number.’” Gen.1:22
“So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jeru-salem increased rapidly...” Acts 6:7
Obviously, God wants his church to grow.
1. Increase comes from God. The lesson of the sower in Matthew 13 teaches us that God is the reaper and that we are the planters, spreading the seed (His word) to the world.
2. Fallow times come from God. Because God is the provider of growth, he is also the one who can stop growth. When the church fails to grow it is time to go before the one who provides the harvest and inquire about the reason for the fallowness.
II. What’s the Key to Change the Status Quo?
It sometimes helps to seek an answer in scripture, to see if there is a precedent that can guide us. David’s kingdom underwent a famine for three years (2 Sam. 21). King David humbled him-self and went before the Lord to get the reason for the famine, to learn why the Lord wasn’t blessing the Israelites (vs. 1a). In prayer and worship the Lord spoke to him and explained what King Saul had done to bring this judgment upon the nation.
Notice that though David had not caused it he was reaping the effects of Saul’s sin against the Gibeonites. Many times some-thing not of our own doing is nevertheless being judged against our church because of something that has happened previously in a church’s history. That could involve a staff member participating in something disreputable or the church doing something against the will of God (firing a staff member or pastor). Here’s the pattern from David’s experience:
1. Leadership must go before the Lord (vs. 1a). For Israel, it was their king, David. For you it may be the pastor, the elders, the deacons, the staff. Whatever leadership is in charge, they must take the first step.
2. Leadership must get a word from God (vs. 1b). Waiting before God until you receive His word is key. If the Holy Spirit is speaking, everyone involved will get the same word and be in agreement as to the source of the problem.
3. Consult the offended parties (vs. 2-3). David learned the his-tory of the Gibeonites, the promise made to their ancestors, and how Saul had broken the promise and brought God’s judgment. It’s also interesting to note that this takes place well into David’s reign. God had to wait until David’s heart was right before giving him an opportunity to ‘right the wrong’ that had been done. Because David had an intimate relationship with God and a heart that sought after God, God knew he could trust David to lead the nation in repentance. The same bears true for God’s church that is experiencing fallowness. God will wait until he has a pastor after his heart, and then bring the pastor and the leadership to the realization that there is sin blocking growth.
4. Determine the repentance needed (vs. 5-9) David asked the Gibeonites what they thought would suffice to atone for the wrong done them and they responded. Notice that they are not interested in monetary damages, but blood had to be shed - a familiar theme throughout the Bible. Also notice that David didn’t compound Saul’s sin by failing to protect Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son that David had promised to protect and feed from his own table. Don’t promise to make atonement and then compound the problem by doing something that God will not honor.
5. Receive God’s blessing again (vs. 9b). Before David had begun to atone for the sin of Saul, God blessed the people and sent rain so that there would be a harvest coincidental to the slaying of Saul’s descendants. God knew David would faith-fully carry out the necessary punishment and brought blessing to the people.
III. What Must I Do?
It would seem that following the pattern laid down in the Bible is the key. More than likely the church and previous leaders will be involved in repenting of sin that has caused God to judge the church and take it through fallow and famine times. This is only the first stage of God’s judgment against his church. If it is not taken care of, the next stage may be personal judgment by God which could include illness and death of individuals, or the demise of the church that must close its doors and cease to exist.