Back in 2008, David Laubach presented some statistics at the Baptist World Alliance gathering in Prague. There he stated that church attendance was stagnant or declining in 75% of churches in America. Of the remaining churches, 24% of churches were “growing” by getting members from the declining churches. Only 1% of churches are growing from reaching the unchurched. Click here for the report.
In other words, 99% of American churches are not growing by reaching the unchurched. In fact, since all true growth is kingdom growth, 99% of American churches are not growing in the United States. And these statistics are from three years ago!
The Great Commission that Jesus gave, as recorded by Matthew, was this: “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19-20).
Notice that the Great Commission DID NOT say this: “Therefore, stay in your church buildings and attract the few faithful disciples that are left in the world with better programs and better preaching. Suck them out of other churches, and get them to come to your church. Then rejoice because you have more people and feel good about yourselves--never mind that not a single person out in the world has been changed. You have built a bigger church, and that is all that matters.”
Imagine if the disciples decided that, rather than making new disciples for Jesus, the twelve of them simply sought to round up the Jesus followers that were left. That instead of going out on mission, they each decided to hold a worship service and have great programs for the few remaining disciples left in the world. And that when someone from Matthew’s church transferred over to Peter’s church, Peter and his little group cheered, clapped themselves on the back, and said, “We are really growing now!” “What about Matthew’s church?” someone asks. “Oh” is the reply.
In the end, what matters is whether we are reaching people for Christ, not building bigger churches. If the church grows by reaching lost people, awesome! But the Great Commission is not about gathering up disciples from other churches. In fact, there is not one word about “churches” in the Great Commission, only disciple-making. If you make disciples you get a church. This is the way to “true growth” in the kingdom.
Next Sunday is Easter Sunday. It is a day in which people of all kinds, including a tremendous number of unchurched and dechurched people, are receptive to worshipping and visiting a church. Let’s use this week as an opportunity to actively invite our unchurched friends, family and neighbors to worship with us next week on--Easter Sunday!! --James
How can we change the downward trend and start growing by reaching the unchurched?