1. To Fulfill the Purpose of the Church
Research published in 2009 [summary of American Religious Identification Survey] reveals that 80- 85% of churches in America have reached a plateau or have declined. Win Arn’s research in 2007 found similar results among the estimated 350,000 various protestant churches in the U.S. In 2007 an estimated 17.5% of the U.S. population attended an orthodox Christian church on any given weekend. Thus 82.5% did not attend, and as the population grows the church is losing more ground. Furthermore, it is significant that since 1990 the number of Americans who report no religious affiliation has doubled.
The issue is, can be done about this scenario? The answer is clearly yes [Mt.16:18]. First, declining churches and those that have reached a plateau need renewal, and second new churches need to be planted. Church growth expert Peter Wagner opines, “the single most-effective evangelistic method under heaven is planting new churches.” Church planting is the future for the American church as it was for the 1st Century church.
a. What is the purpose of the church? The local church is ordained by God to 1. seek and save the lost [Lu.19], 2. make disciples [Mt.28:19-20], 3. develop worshipers [Rev.4-5], 4. equip God’s people for the work of ministry [Eph.4:1-12], and 5. positively impact & transform the community [Ac.17:1- 6] all for the glory of God. The church is the hope of the world because it is the fundamental Christ established institution to help people know Jesus and make Him known.
b. Seek and save the lost: The process begins with evangelism. Regardless of the methods, there must be an intentional desire to reach pre-believers and the unchurched. Bruce McNicol’s research reveals that evangelical churches under three years old will win ten people to Christ per year for every one hundred members. Three to fifteen year old churches win five per one hundred; and after fifteen years the number declines to three per one hundred. New churches are generally more effective in reaching the lost than established churches.
c. Make disciples: The process moves from evangelism to edification leading to maturation. Bob Gilliam’s research in 1995 reveals that most people in churches aren’t growing spiritually. 24% reported they were sliding backwards, and 41% reported that their spiritual growth had reached a plateau. Most churches are failing to impact the world because they are failing to make disciples. A call to be disciples implies a high-level of commitment to Christ – love God and live His word! Disciples are characterized by: fellowship, Bible study, evangelism, prayer, giving, service and worship.
d. Develop worshipers: Worship is more that praising God in song. It is a life characterized by passionate devotion to God. A worshiper loves God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength [Mt.22:37-38]. The local church is to develop followers of Christ so that Jesus is the master passion and priority. Attending church is not the same as being a worshiper.
e. Equip God’s people for the work of ministry: It is estimated that in most churches the work of ministry is generally performed by 20% of the people. In a healthy church, 80% of the people are involved in ministry.
f. The church should positively impact & transform the community: The church is to transform a community not provide an enclave from the community. God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah to urge the Hebrews, who were being dispersed to Babylon as captives, to be a spiritual influence their, “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace” [Jer.29:7]. Unfortunately, in most communities if a local church was gone “no one” would notice.