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Do You Want to Get Well?

It’s commonly agreed, in most contexts that the traditional ways of doing church no longer work. Perhaps you disagree with this statement. Perhaps you are not in touch with the data concerning the plight of most of our churches in the SBC or more specifically our churches in the Fairburn Baptist Association.

Speaking of our Baptist Association, here are a few startling statistics from our Annual Church Report (ACR) provided by our churches. I compiled a few vital aggregate statistics over the last five years. I threw out the years 2020 and 2021 as Covid-19 years. I did this because the numbers would have been even more stark. I only factored the years 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2022. If a church didn’t report in any of these years, which several did, I went back and averaged the most recent five years in that category and used that average for the church’s report. Here’s the summary:

  1. The number of churches we have in the association is down two congregations.

  2. The membership in those churches is down by average of 2,107 members. By the way, this number is before I took off the numbers from the two congregations we lost.

  3. Worship attendance is down by average of 2,054.

  4. Baptisms are down by average of 27.

  5. Church income is up by average of $1,358,734.

  6. Church giving to their own mission causes is down by average of $405,902.

  7. Church giving to Fairburn Baptist Association is down by average of $11,289.

Just in case you are wondering, our associational area during these years grew in population by 24,000 people.

As you can see, in every category but one we are down. You can come to any conclusion you like, but the way I see it, on average our churches have more money and less impact. Why is that? Without the Pandemic being a factor, we are still on the decline in the numbers that really count for kingdom growth.

To be fair, not every church’s numbers in our association are down. We have several churches that have grown in numbers and baptisms in the last year. Some have even given more to missions and to associational missions. However, the vast majority of churches are in a downward trajectory. Perhaps this is the situation of your church. I hope it is not. But in order to know, we must keep good records.

Facts are our friends. This is why it is so important for churches to fill out the Annual Church Report (ACR) every year. Most of our churches have done it in the past, but many are stopping. Chances are good that your church is one of them.

Why would church leaders not fill out their Annual Church Report? I personally believe it is because their numbers are declining, and it’s an issue of pride. I’ve not seen a church that is growing stop sending in their ACR. I have seen the reverse.

If you don’t track how your church is doing, you won’t know how it’s doing. It’s like a man not going to his doctor when he is hurting because he is afraid the doctor will find something wrong. Well, there is something wrong and if you don’t find out what it is it could kill you!

That is exactly what has happened to many of our churches. They will not acknowledge the decline for fear of having to get a diagnosis and then a prescription to do something about it. Then they are put in the position of doing the hard work of changing or die.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 5 we read about Jesus finding a man who could not walk and had been laying at the pool of Bethesda for 38 years. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6b, CSB) What a silly question. The man had been an invalid for 38 years and waiting at the water for healing. Why would Jesus ask such a question? I think it is because some people don’t want to get well. They are comfortable in their sickness. They know that if they are well, they will have to take responsibility for themselves. In short, they will have to change.

In my 15 plus years as a church consultant and denominational worker I have asked many churches the same question that Jesus posed to the lame man. 100% of them told me that they wanted to get well. But I found out later that at least 50% of them lied.

They wanted to get well but they didn’t want to change.

I’ll do it if…

· It doesn’t cost too much.

· It’s not too hard.

· It won’t be painful.

· It won’t take too long.

They have betrayed the mission of God for their religion of comfort. They have made an idol out of their religious tradition and have grieved the Spirit of God. They do not weep over the lost and seek to become all things to all people so that by all means they might save some. No chances of revival here… unless there is a change of mind. The Bible has a great word for “change of mind”. It is the word “repentance.” It’s a good word and a good one for Christians to practice.

So, does your church want to get well? Get a diagnosis. Your associational missionary just happens to be certified in administering a church health assessment, likely the best tested and documented church health survey ever created.

Once a valid and accurate diagnosis is made, then the church, under the prayerful leadership of the pastor and help of the AMS can begin to follow a prescription for greater health. But the question remains, do you want to get well? It will probably be hard. It will likely be painful. It will surely take some time. It will be costly.

Is there a better option? Continue the same course. As Dr. Phil says, “How’s that working for you?”

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