Why do some churches die yet others seem to thrive?
It is clear that some churches continue to grow in health and strength while others decline and die. Why?
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There are several reasons certain churches die. First, a church may die due to lack of outreach. When no new people are reached by the congregation, the church eventually dies when the last members do. The church is designed for its members to help reach those outside of the church in addition to those already there.
A church may die when the surrounding community changes or dies. For example, some communities in America have seen thousands of people move away over a couple of decades. As a result, so many people have disappeared from a local church that it was forced to close. In other cases, the entire composition of a neighborhood changes over fifty years from one ethnic group to another. Unless the local church adapts, the church will eventually cease to exist.
A church may die due to division. When a church divides, whatever the reasons, the remaining members may be too small to keep a local church intact.
A church may die because it fails to live out its purposes. The first church focused on God's Word, fellowship, breaking bread together, and prayer. They were devoted to God and to one another. They knew their purpose and faithfully lived it out. This resulted in joy among the people and daily growth in the church (Acts 2:42-47). When a church loses sight of who God is or when members fail to exercise their spiritual gifts, the fellowship can easily fall apart.
A look at the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2—3 offers additional insight into issues facing churches that can cause them to die. The church at Ephesus was well known in the New Testament, but had lost its first love (Revelation 2:1-7). Other churches had accepted certain false teachings. A close look at the issues these seven churches faced offers much insight into issues that continue to face churches today.
The best way to keep a church from dying is to stay focused on Christ and the purposes He has given. Even if a church faces a changing community, division, or persecution, the church can thrive when pursuing the right priorities. The early church faced much opposition, including the death of Stephen (Acts 7—8) and its members being scattered from the city. Yet the church grew quickly, reaching throughout the Roman Empire within a generation. Jesus is the Head of the Church and the power behind it (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:18-23; 4:1-16). When a church focuses on and obeys God—actively teaching His Word, living by His commands, staying in step with the Holy Spirit, and loving both the internal as well as the external community—it can thrive.
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