Following is an opinion/guest editorial piece- Part 2 of 3: The American Church – What are the causes of decline?- submitted by Pastor Tom Fillinger, IgniteUS Ministries- firstname.lastname@example.org.
Identifying ‘cause’ is always challenging. There is seldom a single causal factor when dealing with an organism as complex as the church. The following are factors that have contributed significantly to the precipitous decline of the American Church.
Formal research has provided focus on this matter. The Pew Research Group, Hartford Seminary, and the Francis Schaeffer Leadership Institute have provided some very reliable data on this important question.
1. – Leadership Incompetence. The number one cause of decline is Incompetent Leadership. This includes both pastors and ‘lay leaders.’ This is not a popular perspective but it is absolutely true. Consider the following findings from the Schaeffer Institute on Pastoral Leadership. This data is from interviews conducted with more than 1,000 pastors.
81 percent of the pastors said there was no regular discipleship program or effective effort of mentoring their people.
75 percent of the pastors surveyed felt they were unqualified and/or poorly trained by their seminaries to lead and manage the church or to counsel others.
Seminary teaches a man to study the Bible. It does not teach a man to lead or to develop other qualified leaders. It also does not teach him to effectively lead Organizational Change which occupies a large component of a pastor’s time and ministry endeavors after he completes his formal education.
2. – Corrupt Doctrine. There are multiple commands in the New Testament concerning the importance of Sound Doctrine. Sound Doctrine is literally ‘healthy doctrine’. Corrupt doctrine results in dysfunctional ministry practices. A large compliment of the American Church has abandoned the Authority of Scripture and the church is impoverished by this loss.
3. – Congregational Apathy – Apathy is knowledge without action. Some church members can answer all your questions, cross all the T’s and dot the I’s. But, they do not engage what I refer to as Applied Theology. Their life style and failure to live in obedience to God’s word denies what they claim to believe. The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) contains a single command – Make Disciples. Research has shown that a majority of professing believers NEVER share the gospel with anyone in an entire year. The church is not a mere preaching station. The church gathered is for preaching, teaching, equipping, and fellowship. The church scattered is to press the message of redemption from sin in the marketplace on a daily basis by all members. This leads to the next factor.
4. – Biblical Literacy. People who do not know their Bible will not challenge an unbeliever. They know that if they are challenged to defend their faith they will fail so they remain silent. R.C. Sproul recently completed a comprehensive study of what those who claim to be Christians believe (The State of Theology). A review of this instrument reveals just how unorthodox and corrupt the theology of professed believers has become.
5. – Unregenerate Members – A foundational aspect of church membership for centuries has been regenerate members. The validation of regeneration is transformation. When there is no transformation in a person’s life that is exhibit ‘A’ that they have not been truly saved, made alive in Christ. The requirements for church membership have been watered down. This has been exacerbated by the quest for numbers. The proper metric to evaluate ministry effectiveness is transformed lives not mere numbers.
6. – Demographic Age – The average age of our nation is 36-38. The average age of the American Church is 60+. The average age of a healthy church is 38-43. The New Testament requires a robust inter-generational ministry. The elders are to teach the younger. This requires not only formal instruction but also modeling, living the life of an obedient disciple. The stunning loss of young people in the American Church validates this issue as a major cause of the church’s decline.
7. – Absence of Purpose – If you ask 20 people in a given church to write a one paragraph description of the purpose of their church you may well get 25 different statements. The purpose of every church is to make disciples fully formed in the image of Christ in character and conduct. When the church returns to this noble purpose the decline will cease.