The United States Postal Service is struggling—and so is the church. Can we see any similarities in their problems?
The United States Postal Service is losing billions of dollars and faces possible bankruptcy. Losses for the last two years alone exceed $13 billion. To survive, the USPS will lay off postal workers, close post offices, and increase postal rates. Next-day delivery will become a thing of the past, and it may take as long as nine days for your favorite magazine to be delivered.
Without a doubt, the USPS has been one of our nation’s most important institutions. For decades, it was our largest public sector employer and it kept people connected during some of the most difficult days in our history. The Postal Service has been a mainstay in the heart of America.
Yet, technology is changing at a breakneck pace, making it difficult for the USPS to keep pace. Though our postal system is one of the most efficient in the world, the USPS is challenged by competing delivery systems.
Struggling to Stay Current
The church is another institution struggling to stay current in our rapidly changing culture. A mainstay in the heart of America, the church is losing ground. An estimated 4,000 churches close every year, and 90 percent of the churches that remain are no longer growing.
The USPS is in the business of delivering the mail, but the church is in the business of delivering something far more important: the message of hope found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We are failing to reach people with that message as more people are disinterested in Christianity than ever before.
Like the USPS, the church appears to be struggling with outdated delivery methods. Yet could our unhealthy condition be symptomatic of a far greater problem?
What’s Our Business?
As leaders of the local church, we may have forgotten what business we’re in, and that is a most serious problem. Walmart and Kmart are in the retail business. Cracker Barrel and McDonald’s are in the food business. The NBA and NFL are in the entertainment business.
But, what’s our line of business? First and foremost, the church is to be in the business of making disciples, but are we? Is the church we lead growing numerically? Are we finding the spiritually lost around us and leading them to Christ?
If our children stopped growing physically, we would go to the doctor and ask, “What’s the problem?” The human body is designed to grow, and if the body doesn’t grow, something is obviously wrong. The same is true of the church. God has designed it to grow numerically with people coming to Christ. So if the church is not growing, then something obviously is wrong, and it takes courageous elders to ask, “What’s wrong here?” Perhaps the congregation has a misplaced focus. Instead of seeking and saving the lost, the local church may be chasing after a host of other priorities.
As elders, we must follow Jesus Christ’s example and allow nothing to deter us from our primary purpose of reaching the lost with the message of salvation. In Luke 9:51, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem, beginning his final journey to the cross, and he allowed nothing to get in his way. Jesus knew his mission and he remained focused on it. Our primary mission is to make disciples, and, as elders, we must make certain that the local church stays on mission.
What Can Elders Do?
How can elders stay the course in seeking and saving the lost? First, we must lead by example. How can we expect people in the church to bring people to Christ if we are not? Elders must be concerned for the lost, and must develop friendships with those individuals in hopes of bringing them to Christ. Once we reach our friends with Christ, we should disciple them in the faith. Simply put, elders must set a good example by obeying the Great Commission.
Second, elders must be on the front line during worship services. During the invitation, elders should be present and able to help people receive Christ. At my church, The Creek, elders serve out on “The Porch,” a seating area where people who respond to the invitation go to receive further help. Our elders have been trained in evangelism and are able to lead people to Christ and baptize them into the faith.
Finally, elders must champion this cause. The evangelistic temperature of the local church will go from cold to hot when elders cheer on this initiative. Elders must keep evangelism in the forefront of conversation and planning. Elders must make certain that people are equipped to share their faith with confidence. Elders must make certain that new Christians are discipled in their newfound faith, enabling them to become fully devoted followers of Christ. Soul winning will occur only when elders are intentional in keeping this the primary mission of the local church. It is our mission and we must stay on mission.
Gary L. Johnson serves as senior minister with Indian Creek Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.