Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 48
As 2020 drudges on, and churches have continued trying to find the right things to do, analysis has begun to reveal systemic issues that pre-date the pandemic. COVID-19 is an easy scapegoat for attendance decline, but attendance was only ever a rudimentary measure, anyway.
A recent Barna study has revealed that about one-third of practicing Christians have not attended an online worship service from any church since in-person attendance ceased across the country. The issue that COVID-19 has exposed is a lack of discipleship and maturity among church attenders.
In the early weeks of lockdown, we spoke with hundreds of pastors reporting online worship service “views” above their regular in-person attendance. The problem is in the reality of what a “view” is and the disconnect from representing a truly engaged human. They may not have even remained connected to the stream after a few minutes. Even among those that did remain engaged, only 64% said they prayed along with those on screen; only 40% sang along with the music; and 15% multi-task while watching.
These survey results beg the question, “How important is church really in people’s lives?”
This gets to the heart of discipleship and the level of maturity that people are growing into in their lives. How much is true heart change happening in our churches? Do people begin to live differently as a result of attending your church? How would you know?
Three key elements need to be re-examined in most churches.
Are we set up to systematically move people into greater maturity?
Most churches are not, though many have tried. Remember “Know, Grow, Go”? You may have a similar list of elements that were developed in your church some time ago. How have people changed as a result of that initiative? Or did it ever really even get off the ground? It takes more than a catch-phrase to change lives. It takes intentionality, strategy, leadership, and good old-fashioned hard work. It also takes stripping away the things that distract your church from the core mission of making and maturing disciples of Jesus.
Do we have a leadership structure to accomplish the goals?
Barna also found that only 30% of practicing Christians had any contact with a church leader in the last month before the survey. Don’t misunderstand; we do not advocate for a senior pastor or even sole-pastor to have the burden of all pastoral care in the church – that’s not practical or biblical. People do need contact with someone who can disciple them, though. That may be a pastor in a multi-staff church, or it may be a lay-leader, which is the case far more often. A system that provides that does not just happen, though. Only the one who has been discipled can become a discipler themselves.
Do we know how to measure progress?
It’s a constant shock that church leaders resist measuring elements in the church. There is plenty of biblical precedent for checking on the health and wellbeing of our people. Unfortunately, attendance has been the only measure if anything has been measured at all. Where has that gotten us? When the church doors closed, and one-third of our people closed themselves off to the basic Christian practice of gathering with other believers in any way, shape, or form, a failure was exposed. We have to find new ways of measuring the outputs of the work and not just the inputs.
2020 and beyond remains a great opportunity for the Church of Jesus Christ worldwide, but it should be a wake-up call for church leaders everywhere. It’s time to prune what we do to maximize the fruit. An effective discipleship pathway in your church will lead to greater ministry effectiveness than ever before.
We’re here for you and praying for your success. If you’d like to connect with one of us to discuss how we can help your church get further, faster, and with less frustration in making disciples of Jesus, click here now.
A.J. Mathieu is the President of the Malphurs Group. He is passionate about helping churches thrive and travels internationally to teach and train pastors to lead healthy disciple-making churches. A.J. lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, enjoys the outdoors, and loves spending time with his wife and two sons. Click here to email A.J.