"QA - Diminishing Congregations"

Eric Swensson

March 16, 2012

“My congregation isn’t growing. What is the best way to get new members?”

photo of Eric SwenssonThe best way to get new members is to forget about getting new members. Doing evangelism for the sake of getting more people in the pews is really wrong. Why?

While it is laudable that many people love their congregation and want it to grow, we all need to realize that no amount of extra work is going to reverse the direction of a church. Something else is needed besides one more program. There are actually many reasons why churches today aren’t growing: its style of leadership, the type of worship offered, whether it is liberal or conservative, the age of the congregation and the age of its members, its location, the type of worship offered, the programs offered, whether the congregation wants to grow, the financial situation, and the spiritual condition of the church, all these things matter. However, if you were to guess which of these factors matters the most and choose to begin there, which would it be?

In my opinion, nothing matters as much as the spiritual condition of the church. Why? Jesus didn’t ask His followers to make sure their churches got new members each year. If a church wants new members so they can meet next year’s budget, are people who are not in a church really better off by joining it? Wouldn’t they be better off going somewhere where people are convinced that they are sinners in need of a savior, a place where people can give them a testimony about the love of God?

There are studies done all the time that show all the factors about affecting congregational growth. One I just read emphasized that there really are so many things going against “Old-line” churches (by this they mean denominations like mine, Lutheran) some should just give up. The article said that congregations have a life cycle just like people and if it is over a certain age it should be allowed to “die with dignity.”

Die, they should, but before they lock the doors and drop the keys off to a real estate agent, they should die to self, just as a human needs to do. If more of our congregations would turn from the idolatry of looking for a savior in yet another conference, book, program, leadership seminar, worship conference, evangelism program, church growth consultant, whatever, they should have a meeting, and not just any meeting, they should have a prayer meeting. Let those who know how to pray cry out to the Lord and ask Him to show them what they must do in order to be saved.

Just as people need to have a conversion to see that they really are a sinner who needs a savior, congregations need an “about face” turnaround also. Before a church can achieve a turnaround for a trend of diminishing membership, volunteers and finances, it needs to turn away from business as usual, especially where that business is nothing but idolatry. Churches are called to be one thing, faithful, and each needs to be about getting to that before it is too late.

Blessings, Eric