By Jerry Harris
The January issue of Christian Standard focuses on the business side of church. Leaders make decisions every day about spending, staff, volunteers, fundraising, organizational structure, leader development, staff and volunteer education, debt, facility management, marketing, media, and online presence. Yet, despite all of that, it is rather amazing how little most church leaders know about business, finance, real estate, administration, or management.
Many mainly rural and small churches are closing daily because they can no longer manage their own existence. Attendance and giving might be dwindling; the churches may no longer be able to pay for a ministry staff (and certainly not for health care). Those ministers or retired ministers willing to accept a position at such a church often do so on a part-time or interim basis. Whatever the case, it’s not likely to move the needle in the direction of the next generation.
Many small, rural congregations might have options to save or even grow the church if they are willing to face reality before their churches shrink to next to nothing. But the independent nature of our churches or inwardly focused boards sometimes keep mergers and acquisitions off the table until there is practically no membership or giving before they are willing to seriously consider such things. As time passes, their buildings can be more of a liability than asset for potential adopting churches.
A local church is critical to preserving access to the gospel in a community, but that kingdom concept can be misapplied when an old, worn-out church—desperately trying to preserve its tradition and identity—sees itself as the community’s only viable option. Stubbornness of that sort can consign a local church to its fate. And all the while, statistics show that church planting is not even close to keeping pace with the number of churches closing in America.
The choice before us is whether to curse the darkness or light a candle. And yet we know that, in the midst of darkness, candles always shine brighter. Opportunities abound in our culture today to be the church like never before . . . literally! The primitive church mentioned in Acts met in people’s homes. There were no paid staffs, fancy programming, buildings, health care, or media, and yet the church was on fire with growth. Today, that same house-to-house option remains a possibility. Literally anyone can facilitate a church experience in their home, and existing churches would be happy to count them and put them under their accountability.
People who desire a Christian education, even higher education, have many inexpensive (or free) online options that do not require relocation or leaving a full-time job. Training resources abound. Large churches need to learn how to export their ministry into homes, community centers, prisons, and unreached communities. We need just to understand that the tools for sharing the timeless gospel have changed over time.
Here’s an illustration of that. Magazines like Christian Standard and Outreach have published lists of the largest and/or fastest-growing churches for several years. The numbers are based on weekly attendance averages. I remember when weekly attendance was reported on a wooden board in the front of the church building. (The church also reported Sunday school attendance and hymn numbers on that same board.) Forty years ago, those numbers were pretty static because most people attended literally every week. But today, most people attend church just 1.2 times a month! At The Crossing, weekly attendance at our various physical locations is about 7,500, but the number of unique attendees monthly is about 17,500!
Here’s my point, the rules have changed, and our churches need to figure out how best to present the gospel and shepherd people in their walk with Jesus without encumbering those folks with traditional (i.e., nonbiblical) bureaucracy. If we minister at a large or multisite church, let’s leverage our advantages like never before to grow the kingdom. If we’re a small church in a small community, let’s figure out how to take what God has given to make the greatest impact in our community and beyond. Jesus said to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). He said, “The people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light” (Luke 16:8).
In the movie Remember the Titans, the football team would chant three words when gearing up to play: “Mobile! Agile! Hostile!”The church was designed to be mobile. Let’s find ways to export the gospel and take new territory for the kingdom. Let’s also be agile, by not letting the former things get in the way of doing the new thing. Our perceived identity should not keep us from our true identity. And let’s never stop being hostile to our adversary, the devil. We should rob from Satan’s house instead of allowing him to continually rob ours!