To ask "What will happen?" without a context poses an unanswerable question. More information must be given. Specifically one might ask, "What will happen if we keep on as we are?" Numerous answers might be given depending upon one's current concerns and focus. Possible answers include biblical illiteracy, apostasy, and increasing false teaching--all significant concerns, but not the subject of this essay.
The subject of this essay is salvation, evangelism, spreading the gospel, expanding the borders of the kingdom. The arena is our own backyard. "What will happen if we keep on as we are?" The churches where we live will continue to decline!
In the geographic areas where I live, we are not getting it done! While our decadal growth rate during the 1980s was 5.20% nationwide, from 1980-1995 the churches of Christ in West Virginia declined in membership by 3,796 (-16.53%). The membership decline places West Virginia churches 48th in membership growth and 50th in percentage of membership growth. The decline in Ohio was 3,056 (-7.86%)--45th and 42nd respectively. If one considers adherent (attendance) figures, the decline in West Virginia is -19.43%, the decline in Ohio is -6.57%.
I write for two reasons--to make us aware of the problem and to encourage us to seek solutions.
As we consider the first matter, I assure you the problem is severe! While a few congregations may experience increases in membership or attendance, most congregations are slowly but surely dwindling and will ultimately cease to exist, if we keep on as we are. Is your congregation larger or smaller than it was 20 years ago? Are the congregations in your area larger or smaller than 20 years ago? How many souls are being added each year to the church where you work and worship. The problem is focused by information gleaned from the many church bulletins I read. The average of those congregations whose bulletins I receive and read suggests that it requires nearly 50 members to baptize one soul into the kingdom in one year--and that includes our own children!
We must come face to face with the truth that we are not evangelistic. While we may multiply efforts in impersonal evangelism--television, radio, newspaper articles, gospel meetings, and similar efforts, personal evangelism is not the work to which most preachers are devoting their time. In too many congregations, personal evangelism is no one's work. Elders are generally not involved in personal evangelism, nor are Bible teachers or deacons. Personal evangelism is low on our priority list.
As we seek solutions, several become apparent in the above observations. First, we must emphasize evangelism in our congregations. We must make outreach a primary work of the church. If the church is not on this earth to save people and to keep people saved, why are we here? Why did Jesus Christ die to become Savior of the body except that he desires his body on earth to be saved? God wants all to be saved and is not willing that any should perish. I wonder if our will is God's will. I wonder how firmly we are committed to doing God's will. Second, we must involve more of our members in sharing the good news. Sharing the good news is not hard. When I understand what God has done for me, I can surely tell someone else about it. We must facilitate classes to help our members overcome their fears. Third, we must become personal in our outreach efforts. While impersonal efforts may help us clear the forests, plow the ground, prepare the soil, and even plant seed, a personal work remains. After proclamation must come persuasion, and persuasion is usually personal. Occasionally someone accepts the mass persuasion of mass marketing, but generally souls are brought to Jesus one by one. Finally, we must face the facts of our diminishing and not place blame anywhere but on ourselves. You have heard it said, "No one is interested," but I say to you that all around us are growing denominational churches. You have heard it said, "It's not really that bad," but I say to you, "Look at the numbers." You have heard it said, "God will come through," but I say to you that God's plan for taking the saving gospel to our world is us, and that by his powerful gospel we must come through.
What will happen if we keep on as we are? I am not certain, but the prospect is frightening.
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