What Is Wrong With Our Churches?
Bo Blakey is a friend of mine who has been the pastor of several churches and is currently working on his PHD and writing his dissertation in the area of church planting. We recently exchanged a couple of Facebook messages that he initiated by essentially asking, “What is wrong with our churches?”
It is a question that many are wondering and the reason they are wondering is the fact that 70 percent of our churches are either plateaued or declining. I guess the good news is that 30 percent must be growing. If growing churches (spiritually and numerically) were baseball then .300 would be an all-star average. But this is far more important than baseball and that is why the decline of churches and ultimately Christianity in the United States is so alarming. The reality is that the lack of growth in our churches and the multiplication of new churches ultimately indicates that we are not keeping pace with the growth of the population, which ultimately means that Christianity is in decline in the U.S.
To Bo’s question, and the stark reality behind the question, I simply responded that perhaps the answer is as easy (and as difficult) as prayerlessness. I’m not talking about praying at the table before meals or at the dismissal prayer at our worship gatherings, I’m talking about crying out to God like our lives and the lives of others depended on it. I’m talking about praying like Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:12. “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” I’m talking about praying like Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:9-13 where the text says about Hannah that she “prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly and continued praying.” I’m talking about praying like the only person in the universe who can help us is God through Christ Jesus.
That’s my two cents. But the reason I am really writing this blog is to let others see what Bo said in response to my response. Take the time to read the words of someone who has done a lot of reading on churches that are growing and reaching people. Perhaps God will use these words to strengthen the reality that God wants us to pray for our good and His glory. Without further ado:
I don’t know if I have told you but I am writing my dissertation in the area of church planting, primarily to understand what the key ingredients are to making church work. Interestingly enough, what is working in church plants should, could and does happen in established churches as well. It is funny you mention prayer, because you will not find it in any purpose statements, I have never seen it as part of a church vision, you will be hard pressed to find it as a priority in most churches.
I am as guilty as any. But I have come to believe and I believe some of my research would reflect prayer is the one key ingredient that has remained an intangible with regard to the entirety of elements you could image for a church. Because of faith and its unique nature of connecting humanity to God, prayer has the freedom and flexibility to elicit responses that encompass a spectrum of emotions and behaviors. More than any other trait, purpose, vision, value or ingredient, prayer is the link that drives passion in growing churches and the obligatory actions in others. When asked to give the most important aspects of church planting, nearly all of the pastors I talked to listed prayer as being the most critical.
While none of the research revealed prayer as a functional element of church life, all the evidence revealed that prayer was a recommended catalyst in virtually every stage of a growing church. In one of the most recent studies, it was revealed that prayer is the engine for the differences between churches that are changing and growing from those that are dying (Rainer & Stetzer, Transformational Church). While studies and opinions may differ regarding established churches and church plants, the concluding results remain paralleled, in that prayer is essential in a growing church.
I think most pastors know this, it just happens that we cannot always get our people to buy into it. There have been seasons where I felt like I had a great pray thing going in a church, it sort of sputtered like a lawn mower starting after a long winter. You pull and pull until it finally begins to take off, blowing smoke, sputtering for air, but all the time the RPMs are increasing and you know any minute it is going to take off and run wide open, then it dies, and you start pulling again.
I think some pastors get tired of pulling and choose to start something else, you never fully give up on prayer and teaching the people its importance but it seems like a battle you cannot win… but I tell you my brother it is a battle we cannot lose!! If one of my goals is to teach my children the harms of drugs, then I will never relent until they understand. You have possible heard the commercial where a parent comes on the screen and says “Do whatever you must do to keep your kids off drugs” …well I have a good friend who’s now 28 year old son has been addicted to drugs, in and out of rehabs since in his teens, and when the mom sat on the couch and spoke those words to me “Do whatever you must do to keep your kids off drugs” I got it, and will not ever forget it.
You and I both know the importance of prayer, let us be faithful to the end, that people understand what it means to us as individuals and to the church.