7 Important Questions

John M. Crowe, M.Div., D.Min.

What do the numbers tell us about church growth in America?

Despite all of the popular hype about growing churches in our country about 81% United States churches are stagnant or declining. 18-19% of American churches are growing. About 80% of their growth is biological or transfer growth. Barley 1% of United States churches are growing substantially by conversion growth in net growth Churches in which one-third is conversion growth keep their new members and children better than other churches.

Each church loses about 7.8% of people per year by death, transfer, or backsliding. The actual loss of churches runs between 5-11%. Therefore, a church needs at least five to 11% growth per year just to stay even.

United Methodist Church decline in the last century.

In 1900--27 churches for every 10, 000 people.

In 1950--17 churches for every 10,000 people.

In 1990--11 churches for every 10,000 people.

Many of these 11 churches are located where people used to live.

In the most rural areas, United Methodist to have one church for 3,000-4,000 people.

In the most urban areas, united Methodists have one church for every 30,000 to 50,000.

1/3 of those attending worship in the UMC do so in 2/3 of UMC buildings. Conversely, 2/3 of those attending worship in the UMC gather in 1/3 of UMC buildings. United Methodist church buildings are no longer where the people are.

How do these figures compare with churches in your own denomination?

II. Retaining Church Visitors for maintenance or growth?

Churches who keep 2 out of every 10 visitors only maintain.

If a church keeps three out of 10 visitors, the congregation multiplies

III. What is the main assumption of various church growth programs? Is this assumption realistic?

Church growth programs assume a stable level of church health as the predominant condition and see sickness or dysfunction as the exception. The truth is not so bright--in fact, both the Epistles of the New Testament, early church history, and current data indicates the reverse.

Stable congregational health is not the norm. Changes in church health is normally not in an unhealthy direction without some intervention. Clement of Rome's letter to the Corinthian Church in southern Greece tells us that the congregation was very unhealthy once again 45 years after the Apostle Paul's correspondence with them. Clement told the church how badly their sick condition was hurting evangelistic efforts in Rome, Italy

IV. What is a more realistic view of churches?

The seven churches of Revelation present us with a very realistic view of the early church. Two received nothing but praise. However, two others received no praise at all. Three received a mixture of praise and exhortation. In other words, two of the seven were shining examples of healthy churches. Three of the seven churches presented examples of churches with a mixture of health and struggles with various diseases. The epistles of the NT are written to these kind of churches. Lastly, two of the seven churches were very, very sick. They needed far more than a revival. Those churches needed a resurrection.

The American Church scene almost parallels the portrait of the seven churches in Revelation. Only about 20 percent of churches are functioning as living organisms and bearing substantial fruit. Somewhere between 50-60% of churches are dysfunctional or potentially unhealthy bearing varying levels of fruit. This leaves about 20-30% of churches as extremely dysfunctional which bear no fruit at all.

V. What subject related to stewardship is very hard for some to address?

Biblically speaking stewardship touches every area of life. Practically speaking, I'm certain some find it extremely difficult to focus on certain subjects like either money, time, work, family or our resources.

What about the stewardship of those with ministry gifts? Ephesians 4 speaks of the ascended Christ giving gifts of ministry to the church for the equipping of the saints for their ministry. Among the gifts of ministry listed there is pastor-teacher. Both denominational leaders and local churches must face this stewardship subject. The research of one branch of the Lutheran Church informed them that only the most healthy clergy and family need be sent to an extremely dysfunctional church for their sake and for the sake of any possibility of change. Their study also found that many congregational problems and clergy dropouts came from putting an outwardly focused pastor in an inwardly oriented church and visa versa.

What about the stewardship of clergy and their families when it comes to churches full of E.G.O. people who not only 'Edge God' Out but also spit one pastor out after another? Is it good stewardship for denominations to send pastors into these places of almost certain doom? Do the denominational leaders gain more respect or lose respect from these churches who feel entitled to a pastor regardless of how they treat them? Actually, they come to view the denominational leaders as persons they can dominate just like every pastor they kick out.

When will we practice good stewardship of people with ministry gifts and their families? When we view them biblically as Christ's gifts to the church to minister and work together for mutual edification, ministry, and maturity.

As my colleague in pastoral ministry and church health ministry, Rev. Tom Fischer, has written:


Let's stop casting our pearls--God's Called Pastors--"to the swine." Let's use divine principles of stewardship in the stewardship of the divine call. Let's not take God's "talents" and bury them in a hole of multiple dysfunctional congregational dynamics when opportunities for maximizing such gifts abound.

Instead, let's begin asking, "How would God invest these ministers--the precious pearls--in His church?" Are there churches toward which we ought to shake the dust off our sandals until they demonstrate repentance and genuine desire for healing? If we ask these basic question firsts, maybe addressing these questions would be one of the most important first steps toward congregational health we could take.

Let's treat the divine Office of the Ministry the way it's meant to be treated--with a greater sense divine reverence and respect.

Protecting And Investing God's Pearl--The Pastor by Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

VI. Why does a church put up with difficult church members and resist healthy leadership?

Some families have healthy boundaries, good relationships, and flexible lifestyles. They cannot be defined as either very rigid or weak. They work toward maintaining an appropriate balance between group and individual concerns so that persons are connected but not enmeshed. Individuals from such families tend to live within firm boundaries, experience better relationships, and are more flexible when encountering something or someone new. None of this is true of families as described below.

If a family is very rigid in their boundaries, relationships, and lifestyle, then other people are easily split into accepted or unaccepted. This kind of family attempts to enmesh people into conformity to various legalistic rules.

If a family is very weak in their boundaries, relationships, and lifestyle, anyone with healthy boundaries etc. is immediately seen as not acceptable. This kind of family attempts to enmesh a new person into losing their individual identity and take on a group identity.

An unhealthy church like either of the above dysfunctional families cannot adjust to change, to something new, or to someone new. In fact, its rigid or weak relationship patterns harm individuals and usually labels someone as the identified patient. This person may or may not be the pastor. It may be a new church member or a long term member who no longer wants to keep things as they are.

The concept helps clergy and laity to understand a church's ability to resist change and keep a balance it has found for itself no matter how dysfunctional it may look to others. It also explains why a church tolerate and sometimes even adapt to selfish, complaining dominating people who make or threaten to make trouble.

A congregation with rigid boundaries find themselves emotionally blackmailed by those who sometimes are downright incompetents. Such emotional abuse comes through fear of breaking various rigid rules of "don'ts," obligation to keeping up appearances, and guilt for whatever. The end result is that people are kept in the fog. Even in a church with weak boundaries their relationships and lifestyles are often emotionally controlled by people using Fear, Obligation, Guilt--F.O.G.

Very often in such churches, a congregation will choose their previous balance, as unhealthy as it often is, with the most unlikely people instead of the creative thinker. Since such a creative pastor or layperson has disturbed the old balance of things, they will either be ignored or let go. This dynamic also gives us some clue as to why church life all of a sudden goes out of balance right at the very times things seemed to be improving.

In the midst of such unbalanced times, a person's best questions of the church are "Why now?" and "What has gone out of balance?" In such times, no one will ever attain lasting harmony in a congregation by focusing on the various content issues directed at them or upon some other focus.

In such situations, it is best to maintain a non-anxious presence. Such a presence means to develop the capacity to contain your own anxiety regarding congregational matters, both those not related to them, as well as those where one becomes the identified focus. It also means staying in meaningful contact with other key players in the situation without being emotionally dominated by them. Otherwise, someone can actually multiply the emotional imbalance of a church by anxiously over-functioning. Persons who finds themselves tempted to play a church's hero need to honestly address their personal and professional feelings of helplessness. By offering such calm and yet connected pastoral or lay leadership, one's non-anxious presence helps reduce a church's anxiety while calmly maintaining a sense of her or his own direction.

VII. What do many clergy find very frustrating about pastoral ministry and why?

Many pastors feel frustrated as spiritual window washers who create or seek to create a clear vision for only brief periods of time until the glass becomes clouded and distorted again. One source of this frustration comes from the pressure from denominational leaders to fix churches and make them grow. A second source of this comes from an internal need to rescue those who may not want to be championed and show no appreciation. Sad to say, but about one-quarter to one-third are at risk or already functioning at less than a healthy level. Thus, a third source of such frustration comes from cleaning up after an at-risk clergy explodes like a time bomb and knowing how likely it is for that church to get another one.