According to MyChurchGrowth.com, a website that tracks church growth statistics, not just Churches of Christ, but all churches in the United States. According to their latest numbers:
- 80% of the churches in America are in decline.
- 8 churches in America close their doors every day. Every single day.
- The median attendance for all churches on any given Sunday is 75 people.
- There are 13,000 congregations of the Churches of Christ here in the United States. And for the Churches of Christ, the news is a little bit better, in that we are experiencing a very small percentage of growth, it's actually 1%. 6% growth since the 1990s. But compared to the of the U.S. population grew 30% but the Churches of Christ grew 1.6%. Nothing to brag about, if you've only grown 1.
I could list a lot of reasons cited for this discouraging trend, you know, secularism for sure. The loss of respect for religious authority. Another reason, worldliness. But I don't want to do that. I would much rather look at what produces growth, rather than what produces demise, you know what I'm saying? I'd rather look at the glass half full than half empty. Why? Plenty of reasons why churches, even our churches, are in decline.
Why do churches grow?
When it comes to church growth, a lot of experts will immediately begin examining. They'll examine your building, or they'll examine your staff, or how organized you are, or how much is in the collection plate. A lot of church growth specialists are going to look at all of these variables. I'm not saying that these things are not important, but that's usually the first place they begin to look at. But the very first place to look to make sure a church is on the right track for growth is its beliefs, not its building.
Oh yes, many will say, well, we believe in the Bible, we also believe in Jesus! But many churches actually say this, and yet, they don't experience any growth. The key to Biblical growth, blessed by God. Because you know what? Even the Church of Satan grows, right? Even the church dedicated to Satan. I've even seen churches dedicated to smoking pot! And they grow! They might not be able to say God is blessing them but they grow.
All kinds of churches grow. but the key to Biblical growth, the growth that we see in the Scriptures, the growth blessed by the God of the Bible, is to examine what the church believes about the Bible and its teachings, and Jesus Christ. In the end, great churches whose growth is constant and also blessed by God have three basic beliefs that serve as a foundation for their actions, their beliefs, and their growth.
Now please understand that I'm not raising these particular teachings above other teachings. Because there's so many teachings in the Bible. And I'm not saying that other Biblical doctrines can be set aside in favor of just these three. That's always the problem when you kind of just take two or three of something. What I'm proposing here is that churches that experience growth all share the practice of teaching and emphasizing the ideas that I'm going to talk about tonight. That's my point.
One of the things that all growing churches have in common is that they all teach and promote certain basic ideas from the Bible. Not to the exclusion of other teachings, but these three that I'm going to share with you are at the forefront of their Biblical doctrine. Because if you don't get these right, it doesn't matter what else you teach! Okay, so growing churches believe and teach that number one, the universal problem of man is sin. That's the basic teaching. This problem is explained in detail in Romans, chapters one, two, and three, and summarized by Paul when he said that "All have sinned "and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3, verse 23.
Now, the conclusion statement is very clear. All have sinned, there's no room for compromise or for a different interpretation. Now, the Bible also gives us practical examples of this truth in the conversion stories of different people. For example, in Acts, chapter eight, verse 25 and following, Luke describes the conversion of a eunuch. He was an African, he came from Ethiopia. And I'm going to string these together in a moment, to demonstrate the point I'm trying to make here.
But just stay with me here. These four characters I'm going to give you. The conversion stories of four different individuals in the Bible. One, the eunuch. Later on in the Acts, chapter nine, Luke also describes the conversion of Saul, a Jew from Northern Israel.
And then in chapter 10 of the Book of Acts, Luke talks about the conversion of Cornelius, a Roman soldier with a Latin background. And then in chapter 16 of the Book of Acts, once again, Luke describes the conversion of a Greek woman while pursuing his ministry in what is now known as Europe.
Four different people, okay? Now here's my point. You could not find a wider variety of people in cultures than these four people. You have the black eunuch, a political advisor to an African queen. You had the Jew, who was a lawyer and teacher to a fanatical sect within Judaism, the Pharisees.
You had the soldier, a career military officer from an emperor-worshiping pagan society. And then you had the woman, a business entrepreneur, from the philosophically elitist Greek culture. Could you get four people who were more different in culture, in temperament, in teaching, and philosophy, and religion? Now, these people had only one thing in common.
One thing that was universal among them, and that was that they were sinners, and they knew that they were sinning. The only thing they shared in common. You know, I'm all for support groups, I'm all for that.
Alcoholics Anonymous like programs. They have them for alcohol, obviously. They also have them for drugs, for food, for shopping, Shopper's Anonymous, you know, whatever. And I personally as a minister, I use other professional counselors.
You know, I refer people to counselors, because I think there's a time, and counselors can help people. And I think that sometimes, medication is needed to handle psychological problems. You know, if you're clinically depressed, you can't just pick yourself up by your bootstraps and make yourself better.
There's a chemical imbalance going on, and many times, it needs to be treated with medication. But I don't think that all of these things, these support groups and these helps and so on and so forth, I don't think that these things are a final solution.
I don't believe that programs like these are the final solution, because none of them deal with the essential problem that causes all psychological and emotional and spiritual problems in one way or another, and that is sin.
You know, if your father was an alcoholic, and he beat your mother, and he abandoned you, he beat you and then he abandoned you, you are going to suffer some psychological harm, growing up. You might be predisposed to alcohol.
You may have a violent temper, you might have bad dreams. You may be depressed. Not because you did anything wrong, but maybe because things that were wrong were done to you by an alcoholic father, mother, whatever, right? So sometimes it's not just your sins that mess up your life, sometimes it's the sins of other people that mess up your life! But one thing remains the same, sin is the problem.
Whether it's yours, or whether you've been affected by it, sin is the problem. That is my point on this. I also believe that when churches begin to invest too much energy in activities that treat the symptoms and not the sins, they stop growing as churches.
That's my point. Oh, they may grow as support centers, or service centers, or help centers, but they have stopped growing as New Testament churches. Do you see my point? Healthy, growing churches recognize and make adjustments for the differences between people, yes.
But they never lose sight of the fact that the universal problem of every person is sin. I mean, we've been given the task by God to tell the world this truth over and over again in every generation. Some people are going nuts and saying, "Oh my goodness, no! "Gays are getting married, and this is happening! "Oh, you know, Obamacare!" Whatever, you know, ISIS and wars, and, "What are we going to do?" and they're wringing their hands, and I say to them, relax.
I don't know about you, but it doesn't matter what happens in the world. I know what my job is. I know what my task is, as a Christian, to remain faithful until the end, to proclaim the news of Jesus Christ until the end.
Sometimes I can do that in a society that's kind of easy to do that, and sometimes, I have to do that in a society where that's going to be difficult to do. But you know what? No matter what society does, my job never changes! Your job never changes! And growing churches understand that the basic teaching that they have to support and proclaim first and foremost is that man is a sinner.
This is not to say that we don't minister to needs, whatever those may be. But growing churches never forget to also minister to man's basic need, and that is to deal with the crushing weight that sin puts on his heart and his conscience.
To me, the saddest thing that has taken place, I'll have more to say about this later on, you know, in the month that comes, in my sermons. But the saddest thing that has happened to me as far as, you know, making marriage between two men or two women legal.
The saddest thing that's happened, you know what, is that somehow, our politicians and our judges and our lawyers have managed to make a situation where people who are sinning now think that they're okay.
That's the sad thing. I'm not worried that I'm going to get married to another man. I'm not worried about that! The thing that worries me about it, as a Christian, as a minister, is that these people now think that they're actually okay.
Because the Court says that they're okay, and the President says that they're okay. And maybe even their Governor says that they're okay, and maybe even their church says they're okay! And the sad part of all of this is, they're not open to the Gospel anymore.
That's the tragedy of what has just taken place. People who are within reach of the Gospel have just been moved further out of our reach. Because we can no longer convince them easily that what they're doing is sin.
And for churches to grow, they must preach that all men are sinners. A second basic belief held by growing churches is that the universal hunger of man is for God and salvation, not for riches. I mean, let's go back to our main characters, shall we, in the Book of Acts that I mentioned.
The eunuch from Africa represents the financial elite. He lived in luxury close to power in the top 10% of wealth and means in the world at that time. And Saul, he represents the theological and intellectual elite.
He received the best education available at the time. He was at ease and mobile in the dominant Roman culture as well as the ancient Jewish culture, and he was respected in both. He was a Roman citizen and he was a Pharisee.
And then Cornelius represents the military elite. A commander of men, a judge, a man who had authority over the Jews where he was stationed. And Lydia, she represents the social elite. She was cultured, she was wealthy, she was, when women were not, she was independent.
And that was something women were not at all in those days. She was active socially and she was in business. She was unique as a woman could be in her time. Again, very different people, but all at the top of their game.
These people were not losers! They were not part of the hungry masses. They were not slaves. They were at the top of society. None of them needed food or help or counseling or money. None of these had their positions improved in the world because of their conversion to Christianity.
So what did each recognize about themselves? Well, that they each had the same need! They had, in their own way, you know, money and power and prestige and freedom and respect, and a mission in life, but they recognized that what they needed was approval from God in the form of forgiveness and purification and acceptance.
If you study comparative religion, you will note that every major religion that we know of tries to deal with the issue of forgiveness and acceptance by God or by some higher power. Among other things, what this shows is no matter what the location or the time or the language or the culture, people need to deal with their sins before God.
And so growing churches understand this universal phenomenon, and addresses it in all that they do. They deal with it in their teaching and their preaching. They deal with it in personal ministry. They confront it through prayer and worship and service.
In other words, a growing church is not afraid to talk about sin, not afraid to deal with sin, not afraid to rebuke in the event of sin, and take precautions because of sin. We know that sin is out there.
We need to deal with it. The church is the only organization mandated by God to help mankind with sin, and churches who forget or neglect this do not experience Biblical growth. You never experience Biblical growth by compromising on what is sinful.
You never draw people to the living God through Christ by telling them that their sins are not important or they're not okay. You never are successful in a mission project if you think that certain people are unreachable or they don't need the Gospel.
Everybody needs the Gospel! Everybody needs to be okay with God. Everybody, no matter what they say. And we're the only ones who have a message that tells people how to be okay with God. And then a third belief held by growing churches is that the universal solution to man's problems and needs is the Gospel.
Peter the Apostle summarizes this in Acts, chapter four, verse 12, and he says, "And there is salvation in no one else, "for there is no one, no other name under Heaven, "that has been given among men by which we must be saved." This is my go-to verse when I talk to people of different cultures, different religions. The Bible doesn't really say that it's just Christians that are going to Heaven. The Bible doesn't really say that, I think, no.
Let's just read together Acts, 4:12, and you interpret it for me. Go ahead, read it! And they read, "And there is salvation in no one else." And I pause and I say okay, now how many people represent salvation? Well, no one else, it says.
And then it says, "For there is no other name under Heaven "that has been given among men by which we must be saved." How many names are given by which we must be saved? The Bible says, well, just one.
There is no other name. Just one. Jesus is the answer. You remember that bumper sticker? Jesus is the answer. It's not just a slogan or a bumper sticker! It's the fundamental truth that when discovered, frees men from their sins and provides the deep spiritual journey that all have, no matter what time or culture or social position or gender.
Women need Jesus. Young, successful, driven, powerful businesswomen, they need Jesus! And successful male athletes making $100 million, who are famous and could buy anything they want, and be known anywhere on Earth, wherever they go, they need Jesus! And the Queen of England, she needs Jesus! And the guy who's got no job and no prospects, he's living out of his car, he needs Jesus.
But he needs Him in exactly the same way that, you know, the superstar needs. And Jesus, this answer to all of our deepest needs is preached to all men through the Gospel and through the good news. Paul explains how both the doctrine and the person of Christ are received for dynamic personal change when he says the following in Romans 1:16.
He says, "I'm not ashamed of the Gospel, "for it is the power of God for salvation "to everyone who believes." To the Jew first, and also to the Greek. He's not ashamed of the message. He's not afraid to say it.
Have you ever been a little embarrassed when somebody's telling you their problems? Somebody at work, or a cousin. Not somebody that you really know, but just a more casual person. For some reason or other, they start sharing their issues with you, sharing their problems.
And in your mind, you're saying, "I know I've got to tell this person "the answer to their problems is Jesus, "but I'm just embarrassed to say it. "It sounds like such a cliche! "I don't want to sound dumb.
"I don't want to sound, you know, dorky." And my question to you, if that comes up in your mind is, who's talking to you? It's certainly not the Lord or Peter or Paul! It sounds to me like that's the spirit of this world that's talking to you.
But it happens to all of us. God has one solution for all of mankind's sin problem, guilt problem, separation from God problem. And the answer is Jesus Christ. He's the only solution. There is no other prophet or deity or guru or miracle worker or philosopher or leader sent by God.
Only Jesus was sent by God. And God announces His solution to mankind's sin problem in only one way, and that's the Gospel, the good news. You know, the death, and the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and His teachings, are the only message of salvation from God.
All other messages of salvation are man-made. They can be wrapped up in the most holy, religious-looking thing you want, but they come from man. They don't come from God. God requires only one response from mankind in order to remove sins, in order to adopt man as a son or a daughter.
In order to guarantee peace and joy and eternal life, and that response is faith! Faith expressed in obedience. So let's go back to our Bible characters, shall we, that we talked about in the Book of Acts.
So Phillip the Evangelist was sent to this eunuch that I talked about, right? And in Acts 8:35, the Bible says that Phillip preached Jesus or the Gospel to this eunuch. And then in verse 38, we see Phillip baptizing the eunuch as the pagan-confessed Christ! Is that just an anomaly, a fluke? Well, let's look at Saul.
I've already talked about him this morning. A disciple named Ananias was sent to Saul, the Jew, the Christian-hater. And in Acts 9 and 22, we read that this man came and preached the Gospel to Paul, and immediately afterwards, Paul arose and was baptized.
And in other words, Ananias preached the same thing to Paul, or Saul as he was known in those days, as Phillip preached to the eunuch. And the eunuch said, "Hey, here's water. "What prevents me from being baptized?" And Phillip says, "Well, if you believe with all your heart "that Jesus is the son of God, you know, "there's nothing preventing you.
" So they went into the water, and he baptized him. So now, Ananias is talking to Saul, the Christian-hater, the persecutor, the dangerous guy. And he preaches the same Gospel that Phillip had preached to the eunuch, same Gospel to Saul! And then Ananias said to Saul, "What, Saul, why do you wait? "Arise, be baptized, and wash away what, your regrets? "No, rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins!" What sins? Well, how about killing and imprisoning Christians, for starters? And then Peter is sent to Cornelius, the Roman soldier.
And in Acts, chapter 10, verse 34-43, Peter begins preaching the Gospel of Christ. What Gospel? Well, the same Gospel that Phillip preached to the eunuch, and that Ananias preached to Saul, now Peter's preaching it to the Romans enduring! And in verse 48, it says that after this, Cornelius and the others, they were baptized in the name of Christ.
Why? Because they heard the same message. The same message that the eunuch heard, the same message that Saul heard, now Cornelius hears the same message! And so all three of these hear the same message, and lo and behold, they do what? Well, they respond in exactly the same way! They're baptized! And then this Saul, he becomes Paul, and becomes a missionary.
And this time, it's his turn, and he's preaching to Lydia! You know, the businesswoman. And she was already practicing prayer when he found her, and he preached the Gospel to her, and after she heard it, the Bible says, what? She and her household, they were baptized.
Are you getting a feel for the pattern here? Different people, different situations, different places, different cultures, different religious backgrounds. Christians go to them and they preach the Gospel about how God deals with mankind's sins through Jesus Christ, and each different person, after hearing the very same message, responded in exactly the same way.
They expressed their faith, their belief in baptism, repentance in baptism. Now, if we read all the details in the New Testament, we understand that baptism is the culmination of a faith process that includes belief in Christ as the son of God and the acknowledgement of that faith, and turning away from sin, and so on and so forth.
But the point I want to make here tonight is that each of these very different people all responded in exactly the same way, by faith. And then all of them expressed that faith in exactly the same way, they were immersed in water, or they were baptized, as we say in English.
So growing churches are able to identify the problem, which is sin. They are able to offer the solution, which is Christ, and His Gospel. And they clearly explain the desired Biblical response, faith, expressed as repentance and immersion, or baptism.
This is what Peter did on Pentecost Sunday, and the Lord blessed the church with 3000 additions. Now that's church growth! Now the reason I'm preaching this very basic lesson is because when churches grow, they tend to forget the basics.
And sometimes, when they stop growing, it's because they're getting away from the basics. And sometimes, if they're not growing at all, it's because they're not practicing the basics. You know, at one time or another, every congregation, including this one, is in one of these modes, so we need to be reminded of the basic understandings upon which all church growth is built.
And I think our problem is not that we stop growing, our problem, well, not our problem, but our situation, is that we are growing! A dozen people have been baptized so far this year. And that's a dozen people who have placed membership.
Every Sunday, there are people that are coming to visit, and some members who have been out of duty are kind of coming back to their duties. Sunday night, I would say we have, probably, you know, percentage wise, we have one of the better Sunday night attendances of many of the congregations.
And there's 75 Churches of Christ in this area, and I would say percentage wise, what percentage of our members come back for Sunday night sermons, I would think we're in the top 10% of all these churches, we have it great.
And that speaks to growth. And because we're growing, I want to make sure that we don't forget the basics, in understanding that sin is at the root of all problems that people have. The understanding that mankind's greatest need is Jesus Christ, and the good news that He brings.
And the understanding that we as a church are not doing our job unless we are preaching the gospel and clearly explaining the response that God wants from each and every person that comes to this place to hear the teaching, to hear the preaching.
It's important for us to know these things for two reasons. I'll share these two last things, and the lesson is yours for tonight. First of all, it's important to know these basics because we tend to place too much importance on the location or the building or the preacher as the source of growth.
A church will grow because it understands and does these things, regardless of who's preaching, or what the building looks like. Now, if the preacher is good at preaching these things, and the building does accommodate growth, well, so much the better! But it's not preachers or buildings that grow churches.
It's the Holy Spirit of God, using the power of the Gospel, and willing servants. That's what grows a church. And then the second thing to remind you is it's important to know these basics because, well, maybe you yourself have come to realize that sin, that's your real problem.
It's not your husband that's the problem, it's not your wife, it's not your boss who's not fair that's the problem. It's not that life has not been fair to you is the problem, the problem is sin. That's the problem.
And you need to be at peace with God and have a clear conscience, that's the problem. And you need to have a firm hope for eternal life. I mean, really have a firm hope for eternal life that is not shaken.
When we don't have that, everything else is just out of whack. So maybe you realize that maybe you haven't obeyed the Gospel according to God's will, by repenting of your sins and confessing your faith in Jesus just like that young lady did this morning.
And being immersed in the water of baptism. Maybe that's not what you've done. Maybe you've done something else that somebody told you equaled obeying the Gospel. But I'm saying to you that the Scriptures, they clearly teach that the proper response to the good news is faith in Christ, repentance of sins, immersion in the name of Christ, or in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
And so maybe you need to be restored to faithful attendance. Maybe you need to be restored to faithful service, or faithful parenting, or other faithful types of activities. Whatever your need is, we do offer Jesus to you.
We always say we're making the invitation, we're offering the invitation. What we really are offering, is we're offering Christ to you. So if you have a need for Christ in some way, then we do encourage you to come forward now, as we stand and as we sing our song of encouragement.