The 8 Last Words of a Dying Church

I visited with a couple the other day that was absolutely scared to death of anything changing in their church. They knew their church was declining, drying up and dying, but they wanted nothing to do with trying anything new and expected everything to be left exactly the same as it always had been the past 50 years. They were comfortable with just showing up a couple of times a week as they always had.

“That’s impossible” I told them. “Change is both inevitable and essential to growth.” Then I continued, “If you don’t make some changes you’re church is going to continue to decline and eventually die.” From the looks on their faces you would have thought I’d just used the Lord’s name in vain. I remember thinking to myself, how can they read the book of Acts and not see all the changes that took place in that church?!

And then I heard them say those very words that must bring tears to the Lord’s eyes … it’s the last 8 words you’ll hear just before they close the doors of their church (or any church) for good…

“But we’ve never done it that way before!”

We weren’t talking unbiblical changes here. I wasn’t suggesting they start sacrificing animals or worshipping a different god, but simple changes that could produce outreach to their community of lost people.  I realize that change is a scary word for some long time church members, but our churches constantly must be looking for new ways to meet needs, reach the lost and serve their communities. Continuing to do the same things, they same way, will only bring the same result.

I’ve come away with the conclusion that people will change, and churches will change, ONLY when they care more about the lost than they do themselves. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

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Article by Trey Morgan

I am a Christian husband and father, who moonlights as the minister for the church of Christ in Childress, Texas. My wife Lea and I have been married for 25 years. We are doing our best to raise our 4 boys, who are all growing up way too fast. Read 1182 articles by
27 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Chris Jones says:

    I agree Trey. My wife Redonna and I are members of a motorcycling group called “The Christian Motorcyclist Association” Last I heard CMA is in 27 countries with 5 more countries forming and over 150,000 applications for membership since CMA was charted in 1975. We are a motorcycling “Association” not a club but if counted as a club would be the largest in the world. Our goal is “Evangelistic outreach primarily, but not exclusively, to the motorcycling community.” CMA partners with 3 other groups to accomplish this, but you can read about us on the web site. Now along with your thoughts, is CMA still doing ministry the way it was doing it in 1975 when Herb Shreve founded the organization? Well of course not, we have evolved in our ministry, reached out to new areas of the motorcycling community and to others. The message is the same and always will be. Truth does not change. The message of the Love of Jesus Christ does not change but the way it is presented to a lost and dying world must change. Our world is changing and not always for the better but if we want to reach out to others with the unchanging good news we must find new ways to do it. I guarantee if you walk up and tell a member of a 1% motorcycle club that he is going to hell and hit him over the head with a Bible he will agree with you, smile and punch your lights out. CMA is about building relationships with motorcyclists. Bikers are watching our members every move to see if we are living what we are speaking. Respect is paramount in the motorcycle club world and your word is everything. You have to be exactly what you portray yourself to be because they can spot a phony and if you are not true to your word, actions and ministry you will not be allowed into that world. You have to be with them to affect them. In the world but not of the world and your ministry must be exactly what it needs to be to reach those you are seeking to reach. If the ministry of CMA was still just as it was in 1975 when it was chartered it would be effective, God is in it, it will work but how much more effective is CMA’s ministry today because it has evolved and changed to meet the demands of the world. Same message, different presentation. We have been invited to biker club parties and events and have gone to those events, not participating in those aspects of the goings on that go against our beliefs but being there, visiting and “fellowshipping” with those folks and showing that we respect them and care about them. Because of that, when we invite them to a “Biker Sunday” event some of them show up and, want to or not, they hear the Good News of Jesus.
    If CMA had not changed it would not be as effective as it is today. If churches keep doing what they have always done the way they have always done it will be effective but not nearly as effective as it could be and when all the church members who like it the old way are gone the church will be gone too. The young people are the future of any church. They need to understand the traditions and where the church came from but not be locked into doing church the same old way forever. There are churches which have changed, some for good, some, not so good. Change for the sake of change is not good. Change, when done so by the leadership of the Lord will always be good

  2. Jack Bassett says:

    I don’t find where the bible says that “change is both inevitable and essential to growth”. We often think it is our job to grow the church, but the bible says we are to “preach the Gospel”. God will add to the church (Acts 2:47). And why do we think that after 2000 years we are better suited to decide what the church should be like more so than those who were with Jesus and the apostles. All the changes that took place in Acts was establishing the church, not changing it. There have been a lot of traditional changes that men feel are better suited for current needs and requirements for the local communities than those of the recent past (last 100 years). But our first priority is to be in obedience to God, obedience is a word used a lot in the Old Testament, rather than satisfying the desires of knowledgeable men. The church has managed to survive for 2000 years through some real demanding times, including the dark ages, though many have tried to extinguish it. God will keep His church safe (see Revelation) and award it at judgement. And a lot of the changes that did occur in the 1st 100 years, that were not found in the bible, were not pleasing to God, as we read in the letters to the seven churches of Asia (chapters 2 & 3 of Revelation). We need to be careful about how we identify God’s Church. Just because we stick Christ’s name on the outside of the building doesn’t necessarily mean that it is in fact Christ’s Church.

    • J.R. says:

      There is no suggestion about changing the message, only the transmission lines. Communication requires three things: a sender, a receiver, and a means of transmission. The inevitable part of change that is essential to growth is changing how we present the message to others. In no way should we change the message, but we should choose different words and different means depending on the audience. Those that were brought into the church 50 years ago did not have the distractions we have today and therefore a simple presentation of the message was enough to get them engaged and teach them what was required for their salvation.
      Kids today (aka future church members) have so many distractions that to make them focus requires more than sitting down and opening a bible. Using projectors and such in worship or bible class can help reach them. Again, we do not change the message. We change the method. The evolution through the book of Acts was about reaching people where they were (i.e. Paul in Athens) in addition to establishing the church.

    • Trey Morgan says:

      Jack,

      I’m not exactly sure how you read this and came to those conclusions from this post. In no form or fashion was I seeking giving up biblical truth, I was simply stating that we need to constantly be seeking new ways to reach the lost, become more like Christ, and seeking new ways to minister to others.

      Paul said, “I become all things to all people that I might win some,” and he did it, “…or the sake of the Gospel.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Paul was willing to change to win more to Christ.

      We should never change the message (the Gospel), the Master (God and our obedience to Him) or the mission (Matthew 28:18-10). Maybe it was just “reading between the lines” here. No one is looking to change biblical principles that we’ve been given by God.

      But there are methods (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) that can change. Different ways for outreach, new ways to serve the community, new ways to reach the lost. Do what we can to reach the lost and seek new ways to do it without compromising the bible. Let’s continue to stand for truth, Jack, but lets continue to work hard to reach the lost of Jesus through presenting the Gospel of Christ. Oh, and by the way, you mentioned, “we’re not supposed to grow the church,” what about the great commission to go and preach the Gospel? I would be really uncomfortable throwing that out.

      • Vic Christian says:

        Trey – I agree with Jack. Our mission is to preach the gospel. The church is to edify believers so that they can walk in obedience to Christ. The fault of the church today is not failure to communicate. it is putting man’s words as the primary message instead of preaching the Word of God. The line “we never did it that way” was used many years ago to point blame at the church. However, I have not heard it used since the turn of the century.

        • Trey Morgan says:

          Vic – we are saying the same thing. Our mission is to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20) and take the gospel message to the world. In doing that, we may have success reaching the lost by us trying some things that we’ve never tried before. New is not bad. Changing the method we use to preach the gospel is not bad. Changing the gospel is TERRIBLE and we should never do that. Don’t change the message, just change the method. For example … new things to reach the lost is using the internet, online sermons, Facebook pages, Friends Day instead of Gospel Meetings, community outreach through service projects. It’s looking for new ways to spread the gospel. Sowing seed only in your building on Sunday’s won’t get the seed out into the fertile soil. We must “go and preach the Gospel.”

    • Daniel C. says:

      Jack, are you saying that you “do church” exactly like the Christians in Acts did? That your congregation functions logistically in the same way the congregations of 2000+ years ago did, without any changes being made?

  3. Jesse Focht says:

    Its like a fruit tree. As it grows it becomes bigger, new branches grow, buds become leaves. Eventually it blossoms, and the flowers become fruit. The tree is changing and doing things different the whole time its growing, but in essence it is still the same tree; its just moving towards the point of bearing fruit.

    That’s the healthy church.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Amen Mr. Bassett. I appreciate your thoughts.

  5. K Clevinger says:

    I do not see where the writer stated that “change is both inevitable and essential to growth” is sited as scripture. “Change” is inevitable in growth – “change” is essential in becoming a Christian. “Change” is not inevitably a bad word. “Change” can be a very good thing – look at Christ’s life and the “change” he brought to the world. I am thankful daily for the “change” He brought to this sinful world. I am grateful with all of my heart for the continual “change” in me the more I commune with God, the more I study his Word, the more I quit trying to fix it all and run everything the way I think is best; when I seek God’s will and then quit trying to manipulate to get the outcome that I was certain was the “best” all along. As the Church, we are called to spread the Word, plant seeds…and, yes, God will add to the church. The number one call we are charged with as New Testament Christians is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and to Love our neighbors…We need to be careful not to be like the Pharisees and be off the charts in our concern for the “sanctity” of our traditions. That is what the writer is referring to – traditions. He was very clear to clarify that he was not talking about changing Biblical doctrine. It is time that we give others the benefit of the doubt and not assume with piousness that all “change” is bad. If we are to be God’s servants we owe it to those who have a heart for sharing God’s Word to listen to their ideas and, as the Bereans did in the book of Acts: “receive(d) the message with great eagerness and examine(d) the Scriptures every day to see if what ‘is’ (Paul) said ‘s’ (was) true”. Even those that have been in the Church for decades still have room for growth (i.e. “change”) in their walk with the Lord. Don’t let Satan trick you into believing that you have it all figured out. Continually study scripture with an open heart and seek new and different ways to seek and save the lost. Ways that may be different than you have been comfortable with in the past, but ways that are not contrary to God’s Word nonetheless.

  6. cindy Emmerson says:

    OUr family has been a part of a local church since we discovered we were expecting. It has now been 14 years & we are now faced head on with closure. The one plain & simple truth I will take away from this is, you need to be open to change or you are not open to new people. If all you do is welcome new people because of the extra hands, you will fail You are focused on what YOU want for the church, not on what God wants to accomplish with your service.

  7. Eddy Helms says:

    Trey when the tires on our car wear out I do not go buy a new car. I buy new tires. They are always trying improve tires. This improves the cars efficiency and makes it function better. Do I go and buy the old bias tires or do I buy the improved radial tires. Of course I buy the new radial tires. I don’t change the message I change the way it is delivered. We are to find new ways to deliver the message of the hope of Christ so that some may be saved. We must retain the integrity of the gospel but there is more than one way to deliver the message.

  8. b says:

    “I’ve come away with the conclusion that people will change, and churches will change, ONLY when they care more about the lost than they do themselves.”

    Wow, powerful words there, my friend.

    Many fear change because the “norm” has become ingrained into their identity. If they change, they feel they will lose who they are.

    Christ said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39)

    We must be ready and willing to lose our “life/identity” in order to truly find life!

  9. Steven Haguewood says:

    May I suggest you list some of the changes that are necessary for the church to grow in today’s society. We all agree that the message, Master, and mission must stay the same. What are some of the changes that will make His church better in Satan’s new society?
    You have opened some eyes Trey, now enlighten us. I say this with the fullest of sincerity. At least where I live, I see the church struggling against the powers of darkness and I want to help stem the tide.
    In being “all things to all men”, what are the limits and how do I keep the balance between reaching the world on their level and delivering God’s unaltered message?
    What needs to change to keep the unchangeable Jesus Christ relevant in today’s world?

  10. Ed says:

    The only thing that needs to change in the church is for the souls in the church to get out and bring in more souls.

  11. steve miller says:

    Most dying churches do want to change, problem is they only want the results to change not the root cause. Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Most dying churches do not realize they must change their methodology to reap new results. Dying churches usually believe they are the victim of circumstances, the problem as they see it is all the external factors which have changed and now conspire against them. They don’t usually see the problem is internal, not external; they are withering because they no longer are vibrantly attached to the life of Christ as He leads.

  12. Chris Moore says:

    I have to disagree with one point made by steve miller or maybe I missed his point. Much of the problems today are external. The internal problems of some churches are that they have given up. That’s wrong but its still a fact that our society has changed for the worst, that can’t be gainsaid. People’s hearts are the sowing ground and sadly it has become, for the most part, packed earth. The word lies upon that ground without penetration; their hearts are hardened to the God. That doesn’t give us an excuse to quit. We should try new methods to reach our fellow citizens as long as we don’t soften the gospel or add/take away from it. Often I see some well meaning people give just parts of the word that they think can be accepted or digested by others, and that is the worst form of judgment. You can’t judge a person unable to receive all of the Lord’s word just as you can’t be God and condemn them. Preach the word, in season and out of season…The word will do the work. Try new ways to do so, amen. As long as it is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But don’t become discouraged at the lack of reception and “graying” of the pews. Jesus was the master spokesman and his “success” rate was remarkably low compared to some folks’ expectations. Noah’s success was pretty small, but it wasn’t an “internal” problem.

  13. […] dying church are, “But we’ve never done it that way before” (read more about that here). Sadly, I think he’s right. Even more sad must be God. Did he really give his Son up in […]

  14. K. Rex Butts says:

    Amen and Amen!!!

    Along those lines, the eight words that many are really thinking are, “But we really don’t like it that way.”

    And so the mission we are called to participate in gets trumped by personal preferences.

    Grace and Peace,

    Rex

  15. Travis says:

    There were no “church buildings” in the first years of the church. That was a change that came later. Other changes have been cultural – how we dress, how we talk, the foods we eat, the technology we use, the way we “spend” our time. The church has changed with the times in these and other ways, and needs to continue to do so without sacrificing the message. That’s what I get from this post (great job, Trey!).

  16. […] This is a follow up post to the last blog I wrote about making how churches and change. I wrote about how churches need to be constantly looking for areas to grow and sometimes it requires stoping things you’ve been doing for years, and trying new things. You can find that post here … “The 8 Last Words of a Dying Church”  […]

  17. Becky A. says:

    In the 30+ years we have been in ministry, we have been faced with similar situations. We have found there is fear in the word change…to become different, or make something or somebody different. We like the word adapt…to change something to suit different conditions or a different purpose.

    Thanks Trey for being willing to adapt and make a difference in others lives! -Joe & Becky Almanza

  18. […] This is a follow up post to the last blog I wrote about making how churches and change. I wrote about how churches need to be constantly looking for areas to grow and sometimes it requires stoping things you’ve been doing for years, and trying new things. You can find that post here … “The 8 Last Words of a Dying Church”  […]

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Trey Morgan Here are my thoughts about marriage, family, raising children, humor, faith and the life God intended for us all. I am a Christian husband and father, who moonlights as the minister for the church of Christ in Childress, Texas. My wife Lea and I have been married for 25 years. We are doing our best to raise our 4 boys, who are all growing up way too fast.

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Husband, father and cancer survivor & Senior Minister for the Childress Church of Christ. Tweets about life, marriage, Texas Rangers and randomness.
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