Allan Bevere posted a list of five signs that a church is in trouble. Copied directly from his blog, they are:
1) “A new pastor will fix all our problems.” One could wish that it were that simple. Seldom are church issues tied to one person; most often they are systemic.
2)”We need to go back to the good old days.” Short of someone inventing a time machine, don’t count on this happening.
3) “They are keeping us from moving forward.” When a congregation comes to the point of a division between “us” and “them,” the church has become extremely unhealthy.
4) “We need to get more tithers in the church so that we can meet the budget.” I can’t remember Jesus ever suggesting that balancing the budget was a worthy basis for evangelism.
5) “We are at the mercy of (some outside force).” When a congregation feels that it is no longer operating under the Lordship of Christ but is beholden to some outside entity – the denomination, the culture, the economy – it has lost its will to function.
More details can be read here
Number 5 makes me think of our rather common defense of our denominational declines. “Everyone, even the Baptists, are losing members. If it weren’t for immigration, so would the Catholics.” And I hear it among the small churches I serve. “There aren’t many people around here who aren’t in church. There aren’t many people around here at all.”
I understand all these comments, but they do sound in my ears like throwing up our hands. It lets me off the hook if I can avoid saying, “I have not worked faithfully enough or creatively enough to spread the gospel.” Instead, I can say, “Hey, everyone is struggling.”
I understand the sentiment, but there is nothing about them that has anything to do with our Methodist ethos.
John Wesley did not stand at the church door, shrug, and say, “If God wants those colliers in church, he will bring them on Sunday morning.” No. He believed he had something — the gospel — of such great value that it had to be taken to people and offered to them every place they could be found. He never used these terms, but I think he would approved of the saying “the best defense is a good offense.”
For me, I need to be left on the hook on such things. I am basically a bookish introvert. If I can blame the decline of the church on things beyond my control, my natural instincts are to stay behind my computer screen and with my books and let the world go on its way. I need John Wesley reminding me that Christians do not believe that letting the world go on its way is God’s plan.