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Why Churches Fail: Part I

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
In my first doctoral dissertation on "why churches fail," I tracked over 1,000 churches for over 10 years. I looked for the marks that caused people to leave. I found the top four reasons why a churchgoer leaves their church.

The problems of Church can be solved and used for His glory!

The LORD is my light and my salvation--whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life--of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

I was teaching at a pastor's conference recently. So many pastors were literally crying on my shoulder because of the overwhelming problems they face. This is no surprise; usually, I am the one crying! However, the surprise here was the focus (or the lack thereof) from these pastors. Most of them did not consider effective Bible teaching or discipleship important for their church. Furthermore, discipleship was considered useful for attracting people, not for mentoring and teaching them. Most of them did not think prayer was important; rather, it was about crafting a catchy sermon with a catchy title to draw people into to their church. And, it gets worse from there.

When I led a workshop on "Biblical Church Growth," I spent some Q & A time with these pastors. And of course, they had "real" reasons why their churches were declining and in decay. One was the trend that since the early 70s, white, Protestant churches are no longer vogue in American culture. Many sited statistics and research about how churches grow only when the pastors can attract congregational members with similar attitudes or connect with church members during times of crisis and life changes (which are valid and effectual reasons, but miss the main point). And, most felt that prayer and even faith decisions are deep, nevertheless personal and not an essential component to building a church. And yes, this was for a main-line church conference. I challenged them with my statistics on why churches failed. It was like I was speaking with three heads. Prayer, Bible literacy and its relevance, and discipleship were considered juvenile to them. Yes, their despair was sincere; they just could not make the connection that real church development has to do with focusing on who the church is for-and that is Christ! Most thought the church was for their own amusement and agendas. Seriously, how do pastors miss the point so significantly?

Faith is what moves a real effectual and effective church!

In my first doctoral dissertation on "why churches fail," I tracked over 1,000 churches for over 10 years. I looked for the marks that caused people to leave. I found the top four reasons why a churchgoer leaves their church.

1. The number one reason why people stop coming to any given church, (your church) was reported by over 91% people citing the significant factor or main reason being conflict and gossip! (James 3:5-6)

2. The number two reason that people leave a church is the hypocrisy and judgmental attitude and actions of people. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of people who left a church stated they experienced church people being judgmental to them, the hypocrisy they witnessed especially by pastors and leadership, or the hurt by church members they experienced. Another significant factor in this category was the poor "people skills" of the pastor and/or leadership! Why? Because they do not manage the judgmentalism, conflicts and/or gossip! (Matthew 5:9)

3. The number three reason why people leave a church is because they wonder, where do I fit in? They experience a lack of hospitality and concern or care from the leadership or people in general. Sixty-six percent (66%) reported that if people do not feel they belong, they leave. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

4. The number four reason why people leave a church is the unwillingness to deal with sin. This creates strife and factions in a church for which sixty-two percent (62%) of people reported to be the reason they left. The atmosphere of contention they feel is the primary basis for factions-the dissatisfaction, disagreements, and dissention (if they stay), all because they do not feel at "home," having a place to care and to share. Thus, the poor "people skills" of the leadership, the unwillingness to deal with and resolve conflict, and the lack of seeking Christ first and foremost cause the majority of conflicts between the people in the church and the pastor. (Matthew 6:33)

These top four problems cause the vast majority of people to leave a church, over ninety-one percent (91%): unresolved conflict, gossip, no teaching, and inhospitality that prevent "connection." (This statistic discounts people who move for a job or school change, which is around nineteen percent (19%); this was removed from statistical relevance in the percentage hierarchy.) Over ninety percent (90%) of people surveyed and interviewed felt a significant, overwhelming lack of courtesy, absence of Fruit, and bad character that led to broken relationships and the flight from their church. Over eighty-five percent (85%) reported no one ever called, visited them, or asked why they left within the first four months after leaving. Eighty-two percent (82%) stated that if they were visited and given a reason and/or an apology, resolving the conflict or action was taken to resolve it, they would return. Over seventy percent (70%) of them were in leadership of some kind, and thirteen percent (13%) were pastors! These reasons led to over ninety percent (90%) of feeling shunned, feelings of rejection, and/or not feeling wanted or cared for there. This prevented them from getting anything significant or spiritual out of church, so they left.

My personal observations were simple; Ephesians 4:1 - 5:2 was not applied or sought by the leadership. This comes from a lack of quality, biblical understanding from the leadership. This Bible illiteracy and feeling that it is not relevant resulted in a lack of quality expository or exegetical Bible teaching. In addition, discipleship was not considered important nor was Fruit being modeled by the church leadership.

Of the churches and people surveyed and tracked that were satisfied and healthy, the Bible was taught effectively, the church was healthy, and when problems came, they were met and turned into happenings of connection and learning. After that, the congregation was better able and willing to put God's precepts in practice with real, authentic Christian character and faith. Problem churches turned around and factions ended simply by seeking Christ first. It starts from the leadership. People do not know the Word or the precepts of our Lord because the Bible is not taught in such a way that it is real and can be applied to their lives and situations. Sheep who are not being fed will feed upon one another and not love one another! The Church is called-even mandated to equip and disciple its people, not just in the basics of the faith, but also in how to be Christian in their families, work, school, and relationships. When churches do not engage in this vital call, they create ineffective Christians who do not seek to live their lives to His glory (Psalm 119:9-12)! After a while, the church stagnates to nothing and eventually will close its doors.

When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Psalm 27:2

So, how are churches run?

The great American way of doing church these last ten or so years is to do church in the ways of the world and business community, and not in the Way of God. In so doing, we have been crafting and creating our own problems and dilemmas. These place the church outside of biblical principles because we seek our ideas outside and away from Christ, resulting in individual, then collective failure. We fail as Christians, then as churches, and then as an effectual and effective Church for the Kingdom of God. So, what are we doing instead of placing Christ first and teaching others about Him? Crafting the trends and formulas to grow a church and be successful are:

· First, find a pastor with the right vision and upbeat, contagious, charismatic personality. He or she can lead by a force of will and/or charisma. (The Bible calls us to be led by the character, call, and precepts of Christ!)

· Second, add in a clever marketing strategy from "door hangers" to TV spots. Make your church look good and appealing. (Painting a rotten fence does not fix the fence!)

· Third, dumb down the Word of God so people get "pop" psychology and self-help rather than biblical instructions. If you teach too deeply, people will get frustrated and leave. You can't attract people with teaching the Bible; you must use other means such as stories, life issues, entertainment, and relevant psychology. (Yes the Bible is an offence; however, our call is not to please people, but to please God and love the people!)

· Fourth, use the best, most modern means of communication so to be flashy and catchy. If you do not have the best power points and plays, forget about getting people to come to your church. (Fluff does nothing when there is no substance!)

· Fifth, no longer make the goal of the Church to be authentic worship and discipleship; it is the goal of being more "contagious" to be like Dr. Phil and Oprah and not like Spurgeon or Schaeffer. We win by our numbers and not by our authentic maturity in Christ. We worship by modern music secular people know and can relate to. Worship is about your people, not about praise to God. (The point of worship is our praise and gratitude to God; He is the audience-the One we seek and please!)

These pastors attended another conference seeking to copy the great big church and the great pastor guru they admired, but it was not working. Instead of putting their resources in the winning channels of prayer and spiritual growth, expository preaching, counseling for the hurting, and training for those who help and serve, they decided to compromise their training and legacy. They cut back on their personal, spiritual growth to have more room for marketing and trend-setting. They read self-help books and gleaned ideas for the sermons from them and not from His Word. They spent their church budget on advertisements, not on missions and real evangelism; then they wondered why it was not working.

Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident. Psalm 27:3

This trend-based way of doing church may sound good, and we can do some of it without compromising the Gospel, such as advertising, finding out what people need, and helping them as long as the gospel is presented, His Word is not compromised, and discipleship is commencing. But, what usually happens is that all the time and resources are spent on the fluff and none on the substance. There is nothing greater a church can do than praise and be grateful to God, then seek and worship Him. And, there is noting wrong with being a good communicator as long as you are communicating biblical, real, life-changing truth. But, most churches are not doing that!

Unfortunately, I was one of the people making up this stuff and propagating these trends for years as a Church Growth Consultant. ashamedly, I admit my mistakes. We have created trends, inclinations, and traditions that are not rooted in biblical precepts and have turned our churches toward skewed agendas. This has caused our churches to be turned into merely civic centers without real depth or function for the Kingdom of God. We are no longer the haven of rest because we exchanged the Word and the training grounds for Christian servers and worshipers for God's glory into theaters of entertainment and complacency that fuel self-satisfaction and immaturity. We created gossipers and legalism, handcrafting our own dysfunction and strife. We have become churches of "pew-sitters" who have become mere consumers of church and not builders or owners who grow in Christ and build His Church.

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

The dilemma is that this formula has, for the most part, actually worked and people are coming to the mega churches that have been born from these guidelines. This trend of doing church has become front and center for whom and why we are to do church. The essentials are mostly good. For the most part, these categories of formulas have some good to offer us. We want to be contagious for the Gospel, we want to attract people, and we want to communicate effectively. But, what we do not want to do is water down the message or forsake the training and equipping of His people so we can gather more consumers, and not participators in His Kingdom. When we dilute and dismiss His Word, we end up trading in our beautiful "classic car" of our Christian formation for an impaired vehicle that has a great paint job and looks good, but it does not run or function or take us in a direction that glorifies our Lord and builds His Church.

Thus, the sheep starve for food; we bite on one another, creating chaos, engaging in gossip so that the desiccation of our call becomes our meal replacement, resulting in infighting instead of the spiritual growth needed if outreach and missions are to be possible.

For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Psalm 27:5

Our churches fail when we fail to know and grow in Christ, when we fail to follow Him and Him alone! It is His Church; we are the stewards of it. We must act like it. All we do is for His glory, not ours, or even for the people in our neighborhoods!

Churches fail when we fail Him-Christ the LORD!
You can turn around your church; all you have to do is know Christ and follow Him. Jesus knows us intimately; He knows our situation, our struggles, and our opportunities. He wants us to take hold of His grace and love so we can focus on Him and lean on Him both in our jubilations and in our struggles. The key in these passages is to stay faithful in our Christian identity and our leadership of others, and to remain loyal to Christ. We are not to allow our doubts, fears, state of affairs, or our whims, ideas, and aspirations to occupy His place in our hearts and minds.

© 2000, revised 2007 R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development

© 2007 - 2022 Institute of Church Leadership Development - All Rights Reserved.
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