The Ailing Church

Statistics do not lie; and what they tell us about the Church is that God’s ecclesia is ailing and in need of doctoring. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research claims that 59% of all Protestant churches average between 7 and 99 attendees and 35% average between 100 and 499.[1] Size, however, doesn’t matter when it comes to controversy, for the American Congregations Study of 2008 reported that conflict held steady from 2000 to 2008 in that approximately 75% of all churches had conflict within the previous five years over matters of money, worship, and leadership.[2]

Conflict invariably leads to disgruntled people who either leave the church or withhold their giving, resulting in ineffective ministry and damaging church vibrancy. Ed Stetzer, in his book, Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age,[3] claims that 80 % of North American churches are stagnant or declining. This is the same statistic found in Harry Reeder’s book, From Embers to a Flame[4] when he quotes from Win Arn’s The Pastor’s Manual for Effective Ministry.[5] Dr. Reeder lists a number of indicators that represent a church in decline to include falling attendance, drop in giving, living in the past, reliance on dominant personalities, a mentality of maintenance in keeping the status quo, a bad reputation in the community, and the lack of gospel centrality.

Most ailing churches, however, do not believe they are in decline. Leaders have a difficult time hearing that they lead dead or dying churches, for it is a reflection on their leadership. But such a mentality proves my point. The problem in the church, the main disease that depletes its energy and vitality, is failed leadership. Many leaders refuse to face the facts and so their churches will remain ineffective in promoting the gospel of Christ. Rather than look at themselves and ask what God would have them do in promoting the gospel and shepherding his flock, they remain tied to the past by refusing to repent of their negligence or malfeasance and humbling themselves to seek help and direction. They contribute to church stagnation by not nourishing the sheep and asking a “doctor” to make a house call. They refuse to seek counsel with those who understand the dynamics of the church, for they might not like the “doctor’s diagnosis.” Even more so, they might not like the “doctor’s opinion,” which could include radical surgery to root out the cancerous disease affecting God’s sheep. And so they mask the symptoms and rationalize that the problems were caused by events or people outside of their control.

[1] Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Hartford Seminary website (© 2000 – 2006) quoting the National Congregations Study of 2009 done by Duke University.

[2] Hartford Institute for Religion Research, quoting from their American Congregations Report of 2008.

[3] Ed Stetzer, Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 10.

[4] Harry L. Reeder, III, From Embers to a Flame; How God Can Revitalize Your Church (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing Co, 2008), 7.

[5] Win Arn, The Pastor’s Manual for Effective Ministry (Monrovia, CA: Church Growth, Inc., 1988), 16.