Why are so many institutional churches closing?

Why Are Churches Closing?

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My name is Basie Martins. I trust that you are all well and I want to thank you again for listening to this program. For those of you who do not know, we are currently discussing general topics relevant to the church and all Christians and all people. With this series, we want to determine how God feels about everyday things and everyday events in our lives. We want to familiarize ourselves with the will and the ways of God.

In this session, we are going to identify and discuss a few things that cause the decline of church attendance. Many denominations and churches are suffering quite a lot when it comes to this aspect. Many congregations continue to shrink and some churches close as a result of this problem. Of course, church attendance is never the goal. But attendance is a sign of something deeper that every church leader is going to have to wrestle with over the next few years.

So if you are a pastor or minister or shepherding a congregation, stay tuned. We will be able to provide church leaders with a list of reasons why this became an increasingly serious problem and we will discuss the appropriate solutions in detail. There have been similar investigations over the years but I am not convinced that the findings of most of them were a true reflection of the problem. Many recommendations are merely ways and means of attracting and keeping the attention of specific groups of people and I do not believe that such an approach will ensure lasting results. Making the church more interesting and popular will probably cause even more devastating effects in the long run.

On the one hand, there are certain factors that cause people to attend church services less often. On the other hand, there is a new move of God in the church that also affects church attendance. More and more people are attracted by this move and they are leaving the organized church to be part of this new move. Existing churches should address the issues that we identified and they should probably incorporate some or most of the things that this new movement has.

Many of us know that the Orthodox-Roman Catholic church, as well as some of the Roman Emperors, caused a lot of damage to the church soon after the church was planted. They implemented a lot of man-made methods and ways and doctrines in the church that are not from God. This affected the interaction between God and the church. It even affected the interaction between church members. These changes were not just slight deviations or minor changes. Over the years these changes were far-reaching and extensive. It changed the way that church leaders and churches in general function and operate. It was indeed a major change.

It is no exaggeration to state that today, the Holy Spirit is nowhere to be found in many churches and denominations. Most people are experiencing a dead church on a Sunday and almost no church interaction during the week. Nothing significant is going on between those four walls when the children of God get together and nothing significant is going on among the members of the church or in the lives of church members during the week.

God abandoned many denominations. He has no choice because any leading or any interaction from or involving the Holy Spirit is not allowed. If God is not allowed to act, He is not welcome there and He will not stay there. Make no mistake, God is largely limited, even in vibrant Spirit-filled congregations. Even those congregations are miles from the mark. Even what these privileged Christians experience can be described as seriously mediocre. It is immensely far removed from the divine experience and purpose that the church is supposed to enjoy.

Jesus delegated his power and authority to the church when He ascended to heaven. Because of this, the church had the power and the authority to change the church. The church possessed that authority and they used that authority by allowing the emperors and the leaders of the Orthodox-Roman Catholic church to change the church completely.

They took that amazing New Testament church, that living creature who was created by God, who was born from the Spirit of God, who was symbolized by a living creature, a woman, a beautiful woman who is the bride of Christ, who was symbolized by a green and lush living tree, who was symbolized by the most precious jewel, who was symbolized by a house, who was called family, and they changed it into a man-made structure or institution that lost almost all its characteristics.

It became an institution that does not function as a living creature but rather as a business. A business is dead. It is not a living organism. It does not breathe and it is not intelligent and it cannot make decisions. It is a man-made structure that functions according to the rules and policies and principles that the creators or the founders decided and implemented. The beautiful creature called the church lost a lot of her beauty and her character and her life. She completely changed.

This really happened. It is not fake news. The history books explain what happened and who changed what. It is all recorded. We all grew up in the church completely unaware of these facts. We did not have to adapt to the changes. We grew up in this church. We are very familiar with the way it functions and we are happy with most of it. But it is different for God. He saw how people changed the church right before his eyes.

At first, Christians welcomed the changes. During those early years, the church was not accepted by the world and Christians were viciously persecuted. Many gave their lives for the cause. When the Roman Empire decided to accept the church everybody was so thankful because that put an end to the persecution. The fact that the Roman Emperors and the Orthodox-Roman Catholic church took control of the church was not immediately challenged because Christians never expected them to change everything. Well, it happened and the damage was done.

As a result of all those changes, the church lost its relevance and it lost its power. It became a dull and ineffective institution. Because of this, many people left the church which officially started with Martin Luther and it never stopped. Just look at the statistics today:

Considering the growth rate of the world’s religious blocks: Christianity is by far the fastest-growing religion in the world today. The total population of the world increases by 1.72% annually.

The world’s religions growth percentiles are as follows:

Nominal Christians 2.2%

Now I just want to explain what nominal Christians are. A nominal Christian is a person who has not responded in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and Lord. He may be a practicing or non-practicing church member. He may give intellectual assent to basic Christian doctrines and claim to be a Christian. He may be faithful in attending liturgical rites and worship services and be an active member involved in church affairs. Most of them grew up in the church but never truly repented.

Anyway, nominal Christians annually increase at a rate of 2.2%.

Buddhists 1.7%

Hindus 2.3%

Muslims 2.7%

Non-religious 2.8%

and then the last group,

Bible-believing Christians 6.9%

That is almost 7 % which is substantially more than other religious groups. True Christianity has grown by more than 300 million believers in the past ten years. About 10 million of these new Christians are from North America and Europe, and the rest, 290 million, are from developing countries like Nigeria, Argentina, India, and China.

– CBN

So although Christianity had far better growth than other religions, the institutional church did not grow. Why not? Because people are leaving the institutional church. Many churches had to close down because of this.

Just think of the implications here. Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in the world! Despite that, the institutional church is rapidly shrinking. This indicates that something is wrong. Where are the people? Where are the Christians?

Let’s look at the situation regarding this aspect in England:

The Church of England is considering a radical plan to close thousands of historic village churches, opening them only on major holidays like Christmas and Easter.

The Church says a “festival church” concept will need to be analyzed but could provide a way to utilize buildings in communities that can no longer support heavy maintenance burdens.

The Church of England’s new report focuses on 16,000 church buildings. Many are in rural areas and have an attendance of fewer than 10 people.

The report examines the financial burden that many of these congregations face in maintaining their historic buildings and suggests “festival churches” as a good option.

Fewer than 800,000 worshipers attend a Church of England church on an average Sunday, less than half the worshipers that attended in the 1960s.

More than 33 million people in England and Wales list Christianity as their religion in the latest government census. That is a decline of more than 4 million from the last census in 2001.

John Inge, Bishop of Worcester, oversaw the new report and acknowledged the complicated path forward.

We believe that, apart from growing the church, there is no single solution to the challenges posed by our extensive responsibility for part of the nation’s heritage,” he explained.

We hope therefore that this work will be a catalyst for discussion about how churches can be better cared for and used for the common good,” he said.

So in England, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Let’s look at the United States of America.

A new study found that the long-term declines in church membership and member giving are continuing.

The study was conducted in October 2016 by Empty Tomb Incorporated. It showed that giving among church members declined as a percent of income.

Overall, giving, from people who attend church regularly, as membership declined 28 percent.

Initially prompted to discover how church plants in America were really doing, David Olson, director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, gradually expanding his research to encompass overall attendance trends in the church.

His findings reveal that the actual rate of church attendance from head counts is less than half of the 40 percent of the pollsters’ report. Numbers from actual counts of people in Orthodox Christian churches, Catholic, mainline and evangelical, show that in 2004, 17.7 percent of the population attended a Christian church on any given weekend.

Another study published in 2005 in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion by sociologists C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler backs up his findings. Their report reveals that the actual number of people worshiping each week is closer to Olson’s 17.7 percent figure instead of the pollster’s 40 percent.

We knew that over the past 30 to 40 years, denominations had increasingly reported a decline in their numbers,” Marler says. “Even a still-growing denomination like the Southern Baptist Convention had reported slowed growth. Most of the mainline denominations were all reporting a net loss over the past 30 years. And at the same time, the Gallup polls had remained stable. It didn’t make sense.”

– CBN

So why are Christians not attending church anymore?

The major cause of the declining church membership and church attendance is the fact that the church has become irrelevant over the years. For many people, there is just no reason to attend church anymore.

The people who leave the organized church can be divided into two groups. The first group is made up of two sub-groups, nominal Christians, and people who visit the church for the first time. They either give up on the church (nominal Christians) or they test the church experience, and after they realize that their experience has been a disappointment (new visitors) both these groups leave the church. They will come back from time to time but they always leave again. There is just nothing in church that can keep them there.

Then there is a second group. This second group is Christians who became aware of a lifestyle or a church experience that is more exciting and much more fulfilling. They find a church who preaches a different message and a different experience and different doctrines but, who is not part of the organized church. It is very similar but they preach true doctrines. Others become part of the house church movement. They become part of a lifestyle that is more focused on everyday living. They still have their church gatherings but a new experience, the shared community life is particularly exciting.

People need an authentic and Biblical experience. That is how God created mankind. They want the God of the Bible and they want the authentic word of God.

I know that this is not entirely true for vibrant Spirit-filled churches where the leading of the Holy Spirit is still important. It is more applicable to churches where the gifts of the Holy Spirit are restricted or controlled or not allowed at all. However, even Spirit-filled churches are lacking quite a lot in this regard.

Can the church change? Of course, denominations can change. It happened fairly recently with the Southern Baptist Convention:

After decade-long resistance, the Southern Baptist Convention will admit missionary candidates who speak in tongues, a practice associated with Pentecostal and charismatic churches.

The new policy, approved by the denomination’s International Mission Board reverses a policy that was put in place 10 years ago.

Speaking in tongues is an ancient Christian practice recorded in the New Testament in which people pray in a language they do not know, understand or control. The practice died out until Pentecostalism emerged around the turn of the 20th century. In Pentecostal churches, it is considered one of many “gifts” of the Holy Spirit, including healing and the ability to prophesy.

Allowing Southern Baptist missionaries to speak in tongues, or have what some SBC leaders call a “private prayer language,” speaks to the growing strength of Pentecostal churches in Africa, Asia, and South America, where Southern Baptists are competing for converts and where energized new Christians are enthusiastically embracing the practice.

In so many parts of the world, these charismatic experiences are normative,” said Bill Leonard, professor of church history at Wake Forest Divinity School. “Religious groups that oppose them get left behind evangelistically.”

– Greg Horton

Since Constantine and the Orthodox-Roman Catholic church, everything went downhill for many years. God could not start the restoration process until the 16th century. The first reformation was the reformation with Martin Luther. This reformation led to the Protestant church. It slowly but surely spread all over the world. God had been busy for four centuries now and the church changed a lot since Martin Luther. A lot of progress has been made but the church still falls short in many areas. This is what Torben Søndergaard says about the last reformation:

If we look at the Protestant church today, it looks so much like the Catholic church and so little like what we read in the Bible and especially the book of Acts. Therefore we really need a new reformation that goes so much deeper than what Martin Luther and the other reformers came with. We are talking about a reformation that deals with the doctrines, the Holy Spirit, the whole church system and why we do church the way we do it.

We got the first reformation with Martin Luther in the 16th century, and in the last 500 years, there have been revivals here and there, where the truth that has been lost has come back again. We have for example the Baptist church where they came back to the biblical baptism of believers by full immersion and not baptizing infants. Another example is the Pentecostal church where they came back to believe in the gift of the Holy Spirit also for today. Every truth that is now in different boxes, in different places is going to come together. Getting all these truths together with a change of the way we do church will bring us back to the life we see in the book of Acts.

The last reformation is now spreading all over the world. It is about coming back to what we read in the book of Acts. What we read in the book of Acts is also for today and that we need to come back to the simple disciple life the first Christians had. We believe that The Last Reformation is a reformation about the true gospel and the simple disciple life, but also a reformation of the church. This is the reason why the movement is called The Last Reformation.

– Torben Søndergaard

God had no choice but to work with the people inside this man-made structure, who are still open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. He could not prevent this man-made structure from being created, but He can work with those people inside this structure to restore the church. He can use them to restore the former divine organism that He gave birth to.

He actually gave birth to a living creature called the church. The word “church” is translated from the Greek “ekklesia”, meaning “called-out” or “assembly”. The church is, in fact, a group of people. In New Testament times, the church was a group of people, living as a family, sharing life with all its challenges together. The focus was “people”, it was always “people” everywhere they went. They met all over the place and they influenced and supported and developed each other wherever they met. They were not confined to a building. They were not limited to what goes on between those four walls.

The living church who was once free became imprisoned. It was forced to exist inside a physical building and an earthly structure. That structure removed most of her abilities and her power and her authority. The church became ill and weak and deformed inside that earthly structure. The structure became a prison and she could not function normally anymore. Many people became used to that prison. It is all that most of them ever knew. Only the early Christians who lived in New Testament times knew who and what the church really is.

So the first reason why people leave denominations and congregations is false doctrines. I have just completed two very important radio series aimed at exposing false doctrines in the church. The series about spiritual warfare, which also dealt with the false doctrine of generational curses, and the series about how we can live successfully and victoriously in Christ both addressed quite a few false doctrines in the church.

I mentioned in those courses that false doctrines or the doctrines of devils in the church have a devastating effect on Christians and on the church. It wreaks havoc in the body of Christ. False doctrines keep the church on its knees. It prevents spiritual growth and spiritual development in the church. That is why God is now moving in a powerful way to expose false doctrines and to purify the church in this regard.

The church has been at a crossroads for quite a few years already regarding this aspect. Many church leaders had to decide and some still need to decide which path they are going to take in this regard. Some church leaders and denominations already made their choice. Most decided to keep the status quo and they will probably face the consequences of that decision. How is it possible for church leaders to ignore all the signs all around them? They see how they lose relevance and they see the church attendance declining but yet they hold onto their traditions and doctrines like never before.

Many people left the institutional church because of false doctrines. People saw things in the Bible and they realized that the church is teaching the exact opposite. People know that false doctrines have consequences. They know that it was created to bring harm to the body of Christ. That is why Christians leave denominations and congregations. They just cannot live with these false doctrines anymore.

It is for this reason that I appeal to church leaders to take another look at what they are teaching. We should always, as leaders and as individuals, check our doctrines. Are we teaching the true word of God or are we teaching church traditions and doctrines of devils and fables of men? Let’s look at a few Scriptures about this:

1 Timothy 4:6-7

6 If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.

7 But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.

2 Timothy 4:4

And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

Titus 1:14

Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.

1 John 4:1

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

It is not a shame when we have been deceived into believing false doctrines. I think all Christians, including all church leaders that walk this earth, have been deceived into believing false doctrines one way or another. This is a fact. We have all been deceived to some extent when it comes to doctrines. This is not the problem. The problem is when we stay deceived. Many people have been challenged in the past to review their doctrines. Either by the Holy Spirit or a friend or a preacher or a book or a preacher on television or radio. The problem is that people and church leaders refuse to review their doctrines. They hold fast to what they have been taught and they stay ignorant. They are not willing to change anything.

We should hold fast to the word of God. We should hold fast to the truth. Not to false doctrines. The reason why people, including church leaders, fail when it comes to this, is the fact that they do not know the word of God. They know what they have been taught. They know what other people taught them. People know what church leaders taught them. This is the problem right here. People know what they have been taught, they accepted what they have been taught, they refuse to review what they have been taught and by doing that, they never know the word of God. Although it sometimes does happen, most church leaders refuse to change their doctrines.

This is one of the reasons why people leave churches and denominations. They know that churches and denominations will not change. That is why they leave. More and more people are enlightened and then they leave.

They often struggle to find a congregation in their area that they can join and so they wander from church to church until they eventually give up and then they stay home. They find a television preacher who does preach the authentic and true word of God or they start to read authentic Christian sermons and material on websites. More and more people stay outside the organized church because of false doctrines. They rather look for other alternatives and if they cannot find any near them they just stay at home and serve God at home.

I do believe that some church leaders know this but they do not know how to address this problem. They fear that change might cause a lot more problems so they keep the status quo. They hold unto the members that they have and try all sorts of methods and ideas to keep their heads above the water. I once met such a pastor and I really really felt so sorry for him. He was really struggling and that broke my heart. Their financial situation deteriorated daily. He was eventually totally focused on raising money and he and the congregation lost all spiritual relevance. The congregation closed their doors within a year after I met this pastor.

Like churches and congregations, people also struggle with their own challenges at home. They also have to face financial problems. They experience emotional challenges. They experience social challenges and problems with relationships. They face sudden illnesses and diseases and even calamities. Every household has its challenges. Some of these challenges are difficult and some are life-threatening.

This is where the support systems of the local church are very important. Some churches or denominations and congregations do not really offer any deliverance or restoration. They just offer emotional support and in some cases a little financial support and that’s it. Most cannot really help their members at all except for emotional support. That is a problem. This is another reason why people leave the organized church. They realize that their congregations cannot offer them much.

This is when they start to look for alternatives. They usually do find a place or another source that offers more. Usually, such places or sources are outside the organized church.

People who leave the organized church become aware of the fact that sources are available outside the institutional church that does offer real hope and real possibilities of restoration. Not just emotional support. This is when they allow themselves to be influenced and ministered unto by people who challenge the doctrines and the ways of the organized church.

Nothing can stand before the word of God. When people are willing to review their doctrines and their lifestyles, they become open to change. When that happens they open the door for false doctrines to be exposed in their lives and to be delivered from the consequences of false doctrines. This is when their whole lives and their Christian experiences change. This is something that traditional denominations struggle with. Church leaders just do not want to go down this road. They are sometimes willing to allow more modern music in the services or to be more open to little insignificant changes but that is about it. They are not willing to change their doctrines, liturgy, and methods and this is what causes their downfall. They stay irrelevant and someday they will close their doors. This stubborn resistance to change is their greatest enemy.

It does not have to be like this. There are testimonies of congregations who did change. I am not referring to insignificant doctrinal flip flops. That happens but that has no spiritual value. The Church of God is one denomination that introduced major doctrinal changes. This denomination began on August 19, 1886, in Monroe County, Tennessee, near the North Carolina border. Ten years after the organizational meeting, a revival at the Shearer Schoolhouse in nearby Camp Creek, North Carolina, introduced the doctrine of sanctification to the community. In 1908, the Church of God accepted Pentecostalism under A. J. Tomlinson. So this was a church that made significant changes since it began. For over 125 years the Church of God has been a distinctive movement focused upon communicating the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. Presently, the Church of God has a world-wide membership of over 7 million with a presence in nearly 180 countries.

Since the 1960s, Pentecostalism has increasingly gained acceptance from other Christian traditions, and Pentecostal beliefs concerning Spirit baptism and spiritual gifts have been embraced by non-Pentecostal Christians in Protestant and Catholic churches through the Charismatic Movement. Together, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity numbers over 500 million adherents.

Pentecostals are one of the fastest-growing religious groups in the world. While it’s hard to estimate just how many Pentecostals are in the world, a Pew Research Center study found that of the roughly two billion Christians in the world, about a quarter of that identifies as Pentecostal. After the Azusa revival, the handful of early Pentecostals swelled to more than 50,000 in just a few years. According to the New York Times, some four million Americans belong to classical Pentecostalism. Pentecostalism has long been considered one of the fastest and largest growing forms of Christianity.

Today, many Pentecostal churches experience church membership and attendance decline too, for the same reasons non-Pentecostal churches do. They also struggle to stay relevant. Many Pentecostal churches are almost as infested with false doctrines as non-Pentecostal churches.

Whilst all this is going on in the institutional church, God is busy with a new move that is causing quite a stir right now. Even house churches lack the focus that is so evident to this new move of God. This move is all about focusing on the initial great commission that the church received just before Jesus ascended to heaven. Lets read that instruction once again:

Mark 16:15

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

Matthew 28: 18-20

18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Matthew 4:19

And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

Mark 16:17-18

17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

These Scriptures tell us what God wants us to do. He wants us to go out to preach the gospel of Christ and to deliver people by healing them and casting out demons and to make disciples. This is the core function of the church. This is what we should do. This is what Jesus did, this is what the disciples and the apostles did and this is what all believers in the New Testament did. Nobody was involved in any other activities. Even those who did not have a miracle-working faith. Although they could not deliver people, they did everything else. They preached the gospel of Christ, they cared for people, they supported people and they made disciples and they brought the people to the apostles and the church elders to heal them or to deliver them.

There are no gray areas in this regard. Even the institutional church agrees and admits that the church is not what is going on between those four walls on a Sunday. They agree that the church should be in the streets or wherever we find people. They agree that what takes place inside those four walls is only a celebration and that the family of God is just experiencing God together when they come together to worship him as a congregation. They agree that we need to do the work that we were all called for between those meetings. Those meetings are supposed to be fellowship and celebrations. This is when the family is celebrating their faith and their participation in the body of Christ as a family. During the week we are obeying God’s instructions. During the week we fulfill the great commission.

This should be our focus. Are you looking for people who are not saved? Are you telling them that you want to introduce them to the most wonderful person alive? Are you witnessing unto them? Are you a testimony of what Christ has done for you and able to do in their lives? Are you leading them to Christ? Are you praying for them and healing them? Are you casting out the demons in them? Are you helping them and showing them how to serve Christ Jesus? Are you focusing on these things every day of your life?

If this is not what you are focused on every day of your life then you have been sidetracked.

To conclude: Churches need to stay relevant. To stay relevant, church leaders need to do the following:

Focus on the great commission.

Review church doctrines: Generational curses, spiritual warfare, God’s judgment, the real causes of sicknesses, diseases and calamities, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the workings of the Holy Spirit, divine prosperity, the will and the word of God regarding restoration.

If you don’t understand what I mean about these doctrines, check out my teachings on all these subjects on my website, asrmartins.com

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