Many churches today are struggling under the strain of declining membership. Many church members are scratching their heads and wondering why this diminishment is occurring. I have listened to many conversations among church people and have heard various theories as to why the church is shrinking so rapidly. Many scapegoats have been identified. The pastor is not a good enough preacher. The worship service is too flat. There are not enough exciting programs to attract people to our church. There are not enough young families. The culture has changed. Folks just are not interested in religion anymore. We are too old. We do not have enough money. Perhaps you have heard some of these arguments, or perhaps excuses, yourself?
In my personal opinion none of these reasons I have heard adequately explain why the church and its influence in our society is waning. The reason, in my opinion, the church is declining so swiftly is because we are failing to live into our discipleship and the great commission, i.e. to go out into our community and share the Gospel and bring people to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Frankly, an effective and growing church is one that believes, trusts and hopes in Jesus Christ as Lord. It picks up its cross daily, follows Jesus, and courageously goes out into its neighborhood and “fishes for people.” An effective and growing church does not need a lot of money, youth, programs, or even the best preacher, or the most energetic worship service in the world. All an effective and growing church needs is a group of faithful disciples who love Jesus and their neighbors with all their hearts and want nothing more than to bring the two together! Committed discipleship and determined evangelism are what make a church to quit dying and begin living.
In Luke 5:1-11, Jesus makes this very point. He sees two boats along the shore. Boats are symbolic of churches. These two churches are tucked away safely at shore, doing nothing, and there are no fish, or people, in them. Then Jesus tells the boats to put out a little way into the lake. The lake represents the world, where mission and evangelism take place. Jesus enters the boat and begins to preach and many listen to his message of God’s grace and love. Jesus then tells the boats to move further out into the lake. They are moving out into the wind and waves, where the mission field gets a little more challenging, to let down their nets for a big catch of people. At first the disciples balked. They complained and resisted. But, when they finally let down their nets as Jesus told them, the scripture says that they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. They had to signal their partners over to help them draw in all those people. That means they had so many people coming into their church, they had to start a new one!
So there you have it. Do you want the church to stop declining? Do you want the church to stabilize and begin to grow again? Then do as Jesus commands: Get up, go out into your community (among your family, colleagues, and friends) and love them. Love them so much that you want them to know Jesus just as you know him. Love them so much that you share your personal faith story with them. Love them so much that you try to convince them of all the benefits of having a close personal relationship with Jesus. Love them so much that you invite them to come to church and find guidance, encouragement and support from a community of committed disciples. Only when every member (or should I say disciple) gets on board and lets down her or his net will the church catch people and begin to thrive again.