Pastors and church boards continue to struggle with the 2020 church crisis.
The virus exposed the physical weakness of our bodies and also revealed the weak condition of the church. Experts say the virus accelerated a coming decline in overall church attendance.
Bill Wilson predicts that up to one-third of U.S. churches could be out of business by 2025: He points to LifeWay Research that says 5% of U.S. churches will close within the year because of the pandemic. That’s five times the average closure rate for churches, according to The Christian Century magazine.
The virus was the impetus that accelerated many churches onto life support. Early in 2020, due to the Coronavirus, most churches were closed for a few weeks or remain closed today.
The churches that reopened faced a harsh reality. The return attendance was 70–75% less than expected. The decline in attendance has the preachers startled, reeling, and confused.
A New Normal
In our search for a new normal, the church is reaching to refresh an old model — discipleship. The prominent coaches are laser-focused on shifting to digital discipleship as a hopeful resurgence strategy.
The 20th century model for discipleship is to grab the new quarterly from denominational headquarters and head to the classroom. And yes, sit down, and you will be taught, and taught — no real training. And you best read that lesson or the Sunday School Superintendent will get you, and God will be mad at you.
We cannot conclude that nothing good happened in Sunday School class. We also cannot surmise that people did not learn. But it isn’t hard to see that was not the model of Jesus for making disciples.
Is discipleship is the new hope for the 2020 digital church?
Take a look — making disciples has been around a long time.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:18–20, NKJV)
Jesus commanded the church to go and make disciples over 2000 years ago.
The discipleship need is enormous, and the idea is noble, but will it work?
Many churches are suffering from low attendance and limited finances. When organizations fail, we examine everything. The church coaches and consultants are looking deep and wide for solutions.
Many experts believe that biblical discipleship is the new fix. The big question is, how to raise disciples through digital ministry?
In the last 25 years, a bigger question is, have we accomplished the biblical mandate for making disciples? The American church is just missing it when it comes to making disciples.
Modern discipleship, whether in a classroom or at Starbucks, is not a biblical model. Today’s church assigns folks to a classroom or a home and to sit down listen.
The modern-day small group purchases the latest book from the newest hero, and we read and talk. After the class, some go to work, some go home, and others take a nap.
Not precisely the Jesus model.
#1. Jesus said-go.
Eric Geiger said, “Discipleship includes deployment (to send them out). Part of the disciples’ development was being sent to preach. True discipleship always results in the disciple being sent out. And the being “sent out” further develops the disciple. Multiple times in the gospels, Jesus debriefed with His disciples after they ministered to others. Mission engagement was part of their discipleship. To separate discipleship and mission is to make an unhealthy distinction. Mission opportunities are simultaneously discipleship opportunities.”
The American church says-come.
#2. Jesus says-do
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name, they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:16–18, NKJV)
The American Church is inwardly focused.
#3. Jesus focused outwardly
These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food. “Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. And when you go into a household, greet it. If the home is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.” (Matthew 10: 5–13, NKJV)
The American Church “soaks up the Spirit.” We are taught to get all we can and sit on the can.
Today’s church has prayer rooms and healing rooms. And that is OK and even great! But, there is a lot of talk about soaking in the Gospel, and not sharing the Gospel. The message of “go” is not popular.
It is more popular to soak and saturate in God’s presence than to share our faith. Again, not the Jesus model.
4. Jesus said, “demonstrate the Spirit.”
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:35–38, NKJV)
Jesus went to the cities and took the disciples with him. The disciples did not sit in a class or read a manuscript. The disciples were taught while doing the ministry.
Peter, James, John, and the other nine disciples walked with Jesus through life and did life together. They served alongside Jesus. The disciples were taught by Jesus and caught His Spirit. The disciples were hands-on in every aspect of ministry and service.
Jesus taught and trained them.
The American church is fat on teaching and skinny on training.
American Christians have learned the Gospel without living the Gospel.
The kingdom of God is not only to be understood in word but be expressed in-deed.
Just learning the Gospel is never the acclamation of the Gospel.
Making disciples is always a great idea, but that alone will not rescue the 2020 church.
Thank you for reading this post.
I would love for you to leave a comment.