Are we relying on the power of the gospel? If the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16), why don’t our services and our evangelism focus more explicitly on the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin’s? Likewise, if our churches are shrinking, perhaps it is because the role of the Word has shrunk in our preaching and witness. Do we really trust God to build His church through His Word, or do we rely on tricks and gimmicks?
Are we getting the gospel out? It sounds simple to some, and hopelessly fundamentalist to others, but if we want to see the church grow, we need to actually get out and tell people about the good news of Jesus. Church growth will not keep pace with population growth unless we actively share the gospel with non-Christians and winsomely plead with them to be reconciled to God.
Are we getting the gospel right? In an age where many Christians assume that doctrinal precision gets in the way of mission, we would do well to remember that Paul damned to hell anyone, including himself, who messed with the content of the gospel (Galatians 1:8). God blesses churches that remain faithful to His Word. “We will repeatedly suggest” write sociologists Roger Finke and Rodney Stark in the beginning of their survey of the churching of America from 1776-2005, “that as denominations have modernized their doctrines and embraced temporal values, they have gone into decline.” When it comes to doctrinal boundaries and moral demands, the history of the church in this country demonstrates that stricter is stronger. We cannot expect the church to grow when she proclaims a false gospel.
Are we adorning the gospel with good works? People will not listen to our message or be attracted to our churches if they see hypocritical Christians and churches unconcerned about the problems of the world. Our good works are not the gospel, but they can adorn it and make it more attractive (Titus 2:10).
Are we praying for the work of the gospel? We must pray for more workers, pray for soft hearts, pray for God’s Spirit to supernaturally bring about new birth. If we truly believed in God’s sovereignty, discouraging trends and statistics would cause us first to pray. Every bit of hopelessness is a reminder to hope in God and an impetus to prayer.
Are we training up our children in the gospel? A good portion of the decline in church attendance comes from the failure to retain our own children. What will it profit a man if he transforms the world but loses his own children? We should also consider that church growth is covenantal as well as evangelistic. If we want the church in America to grow, we should consider how God might be calling some of us (but not all) to grow our own families.
Are we trusting God’s sovereignty in the gospel? God causes the deaf to hear and the blind to see. He melts hearts of stone and hardens others. Paul did not always see a favorable response to the gospel. Neither will we. God may send a season of blessing and revival or He may use us, like so many of the prophets, to give one last warning of the judgment to come. Some will plant, some will water, and some will reap a harvest. Our part is to do our part. Church decline or stagnation can lead us to evaluate ourselves in all of the above categories. But only God saves. It is right to plan and pray for “results” and plead with others to know Christ, but no one can change the number of God’s elect.
Copied from pages 34-36 of “Why We Love The Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.