Why Isn’t the Church Growing: A Discipleship Dilemma in URBAN CHURCH PLANTING

Why Isn’t the Church Growing: A Discipleship Dilemma in URBAN CHURCH PLANTING
Posted by in Facebook's Pentecostal Theology Group View the Original Post

A recent study put forth by Barna research discussed the current “State of Discipleship.”[1]

I’m a big discipleship advocate—constantly preaching and teaching about the Great Commission, mission, and disciple-making. Not only do I preach and teach it—I disciple and invest into others. I love relational community.

But, the Western church is hemorrhaging. I believe the number one reason is a lack of disciple-making. Barna reveals, “only 20 percent of Christian adults are involved in some sort of discipleship activity.”

In the research, Christians were asked which term or phrase best described a spiritual growth process. Ironically, but very illuminating, “discipleship” ranked fourth on the list—being selected by fewer than one in five Christians (18%).[2] That’s disturbing. Only one in five Christians equated the term discipleship with spiritual growth. It seems that something is amiss within the contemporary church.

Spiritual Growth is Great?

Barna’s numbers seem contradictory. Only 25 percent of the polled respondents stated discipleship was very relevant. The research indicated “The implication is that while spiritual growth is very important to tens of millions, the language and terminology surrounding discipleship seems to be undergoing a change, with other phrases coming to be used more frequently than the term ‘discipleship’ itself.” So, the dilemma within discipleship is the fact that a majority of Christians do not equate themselves with disciples.

I found it ironic that 52 percent who attended church in the past six months, asserted that their church “definitely does a good job helping people grow spiritually,” while 73 percent believed their church places “a lot” of emphasis on spiritual growth. How can that many believers think their church is doing a good job at growing spiritually, and yet the church is not making disciples?

The problem is the perceived definition of spiritual growth and its relationship to disciple-making. It seems that a majority of Christians view spiritual growth as an individual construct—as if discipleship can be divorced from Christianity—it’s in a vacuum. Nearlytwo out of five of all Christian adults consider their spiritual growth to be “entirely private.”

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The Real News

Disciple-making is about reproducing—making other disciples. If 73% of the polled believers stated that their church places a major emphasis on spiritual growth—why is the church not making disciples?

Why is the church severely declining—with 80 to 85 percent of all Western churches in decline or stagnating?

I believe it has to do with perception. In the article, Barna stated that only 1% of church leaders believed their churches were discipling very well. That’s only 1%—one—uno—eine—en—no matter what language— just 1% believe their church is discipling very well. Opposite of doing well—60 percent (60%) of pastors state the church is not discipling well, at all!

Why would that be? Don’t three out of four Christians believe their church places a major emphasis on spiritual growth? Why the disparity?

As a pastor, I believe it’s because we (pastors) correlate discipleship with relational communion—life together. Barna’s poll revealed that 91% of pastors considered “a comprehensive discipleship curriculum” as the least-important element of effective discipleship. Yet, when polling Christians, a perception of discipleship, or spiritual growth is related to curriculum, class, and study—not relational connectivity and with-ness.

Barna notes “Only 17 percent say they meet with a spiritual mentor as part of their discipleship efforts.” That’s it! This is why the church is not growing and this is why the church is failing at making disciples. The majority of Christians do not see relational communion with others as important. And discipleship pertains to personalized spiritual disciplines.

How Did This Happen?

There’s a logical explanation—but not a quick one.

Perhaps due to infant baptism, from the fifth-century, and continuing into the Reformation period, discipleship progressed toward individual spiritual discipline more than communal interactive relationships concerning the daily rhythms of Christian life.

While catechesis still existed for new converts, the continued practice of infant baptism shifted discipleship away from the convert catechumenate (waiting three years prior to baptism, but partaking in communal life) to spiritual disciplines and devotions of individualized believers.[3] Perhaps the most notable reformer, Martin Luther, believed that discipleship guided the believer into deeper devotions toward Christ.[4] For Luther, discipleship referred to Christ’s inner working power and “not our attempts to imitate” the deeds of Christ.[5]

The early church had communal gatherings for fellowship, teaching, and life-on-life. But, due to ongoing heretical views—the church began to focus more on the individual development of personal character and devotion, along with theological and doctrinal polity. Albeit, Luther’s discipleship consisted of a deeper commitment to the spiritual devotions of prayer, fasting, and the Word of God, it was not communal.

John Calvin described discipleship as an automatic title for the regenerated believer, an identity by grace in Christ.[6] Calvin, a paedobaptist, considered all believers disciples (and I agree), but not in the same aspect of the communal spiritual nourishment, as that of the early church. For Calvin, baptism became the sign and ratified seal of a “professed” disciple (I find an infant professing anything as odd).[7] However, Calvin focused more on knowledge transference, with believers hearing the preached Word, than a day-to-day activity with believers who practiced fellowship-style catechesis and breaking of the bread (Acts 2:42–46).[8] But to his credit, Calvin believed that all Christians should carry out the commission of God within their lives.[9]

So, the problem was an eventual drifting from the early church communal relationship instruction and fellowship to a more individualized spiritual discipline-type formation. So then, you can see, for the contemporary Christian, discipleship is perceived as curriculum, not as much associated with communal spiritual growth. Discipleship became divorced from collective spiritual maturity, because it became divorced from the communal gathering and growth with others.

The solution calls for reverting back to the origin of Christ-following and being a relational disciple-maker of Christ. Disciples make disciples. Discipleship is not merelyspiritual growth, but helping others, relationally, to develop into mature disciples, who make disciples, etc.

59 Comments

  • Reply July 2, 2019

    Nora Neel-Toney

    Amen. Many pastors refuse much needed training

  • Reply July 2, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    is the simple answer to your search Steve Maxwell Stats say now 95% of US churches are in steady decline

    • Troy Day so what does the modern church consider more important than discipleship?

    • Reply July 3, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      Michael Ellis Carter Jr. I dont know – growth in number stats without any rooting into doctrine?

    • Troy Day according to the article discipleship was #4 I want to know what are #’s 1-3 maybe they tell us something more powerful that the article failed to mention.

    • Reply July 3, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      Michael Ellis Carter Jr. source for article is A recent study put forth by Barna research discussed the current “State of Discipleship.” https://www.barna.com/research/new-research-on-the-state-of-discipleship/

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Steve Maxwell

      Troy Day 2017-2018 Assemblies of God

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      old stats again The 2017 growth is OVER The sooner you face it the sooner you can get with the program

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Steve Maxwell

      UPCI is do well also

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      Steve Maxwell Are you that blind not to see the chart shows 314 CLOSED AG assemblies in 1 year? That’s closing a church every single day – Do you really think that 300 old established in the community churches with buildings equal 300 new church plants with nothing under their belt? It will take them 30 yrs to figure out who they are and how to serve the community of their location You must be a novice to church work overall and I was under the impression I was speaking to an actual AG minister like Daniel J Hesse when I was showing the 2019 deficit

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Daniel J Hesse

      Troy Day please keep my name out of your ministry milieu. The challenges are real across the board. A lot of people see the US moving in the direction of Europe in a spiritual sense. The Pentecostal influences of the 80’s and 90’s has seen its time. It is the best a d worst of times in many circles. I hope we find and regain our First Love and the only turn lover of our souls.

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      Steve Maxwell be a man and post the WHOLE page showing -13 new church plants closing too 🙂 https://www.facebook.com/groups/pentecostaltheologygroup/permalink/2300423436679325/

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Steve Maxwell

      Troy Day, I saw 314 closed, probably your type of churches. However, I saw 327 new churches opened, probably my type of churches.

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      Steve Maxwell not sure what your type is but what You saw was not there – stats are clear -13 new church plants – 13 down is what this means All I am asking is that you post the whole picture with America and not just what you like or prefer -13 new church plants closing too #sadday https://www.facebook.com/groups/pentecostaltheologygroup/permalink/2300423436679325/

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Steve Maxwell

      Troy Day Troy, you obviously don’t have a clue on how to read statistics from a chart. 314 churches close and 327 were new plants.

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      Steve Maxwell so you think 300 brand new church starters are the same as 300 established churches? You got now clue of ministry then The 2018-2019 stats show decline Pls review before commenting BUT what it is to me right? My church is growing 10% a month = 100% per year when you exclude Easter and Christmas which are harvesting months. We’ve doubled in less than 24 months greatly affecting our area for Christ – a small church down from us got sold by their denomination under the elderly pastor before he retired They only told him the property sold when the deal is done Another one tried to train a young minister to replace him after retiring in 2020 and was cut off by state eldership. Your so called mega church is probably just taking other small churches that are closing down

      Philip Williams will understand if this remind me of the Pretty woman movie – Church and members treated like small companies. Part them, sell them, make a buck, merge them into a mega melting pot with no identity A formula for disaster with the millenial generation

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Steve Maxwell

      Troy Day, I have no idea why I waste my time with you. I generally associate myself and pastors, who believe in the promises of God and through great faith and following the instructions of Jesus in Matt 28:19 and the Apostles in Acts 2:38. These pastors are being followed and building the Kingdom of God.

      You you guys can live in the land of the First Church of Eeyore if you want.

  • Reply July 4, 2019

    RichardAnna Boyce

    In context, those whom God decided to have an intimate relationship with are suffering believers. Will USA urban believers be persecuted to the point of suffering. If not maybe God isn’t in the USA church’s plans. Why are China’s churches flourishing beyond recognition?

  • Reply July 4, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    RichardAnna Boyce are you suggesting that Christian persecution will produce revival in America? Link Hudson has suggested the same about pseudo home churches but will it work here? What are the official sources and stats saying so many saved in China – all we have is missionary reports. Steve Maxwell dont accept those

  • Reply July 4, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    RichardAnna Boyce we CAN ASK Joseph Castillo who actually pastors a church in China who MAKES the official stats on Christianity there

    NOW Purdue University’s Center on Religion and Chinese Society, estimates that there are between 93 million and 115 million Protestants in China, with fewer than 30 million attending officially registered churches

    Amity Foundation, a Chinese nongovernmental organization, and the United Bible Societies, printed its 150 millionth Bible, with one third of those coming between 2013 and 2016 but not All were distributed

    You will see that even in this OFFICIAL ANDERSON COURT REPORTING we have statements like someon has said, I believe and so on …
    https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Corrected-Transcript-Christianity-in-China.pdf

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      RichardAnna Boyce

      130 million is 1/1oth of 1.3 billion population in China. It doesn’t take into account the Nicodemus’s in the Chinese government etc.

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      RichardAnna Boyce

      the point is it is GROWING faster than USA because of persecution.

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      RichardAnna Boyce sure – no one is arguing that is or it is not growing But do we know by how much And what are the official sources that claim that – what is the proof?

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Joseph Castillo

      Troy Day I can’t say much now it’s a sensitive time

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      Joseph Castillo of course brother We are just asking for a good source of actual realistic stats and not the “official” propaganda talks

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Joseph Castillo

      Troy Day good sources in China are underground not google i heard from in the ground about 180-200 million

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      RichardAnna Boyce

      1400 million population 196 M = 14%

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Link Hudson

      Troy Day probably best to keep China pastor names off the group

  • Reply July 4, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    RichardAnna Boyce I dont know IF the church in America will grow under persecution I have submitted to Link Hudson and others that there is no compelling evidence the church in America will survive the Great Tribulation And for that reason America is not mention in the Revelations

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Link Hudson

      Troy Day or maybe the US is not the focus of the book of Revelation.

    • Reply July 5, 2019

      RichardAnna Boyce

      Troy Day all of the Jews in USA will be born again during the Great Tribulation; and even if they don’t all survive it physically; they will all survive it spiritually; to join us in the Millennium.

  • Reply July 4, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    Steve Maxwell why dont you be a man and post the WHOLE page showing -13 new church plants closing too 🙂 https://www.facebook.com/groups/pentecostaltheologygroup/permalink/2300423436679325/

  • Reply July 4, 2019

    Daniel J Hesse

    Is Steve Maxwell a real person or and alter ego?

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Steve Maxwell

      Daniel J Hesse check out my FB page and decide for yourself.

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Steve Maxwell

      I friended you as soon as you check it out, you can unfriend me

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Charles Page

      Daniel J Hesse I am an altared ego

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      Daniel J Hesse

      Steve Maxwell you look like a great gentleman with a wonderful family. God bless you and yours always.

      Dan

  • Reply May 22, 2020

    Varnel Watson

    Peter Vandever Michael Ellis Carter Jr. and here is why exactly sheltering is KILLING the Church NO way to measure discipleship ONLINE http://www.pentecostaltheology.com/sheltering-in-place/?fbclid=IwAR3kUjajSpqDN-79cy_WRT5o56d7JuNShwmLlJBCLUdSxuvN4OPpJ7-mrxw

    • Troy Day interesting

    • Reply May 23, 2020

      Varnel Watson

      Michael Ellis Carter Jr. got some god points I found a great Anglican resource to text members if you want it

    • Troy Day ha ha

    • Reply May 24, 2020

      Varnel Watson

      Michael Ellis Carter Jr. I think the author has some good points but skips quite a bit Cant NOT mention discipleship in RCC

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