Last year in the association in which the church I pastor is a member, there was reported 200 people baptized with total receipts of almost $8 million. Do you know what that tells me? That tells me we as an association spent almost $40,000 per person to get them baptized and brought to Jesus. This is well above the per capita family income of a typical family in our county! That’s an amazing statistic! If you think we spent $40,000 on evangelism and missions per person to reach them, you would be mistaken. We spend our money tithing to ourselves. We spend money on our “fun.” Most churches (and ours is no different and we’re working on it), spend as much money on literature, supplies and utilities as we do on missions. God help us for our misplaced priorities!
The Bible says in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
It’s up to us, the Church, to start reaching this nation again. I read recently in the NC Baptist “Connect” magazine that a church that has been around for 10-15 years or more gains nearly 80% of their new members by transfer growth (that’s swapping members), while a church that is a new church plant will gain nearly 60-80% of their new members from folks that have never attended church anywhere and are most likely lost. Why? Because the older churches get lazy!
You see, we have to pay off our buildings, in which we see less than a couple handfuls of people saved each year. We have to pay for our buses and our vans, as they cart us to and fro from activity to activity that reaches few if any with the gospel. We must pay for our burgeoning staffs (because the lay people don’t want to do much of anything anymore.) It seems we’d rather pay to have it done than get our hands dirty. It’s almost like people are saying: “Don’t try this at home—let the professionals do it, because it may be dangerous for our health.”
We continue to fund a myriad of programs (of which, many are so ineffective for reaching people with the gospel that we’re afraid to ask why we still have them), yet we hang on to these sacred cows because we’re afraid of a little blood just so we can keep the flock happy. And all the while, the new church plant is nimble enough and may I say hungry enough to “seek and save that which is lost,” because they “don’t know any better.” They aren’t burdened down yet with all the stuff that a “good” church is supposed to have.
We are involved in a war—a war for the hearts, souls, and minds of our children and our families. The Church in the last 50 years has failed to transmit its religious heritage to the next generation. Sermons, in many of our churches across America, are now more “therapeutic” than instructional; our worship services have become grounded more in what we “feel” than in what we think and know about Scripture.
Why is it that the Church, by and large, no longer represents the power of the “action” of God in the world?” I’ll tell you why. Because we have compromised the gospel. The Church has quit training and evangelizing. The church is literally dying a slow death in America; that is imperceptible to most, but nonetheless is happening simply because we are not reproducing ourselves. Church attendance continues to drop in America and we’re down now to around 30% of Americans attending services on a given Sunday. You see, the goal of Christianity must be to advance God’s kingdom on earth. Let me be very clear. The purpose of the Church is to be God’s “missionary people” in the world. We are to be adding to the flock…not just fattening those that are already in the flock, those who are already safe and sound.
Isn’t it time to seriously look at all of our programs and ministries and ask if they are effective and if they’re not…then, let’s pull out the butcher knife. I am firmly convinced there is no partnership in Christ without partnership in missions. Are we mission-minded? Is it really our TOP priority or just “one” of many priorities in our churches?
Oh have we forgotten our mission? If we are going to be relevant to this “lost and dying” world, we are going to have to remember what our purpose is and what our mission is to be. We’ve got to care about and love what Jesus loved. What did He love? Not a “what,” but a “who.” People, people, people! He said, “I have come to seek and to save that which is lost.” That’s our mission! As congregations, we must intentionally live as God’s missionary people. It’s only then that the church will emerge to become what Christ created it to be and it’s only then that we will truly be salt and light and see dramatic changes within the cultural fabric of our churches and thus, this nation. The purpose of the body of Christ is to make Jesus visible to the world Monday through Saturday…not just to ourselves on Sunday. Are we on mission at our jobs in our schools on the ball fields and dance studios? You don’t have to be a preacher or missionary to be in the “ministry.” We are all ambassadors of the Gospel…remember?
But, if we’re going to be on mission then we must overcome a significant hurdle. What is that? The great American Dream? Has the Church in this nation become like the church of Laodicea. Rev. 3:17 shows us this type of church: “We are rich, having acquired great wealth and are in need of nothing? But we don’t realize that we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Jesus called that church lukewarm and it makes Him sick to His stomach to the point of vomiting. Is that what He sees when He looks at us? Oh, please forgive us Lord!
You know when you boil it down; it all comes down to priorities doesn’t it? We must remember who we are and what we are to be about as the Church. After all, aren’t we the body of Christ? We must remember we are to be His hands and feet. The Apostle Paul tells us so in Ephesians 3:11-12:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…
So, it’s my job as a pastor to equip. Right? That’s what we just read…yet…churches expect the pastors to do everything in many cases. And do you know what else? People like me, (pastors and preachers), have made things this way. We’ve spoiled our people. Think about it. The average pastor puts in around 15-20 hours a week in message preparation. He gets paid on average a salary of around $45,000 a year, (I’m estimating here), and there are somewhere around 310,000 churches in the U.S. Add all that up, and you’ll see that every week American churches invest right at $140 million in preaching. That’s a major investment, and what’s the return on that investment? Church attendance is on the decline. The percentage of people claiming to know Christ is plummeting, and the moral fiber of our culture is ripping apart. Can’t we see that we’re missing the boat as Christians and as churches?
Preaching alone is good, but it won’t save the masses. We must personally be ambassadors for Christ as we daily “take up our crosses and follow Jesus and bear fruit for Him.” We must be paramedics with the Gospel (take it to them), not just ambulances (trying to get them to a building). Once we lead them to Jesus, we must disciple them. But, discipling is hard. It’s time-consuming and not easy because we have to roll up our sleeves and invest in other’s lives.
So, will we do it? Will we do the hard things and make our churches mission-minded? Will we brandish the knife and slaughter some sacred cows and stop tithing to ourselves? Will we become more concerned about what is happening outside the walls of our churches instead of paying for our own comforts inside those walls? I pray we will. And I pray that missions will once again become our top priority just as it was our Savior’s.