Simply, the reason many Christian Churches are dying or, at least, not multiplying their congregations, is because they are not ready to make the changes required and endure the struggle and discomfort necessary that comes with growth. Like begets like and everything reproduces after its own kind. So a church will reproduce a church. But if the Church is focused on maintaining the things as they are then the death knell has already sounded.
When a Church forms as a community around the gospel of Jesus, the way that they work out and live out that gospel does 2 things.
1. Their transparent struggle with failure and inconsistency demonstrates their need for Jesus’ gospel.
2. Their mutual care for each other in the midst of that struggle demonstrates how Jesus’ gospel is good news in the first place.
As Tim Chester says, (Total Church, chapter 5, Church Planting) how the Church congregation lives as a community is what makes the gospel plausible (or not). He quotes Lesslie Newbigin as saying: the congregation is the hermeneutic of the gospel. Both of them echoing what Jesus already said in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
To which we can also add, “or not”.
There is a type of individualism that is obsessed with self-protection and self-preservation that it avoids being transparent about personal need and eschews any humility of service that prioritizes others needs ahead of their own. But its a symptom that is seen corporately when Churches do things in a way that is self-serving or so obscure and unintelligible that anyone from outside either can’t get in or sees no reason to want to.
Somewhere along the line, a Church moves from making new disciples of Jesus to simply upgrading the ones they already have. Their interest is focused on keeping existing members happy or comfortable and most of their energy and resources are spent on filling rosters, roles and responsibilities to keep up something from the past. The suggestion or thought of doing evangelism or being mission minded is almost an insult. Don’t they have enough demands on their time already? How can they care for their family. make a living and keep up with all those time hungry rostered responsibilities and then do something new on top? It’s an unreasonable expectation. Maybe they should consider moving Churches before they burn out. And so goes yet another failed Church.
While all that’s happening, they are seen as boring, irrelevant bigots out of touch with reality by those they should be trying to (and actually) reaching.
If instead, a Church decides that the uncertainty of having an unfilled roster or not maintaining a legacy to some (now) empty tradition is worth the price of living with others in a way that makes sense of the gospel then that gospel plausibility can be recovered. What if the Church lived and interacted as a community with their community where mutual discipleship was a priority (serving one another and doing all the other “one another” verbs mentioned in the New Testament)? That would involve some sacrifice, struggle and personal discomfort. But it would not be inconsistent with Jesus’ call for a disciple to take up their cross and follow him. Like will beget like, and something different to before will be reproduced. What if?