I had a fantastic time in Las Vegas earlier this week!…..wait, that didn’t’ come out right. I should explain. I was there with Jose Cortes and the North American Division Evangelism Advisory. We had a fascinating time together addressing the challenge of church growth in the stagnant States.
We looked at the few bright spots and believe me there were few. A creative small groups program here. A church revitalization program there. A successful evangelistic campaign over there. But in the main, things seem to have slowed to a snail’s pace. Most of our churches are struggling to grow.
And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to explain many of our growth challenges. We share them with other evangelical churches in the U.S.:
- Lack of prayer
- Loss of mission
- Theological battles
- Isolated Christians
- Outdated methodologies
These problems can certainly be the kryptonite to church growth. But while driving from my hotel this week, some other practical reasons came to my mind. So here are 3 often ignored reasons that many churches are not growing today.
The Location of the Church
Our Las Vegas meetings were actually held in Henderson, Nevada. Henderson is a suburb of Las Vegas and it’s at the front of Nevada’s growth spurt. Neighborhoods are going up everywhere. Schools are filling up as fast as they finish construction.
As I drove through Henderson it occurred to me that you could put an Adventist church practically anywhere in Henderson and it would grow. Or a Baptist church, or a Methodist church, or an Independent church for that matter. Why? Because the area is exploding with new growth.
Churches tend to grow in areas of new growth. And church growth tends to slow when neighborhood growth slows. Period. I’m certainly not minimizing God’s power to raise a great church in an unlikely location, but that doesn’t often happen. Many of our historic churches were once large and thriving but now they are small and dying. At times, it has less to do with waning spirituality and more to do with shrinking neighborhoods and changing demographics.
We would be wise to avoid spiritualizing away practical reasons for struggling evangelism. It’s hard to grow an Asian church in a now Hispanic neighborhood. It’s hard to grow a working class black church in a gentrified white neighborhood. It’s even harder to grow a church-any church- in a neighborhood where there are….no people.
The Condition of the Church
The longer we remain members of a local church, the more comfortable we become with our surroundings, good or bad. We get comfortable in church buildings that many visitors would find uncomfortable. Insufficient lighting. Incomplete repairs. Uneven pavement. Absence of fresh paint. Ancient sound system.
And for parents of young children, the church facility can be an immediate deal breaker. If they find the building unappealing or unsafe, they will probably not be as patient as the congregation. Parents are literally driving away from the churches of their childhood to find a better place for their kids. Same for potential members.
The Reception of the Church
How does your local church receive visitors? What is a visitor’s initial impression of the church? Not the building but the people. Its cliché, but we never get a second chance to make a first impression. Surveys still indicate that the primary reason people attend a church or leave a church, is the people.
Church members need to understand that they are walking advertisements for their church, especially on Sabbath or Sunday morning. Their attitudes can make or break a visitor’s experience. A smile or warm handshake can mean the difference between a single visit and a potential member.
So, those are 3 reasons that many churches are struggling to grow. How is your local church doing in those 3 areas?
By Dr. Jesse Wilson