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Doomed Churches

Some years ago Robert D. Dale, professor of pastoral leadership and church ministries
at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote an article in the Baptist Program entitled,
"Is Your Church Doomed to Die?"

His article listed some spiritually unhealthy churches.
The churches could be busy.
The churches could be going through the same motions as if it were spiritually healthy.
Suppose your church had a sign in front of your church building depicting the spiritual health of your church?

If we can learn to recognize unhealthy churches, then we should be more capable of building healthy ones.
See, if you recognize any of the churches that Robert Dale listed.

The "Good Old Days Church".
This church is living in the past.
They resist change.
The glories of yesterday are preferred over the uncertainties of today and tomorrow.
They do not have the faith to risk.
This church would prefer the past.
In the past there was a defined church field.
In the past there was an entrenched power structure.
In the past there was a simple program.

In the present the character of the church is being challenged.
Will the church reach out to surrounding communities?
Will the church adjust its ministries to meet present needs -- and those of newcomers?
Will the church make room in its leadership for new leaders?

The "Stillborn Church".
This church was probably born out of hate or competition.
This church probably began as a result of a split or schism.
The climate of this church is probably negative.
It is easier to know what the congregation is against, than what it is for.

In his article Robert Dale told of two neighboring pastors.
They were leaders of congregations split out of each other.
The pastors discovered a sure way to motivate their members.

All they had to do was make a comparison of their church to the nearby "enemy" congregation.
A "Catch Calvary" campaign or an "Eradicate Emmanuel" effort was guaranteed to ignite
the old rivalries.
Often a negative beginning for congregations can tilt their motivations and ministries
in negative directions for years.

The "Family Chapel Church".
The center aisle in a family Chapel serves as more than a back-door-to-the-pulpit passageway.
It serves also to divide the house into opposing sides -- into "us" and "them".
When the family chapel is made up of two extended clans, blood ties are more often thicker than the Spirit.
Kinship may decide votes.
Old battles, fought decades ago, may undermine the family chapel's ministry.

There are many instances where the family cemetery does more to insure the congregation's existence
than anything else.
If you would like to see how crucial a cemetery is to some family chapels, announce two workdays.
Announce one workday for a general spring-cleaning for the church building.
Announce the other workday for a let's-get-the-cemetery-ready-for-Memorial day effort.
See which workday would get the most support.

"Dip 'n Drap Church"
Some congregations baptize a lot of people.
But yet, they may grow very little.
People are saved, but the church doesn't grow.

When instant maturity is expected to follow instant birth automatically, immaturity results.
Any church with a dip'em and drap'em approach to evangelism eventually suffers
from the liabilities of immaturity: church fusses, majoring on minor issues,
susceptibility to false doctrines, and marginal appreciation for ethics and applied Christianity.
When salvation is considered only a point in time rather than a process through time,
people are apt to be evangelized, but not nurtured.

"The Doctrinal Specialty Church"
Every congregation must know what it believes and practices.
But if a church's complete confession of faith can be summed up literally on its church sign,
Then it isn't taking advantage of all the richness of the gospel.
A balanced doctrinal diet means all preaching and teaching emphasis isn't focused
on one pet belief -- even if it is an important essential of faith.

A good example is where only the Holy Spirit is stressed and the Father and Son are not.
When a church goes to seed on a favorite doctrine, a lopsidedness occurs which makes
balance growth difficult.

"The Serve-Us Church
Some congregations act as if they exist for only themselves.
They have the same attitude as this self-centered prayer:
"Bless me and my wife,
My son, John, and his wife,
We four,
No more!"

Serve-us congregations have the convenience store mentality.
They serve up fast faith like fast food.
Service and ministry beyond the local membership are almost completely ignored.
The serve-us church often keeps most of its offerings inside the congregation for the use of its members.
Missions and outreach are not stressed.

"No Growth Church"
This church takes pride in stressing fellowship to the almost complete neglect of evangelism.
Dale related of leading an evangelism workshop in a church of this type.
The pastors said, "You'd have to talk about 'sharing' faith.
'Witnessing' is too strong a word for our church

There have been religious groups to have an anti-evangelism stance.
One sect even outlawed evangelism and marriage.
After one generation, they realized what is always true for Christendom:
we are only one generation away from extinction.

"The Widow Maker Church"
Long ago when ships were sailing the ocean, some vessels gained the reputation
as being jinxed.
As this reputation spread, crews were almost impossible to find.
When the owners had recovered their investment, the "widow makers"
were deliberately wrecked.
These ships were believed to be too dangerous for man.

There are some churches that acquire the reputation of widow makers.
They fire or abuse pastor after pastor.
Certainly not all pastoral firings are the fault of the congregation.
But when a church has fired four or five consecutive pastors then could not it be seen as a widow maker?

"Terrorist Tactics Church"
Some congregations are intimidated by terrorizing members.
Church terrorists start rumors, are outspoken debaters, and play politics.
These power brokers filter every decision and create a fuss whenever some action they dislike is
under consideration.

They use blackmail in its various guises – money given to or withheld from the church budget,
designating gifts to pet projects, job security threatened by community employers,
who are also church leaders, or neurotic needs for recognition or power – is a favorite ploy
of religious terrorists.

Power and decision-making in the church are important issues.
In a deacon training conference a hundred deacons were asked if their congregations
had deacon rotation plans.
Many did, but a few reported deacon rotation had been ruled out because some deacons
had thought that they would lose their status.
One deacon said proudly,
"We don't rotate deacons. We rotate pastors!"

This statement has overtones of terrorism.
It also could put them in the widow-maker church.

"Superstar Church."
This church revolves around a central person, usually the pastor.
The direction of the member's attention is so finely focused that a personality cult often results.

The superstar church may be "on" television.
People may join these congregations to draw their identity from a distance relationship
with the superstar.
The superstar church gets a lot of denominational attention.
It provides a model for others to imitate.

But when the superstar leaves, the church may lose its momentum.
Often, the superstar assumes so much spotlight and responsibility that the members may remain
passive and untrained.
Remember, even small churches can have a superstar.

"Smorgasbord Church"
Many churches attempt to provide something for everyone.
They try to be all things to all persons, whether they have the resources and opportunities or not.
These churches play follow-the-leader with their programs.
If another area church develops a program, the Smorgasbord Church feels an obligation
to begin that program also.
"Keeping up with the Joneses" is the style of the Smorgasbord Church.

Congregations can have a "franchised faith" approach.
Which is to say, just like every McDonald's restaurant, they are essentially alike.

Two results are likely.
First, a one-size-fits-all attitude to ministry will miss at least as many people as it reaches.
Second, trying to provide too wide a range of programs may stretch their resources to where
very little is done well.

"Bermuda Triangle Church"
People disappear in the Bermuda triangle -- this is the superstition.
Some church members disappear into the innards of their church never to be seen again.
They become inactive church members because their heart loyalties probably lie somewhere else.

In our churches more than one in every four are considered inactive.
That is a lot of unincorporated or displaced manpower.
This problem is evident in the largest and the smallest churches.
This problem occurs in the highly mobile military or university church to the old established
First Church or a changing neighborhood congregation.

When new members are not assimilated and longtime members aren't encouraged,
inactivity is a likely consequence.
Inactive members can be counted for bragging purposes, but they can't be counted on
for daily ministry to others.

As we see the specific contrast between healthy and unhealthy congregations,
let us determine by the help of God to lead our congregations to be spiritually healthy.

Healthy congregations honor God!