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The Mark Of A Church In Decline
Thomas F. Fischer
One of the most common things found in leadership literature are
listings of various indicators of health and un-health, growth and decline. One such
listing is George Barna's "Twenty-Three Marks Of A Church In Decline."
The twenty-three marks he suggests in his book, Turnaround Churches, include the
following (cf. pp. 33 ff.):
- Demographic Changes
- Inadequate Leadership
- Poor Management
- Old Blood
- Building Campaigns
- The Ingrown Family
- Resistance To Change
- Spiritual Health
- Divisive Internal Politics
- Inadequate Christian Education And Training
- Dilapidated Facilities
- Frequent Changes In Leadership Positions
- Pastor-Centered Ministry
- Emotional Discouragement Among The Congregation
- Unreconciled Theological Disagreement
- Absence Of Ministry Opportunities For People
- Financial Decline
- Loss Of Key Lay People
- Loss Of Critical Staff Members
- Lowering Of Ministry Standards
- Denominational Meddling
- A Shift Away From Bible-Centered Teaching
- Absence Of An Assimilation Program
- The Fundamental Flaw
The above listing certainly does describe the marks of a church in decline. Of that there
is no dispute.
- But this and other listings share a fundamental flaw. They look at the symptoms, not the
causes. They are objectively rather than subjectively oriented. They look at what they can
see and measure. But so often they do not deal with the real fundamental issue.
- Intimacy: The Overlooked Fundamental
- In a society enamored by success, performance, and the bottom line, it's easy to
overlook what really matters. This is not to say that robust, growing ministries do not
matter. They do.
- The age-old dilemma, however, is that not every church which addresses each one of
Barna's twenty-three marks of decline will experience a reverse in decline. Some
congregations will simply not respond to endless, energetic pleas to address assimilation.
Other congregations simply can't make the turnaround from what Barna calls "old
blood" to new blood.
- Several of these "Twenty-Three Marks" are often simply out of a
congregation's or leadership's control. Certainly none of them can be turned around
overnight except in the most optimum conditions, conditions which are frankly in the hands
- The "Twenty-Three Marks" Re-Considered
- What one might find striking in Barna's listing are items which are really relationship
or intimacy issues. When one takes a second look at this listing, this fundamental dynamic
becomes rather obvious.
- Once one begins to see how issues of intimacy drive congregational and
ministry life, it becomes ever more clear that the real dilemma for leaders is to deal
with the multiple dynamics of growth and decline in congregations from a totally different
perspective. That perspective is the perspective of intimacy issues.
- Consider again the "Twenty-Three Marks Of A Church In
- * Which of these marks are really indicators of failed intimacy
- * In what ways do these marks work against healthy intimacy
- * Which do nothing to foster the basis of healthy Christian
love, trust, forgiveness, lack of fear, risking,
vision, feeling passion,
expanding and extending relationships, vulnerability,
humility, and sacrifice?
Intimacy Is Fundamental!
- When the above items are examined from the perspective of intimacy, it
becomes more obvious that "The Twenty-Three Marks of Decline" and other
such listings are, at best, really only a symptomatic, descriptive analysis of certain
congregational phenomena. This is not to deny that they may be helpful. They are!
- But they do not tell the whole story. They merely--and literally--only
scratch the surface. Where they often fail to tell the whole story is in the most
fundamental area. This listing, as well as other symptomatic approaches to leadership,
growth and organizational renewal fail to recognize the predominant importance of patterns
of intimacy within organizations systems. (For a more detailed analysis see the upcoming Ministry Health Article #290 "Symptomatic
Approaches To Church Health: An Analysis").
- If, as Peter Steinke stated, "The congregation's health and the people in it are
connected" (Healthy Churches, Alban Institute, p. 81), then patterns of
intimacy must become the essential focus of any intervention or strategy designed to
promote congregational health. Unfortunately this is not easy because, as Rabbi Friedman
noted, churches have a poor reputation for developing mature, healthy people (Edwin
Friedman, From Generation To Generation: Family Process in Church and
Synagogue. New York: The Guildford Press, 1985, p. 59).
- Ramifications For Your Ministry In Jesus Christ
- If intimacy issues are fundamental to leadership and congregational
ministry, then it follows that pastoral leadership must re-think the focus of its efforts.
- It has been said that the focus will need to shift from program to
people. But this may not be far enough. The focus must shift from people to intimacy
- God's people, from the most highly-placed denominational leader to the
average person in the pew, have needs. Their greatest need is for intimacy, connection,
and relationship. This occurs best when they have achieved intimacy, connection and
relationship with God.
- Jesus' Prayer For Intimacy
- In His "High Priestly Prayer" Jesus prayed, "Father, may
they be one as You and I are one" (John 17:21). Jesus didn't pray for programs. He
prayed for people.
- More specifically, He prayed that God would build on the
grace-based intimate connection with His disciples and all believers. His prayer
also was that His disciples would recognize and exhibit this intimate
- This connection can only be made by the Spirit of God graciously working
in His inerrant Word. It is here that all those who minister God's Word find their highest
task. They are God's agents of intimacy. They are agents of reconciliation who convey
God's forgiveness. They are called to bring humanity into fellowship with God. They are
called to proclaim the peace and freedom which only an eternal, intimate relationship with
God can bring.
- The Challenge
- The challenge which remains, then, is this: Which current ministries in
your congregation are directed toward building healthy patterns of personal and
congregational intimacy toward God and others? Are the leaders in your congregation
willing to risk becoming intimate with God and give up those ministries which hinder true,
biblically based intimacy?
If not, then perhaps the denial of intimacy is the
most telling mark of a church in decline!
- If it is, the minister and ministry are highlighting freedom in the
Gospel. They are proclaiming comfort and peace to the masses. They are bringing people to
repentance and reconciliation with God and others. They are witnessing the Holy Spirit
create, sustain and expand deeper and broader fellowship which permeates and transcends
the boundaries of the congregations. Most importantly, they are bringing the people to
meet God, "face-to-face" in the loving arms of His grace.
- The Goal: Face-To-Face Intimacy With God
- One of the most memorable passages in Scripture was the record of Moses'
desire to see God "face-to-face." He wanted the greatest possible intimacy with
God. It is this longing which must engendered through the many styles and modes of
ministry. It is easier for us, however, than for Moses, for
"We have seen His glory, glory as of the
only-begotten of the Father,
full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
- Are you ready to lead your people to greater intimacy with God? Are you
willing to grow in greater intimacy with God? Start coming nearer to God. He
will come nearer both to you and to those entrusted to your intimate care. Now that's not
a mark of a church in decline!
- Thomas F. Fischer
Index Articles 1-49
Articles 50-99 Articles
100-149 Articles 150-199
200-249 Articles 250-299
Articles 300-349 Articles
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:03:18 PM