Monday, April 28, 2008

Ken Gurley: Why Churches Die


Posted 4/22/2008 8:23 AM CDT

Editor's Note: This may appear to be off topic, but I think you'll find some good perspective for preaching as well as congregational leadership.

A few years ago, a pastoral friend and I were shopping for used religious books in London. We noticed that a high percentage of religious bookstores were housed in former churches. Churches that once held human letters read of all men now contained dusty tomes stacked to the rafters.

Churches close often in America - an estimated 3,500 each year. The number of churches per capita in the United States has fallen steadily. One estimate says that no county in this country has more churches today than it did a decade ago. Astounding if accurate!

What causes a church to close its doors? In Why Churches Die: Diagnosing Lethal Poisons in the Body of Christ, authors Mac Brunson and Ergun Caner diagnose the toxins which destroy churches. The chapter titles alone are colorful and illustrative:

* Extending the Right Fist of Fellowship
* Atrophy: Shrunken Faith and Coasting on the Pat
* Glossolitis: Swollen Tongues of Fire
* Myopia: Nearsighted and Shortsighted
* Arteriosclerosis: Harden Not Your Heart
* The Poison of Jealousy and Vengeance
* The Martha Syndrome: Obsessive-Compulsive Christians
* Phobias: The Fearful and the Faithful
* Anorexia and Bulimia: Eating Disorders of the Word of God
* Hypochondria: The Gift of Discouragement

Finger-pointing remains the kryptonite of super-churches. When people lose sight of their own weaknesses and highlight those perceived in others, the church's heartbeat begins to slow.

The authors recommend the "holy dozen," touchstones for all vibrant churches:

* Be in agreement with one another (Romans 12:10).
* Pursue that which builds up one another (Romans 14:13).
* Accept one another (Romans 15:5, 7, 14).
* Show courtesy to one another (1 Cor 11:33).
* Carry one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2).
* Tolerate one another (Eph 4:2).
* Forgive one another (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13).
* Submit to one another (Eph 5:21; 1 Peter 5:5).
* Admonish one another in wisdom (Col 3:16).
* Comfort one another (1 Thess 4:9-18).
* Promote love and good works (Heb 10:24).
* Love one another (1 Peter 1:22, 4:8-9).

A church dies when it worships at the totem pole of self: I, me, my, mine, myself. A church flourishes when it focuses on God and others.