There is a sense in which the Lord’s church will always exist (Matthew 16:18). However, individual congregations, much like the human body which the church is compared to (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), often fade and die out.
Maybe this is an inevitable life cycle for the church. After all, not a single church planted during the first century remains today and churches throughout the world have died while others have sprung up in their place.
Then again, the Lord warned certain flocks to repent and change or else meet their demise (Revelation 2:5). The Lord obviously has a desire for us to be healthy and avoid church fatality.
What exactly can lead a church to her untimely end? What are some of the mistakes of a dying church?
1) Heresies and false teachers
There have always been those lying in wait to deceive disciples of Christ (Ephesians 4:14). Antichrists, false prophets, and heretics hope to lead us away from the truth (1 John 2:18). Their craftiness encourages division (1 Corinthians 11:18-19) and denial of our Savior (2 Peter 2:1).
While this may not seem like an obvious problem in the church today, evil men of this kind have, in fact, advanced more and more throughout time (2 Timothy 3:13). Often, heresy can be subtle. In some cases, Christ has been replaced with vague references to an undefined deity.
2) Diluted doctrine
We live in a day of bumper sticker Christianity where communication is limited to 140 characters. The truth is contrary to our nature (1 Corinthians 2:14) and extremely divisive (Matthew 10:34-36). Therefore, we attempt to water it down or avoid aspects of it altogether in order to please the masses.
All preachers have a responsibility to declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). It is enticing to try and please everyone, but we should seek to please God instead (Acts 5:29). Truth matters (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
3) Biblical illiteracy
We should never blindly follow anyone, even ministers of the gospel. We should search the scriptures daily to prove everything we hear is truth (Acts 17:11). Even Christ relied on the will of God to judge everything he heard (John 5:30).
Our understanding of godly things is a never-ending process of growth (2 Peter 3:18). Our knowledge of the truth keeps us on track (Romans 12:2), helps us avoid the pitfalls of temptation (Luke 4:1-13), and gives us the answers when we are questioned about our faith (1 Peter 3:15).
4) Sinful behavior
The concept of church discipline is foreign to many Christians. But the church cannot afford to the turn the other way when members engage in unrepentant sinful behavior. This was perhaps the most pressing issue facing the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 5).
Sin among us is bad enough, but we cannot allow it to foster and spread (1 Corinthians 5:6). We should labor to restore–not punish–those that have been led away by one sin or another (Galatians 6:1).
5) Complacency and/or apathy
Complacency was likely the downfall of the Laodicean church (Revelation 3:14-22). Their works had become lukewarm because they were entirely satisfied with their mediocre service.
We often believe the commandments of God to be reactionary instructions. Rather, commandments such as “love thy neighbor” or “do good unto all men” were meant to be proactive works. We shouldn’t wait for the chance to do good to fall into our laps. We should proactively seek out these opportunities and avoid apathy.
6) Traditions and legalism
There are certain traditions the church should always seek to hold (2 Thessalonians 2:15). But there are also many traditions that fall into the realm of Christian liberty.
If we have determined a practice of the church is a matter a liberty, we should never treat those matters as gospel truth (Matthew 15:2-3). Doing so is to the detriment to the church (1 Corinthians 10:31-33).
7) Conflict over matters of liberty
Brotherly love is absolutely vital to the health of a church (Hebrews 13:1). Contention is a virus which can easily destroy it (Proverbs 17:14). Churches have buried themselves under endless fights over issues that never mattered in the first place.
More than even brotherly love–a love built on a common bond–the church desperately needs sacrificial love (John 15:13). We have to be willing to give up what we want when it’s not a matter of truth, but rather a matter of liberty (Romans 14:15).
8) Love of numbers
The size of a church is not an accurate measurement for the health of a church. Neither is the amount of money in the treasury.
Charitable giving is important (2 Corinthians 9:7). Each and every new member in the church is important (Luke 15:10). However, obsessing over the collection plate is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10) and getting people in the pews is only the beginning (Acts 2:42-47).
9) Failure to be relevant
The gospel message has always been relevant and will always be relevant. But our delivery of that message needs to be tweaked to accommodate the people and the times.
The apostle Paul never preached anything but the truth (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Even so, he made sure to be aware of his audience so that he could by all means save some (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).
10) No outward ministry
Our ministry (service) comes in three parts: Ministry to God (1 Corinthians 6:20), ministry to those in the church (Galatians 6:10), and ministry to those outside of the church (Luke 6:35-36).
The early church was plagued by Jews who felt the Gentiles did not belong in their elite club (Acts 15:1). We are often guilty of the same inwardly-focused mindset which tends to stifle the labors we should be making in the harvest (John 4:35).
11) Lack of hospitality and love
If we are faithful to perform outward ministry as we should, we must also remember to maintain a hospitable environment. A born again, truth-seeking child of God craves love and encouragement from brethren in the church (Galatians 5:22-25).
12) Lack of prayer
The Lord ultimately provides the increase in every way imaginable (1 Corinthians 3:6). We depend on His blessing (Acts 2:47). No church will remain alive and well without consistant prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Do you have a few things to add to the list? If so, please share in the comment section below.
I want to thank several great friends on Twitter and Facebook for contributing in a previous conversation which helped me to expand this list: Chip Krenn, Liz York, Randall King, Keith Ellis, Dewey Cooksey, Daniel Wood, Ann Fraley, Julie Mann, John Burkett, Joshua Winslett, Jefferson Oakes, Matthew Yoder, Mark Webb, Ric Stewart, James Allen, and Clint Stutts.