In his book Comeback
Churches, Ed Stetzer writes that 3,500-4,000 churches close each year in the
United States and 70-80 percent of churches in North America are stagnant or
“Millions of Christians
attend churches that demonstrate little concern for the lost around them,”
writes Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research. Many of these stagnant churches
have the resources to make a difference if they committed to becoming “more
than museums of past glory days.”
While more church plants are
desperately needed, existing churches also need to get back on track if nearly
1.6 billion people in the world are going to hear the gospel for the first
time. The foundation for doing both and seeing any measure of success is really
the same: spiritually healthy leaders. Pastors and church leaders can’t expect
the congregation to be healthy if they themselves are not healthy.
Returning spiritually mature
leaders to the pulpit is the focus of one-day Church Health Institutes being
held across the state. Neal Eller, church health team leader for the Baptist
State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), began the May 4 Church Health
Institute in Cary by asking pastors, church leaders and directors of missions
to consider the state of congregations they serve. Are they barren, with no
fruit for the Kingdom of God? Do they look healthy only from the outside? Are
they producing disciples who are producing disciples?
Eller reminded leaders of
Revelation 2:2-5 and how the church in Ephesus “abandoned the love” they once
had for God. Leaders must anchor their lives on love for God and the gospel or
they will never be healthy leaders with healthy congregations.
Who are you?
Church leaders sometimes
give in to the unhealthy habit of trying to please everyone around them. When
that happens, their vision for the church can get sidetracked by other
priorities. David Moore, BSC pastoral ministries consultant, asked attendees to
think about the people they listen to. “Ministers lose their joy because they
feel like they are subject to other people’s voices,” Moore said.
John 10 describes Jesus as
the Good Shepherd and believers as those who hear His voice and follow Him.
“Who you are and what you
value will determine what you do,” Moore said. Who a leader is depends on
whether or not the leader truly believes that self-worth and value are
validated in a relationship with Jesus Christ and not in trying to please
Church leaders, especially
ministers, can fall into the trap of saying “yes” to everything and before long
have no time for family or even themselves. “What are you saying yes to that
you really don’t have to?,” Moore asked.
Most are familiar with the
Proverbs 29:18 text: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” But a
vision statement “doesn’t automatically mean a shared understanding and
commitment,” said Russ Conley, BSC leadership consultant. Nor does it
automatically mean a healthy church.
Values drive vision. If a
leader’s values are not aligned with scripture the most eloquent church vision
statement means nothing. Conley said pastors must face the reality that often a
gap exists between the stated values of a congregation and their actual values.
Pastors must help their congregations understand who they actually are.
With values in place,
churches can move forward in the process of re-thinking structure and strategy.
“We often don’t give a lot of thought to why we’re doing the things we’re
doing,” Conley said. “A busy church is a happy church. We lose sight of the
The Great Commandment
In Matthew 22:20 Jesus says
the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love your neighbor
as yourself. Healthy churches do both.
Healthy churches understand
that a shared sense of values among the people is fostered when leaders put a
high value on making disciples committed to Matthew 22:20.
“You can’t change the values
in your church without discipling people,” said Rick Hughes, BSC discipleship
Hughes explained that
healthy churches do not see church as something just for them; healthy churches
engage in gospel-centered worship and engage others with the gospel.
Hughes encourages churches
to begin Acts 2 disciple-making groups. Groups of about 8 or 10 meet weekly and
focus on four areas: learning biblical truths, building relationships,
community missions and spiritual growth.
Remaining Church Health Institutes are
June 1 in Concord, Sept. 9 in Greensboro and Oct. 19 in Hendersonville.