If you’ve ever heard the term “Over-Churched and Under-Gospeled”, you’ll understand where I am coming from here in this post. If you already know what that means, skip this section, if not, let me explain.
Ask yourselves this, why are there so many churches out there in America, or even the Bible-belt South, and yet many people still do not believe in the Gospel or have actually heard it preached? Why do many of these churches appear dead without many new members coming in? In the past, especially the South, churches were not only a place for fellowship in the Gospel, but also for fellowship with the community since people in rural areas lived pretty far apart. Fast forward after WWII and the baby boom and now cities are growing and expanding, people are moving from rural areas to urban areas and suburbs. Fast forward to today’s times, and those old rural churches that were once filled up are now clinging to stay alive and many have died out altogether. So what happened? Did we lose Christians or did society just gain other forms of community fellowship? Well, knowing John 10:27-30 and other verses we know that it is not the former but the latter. There are many churches today that continue to experience a decline in church membership & fellowship, with more elderly believers holding the “front lines” in these dying churches. I live in a smaller city where it once was a few tiny cities that ended up growing, expanding, and combining into what it is now. There are also now a ton of “First/Second _____” churches all within a 30 minute drive due to the expansion. Be that Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, etc…, they once were a staple of these small towns but now seem like out-dated relics. Some of these churches are being revived by the grace of God with younger generations accepting Reformed Theology, others are dying off. In the ones that are slowly fading away to time we see a few common problems:
- They are more traditional churches who refuse to change with the times yet still firmly hold to Gospel Truth and sound doctrine (but some don’t)
- The congregation is mostly the elderly because they were raised in that church, or stay out of loyalty or stubbornness
- If volunteer or community involvement does occur within the church, it is usually sparse and not done in tandem with other members or the church as a whole, but rather on an individual basis
Now, there is nothing wrong with Traditional churches or wanting to stay true with tradition (unless it goes against Scripture), but even the apostle Paul noted that change is necessary to more effectively preach the Gospel to all people of all cultures. He said:
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the Gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
These are just a few observations of dying churches. But back to my point, “Over-Churched and Under-Gospeled” is where we have so many churches around our cities and states and yet the Gospel is either not the main focus of those churches, or those churches are ineffective at preaching the Gospel to their communities, resulting in a lot of “christians”** but not a lot of Christians. **Those who claim to be Christian but who do not follow Jesus, or those who “used to be Christian but don’t believe any more”.
So, how can the local church more effectively be a light in the dark and show the Gospel through our love and service to those around us? Coming from a few churches myself, seeing many successes and failures, I have a few ideas:
- Believe & teach sound Biblical doctrine. I shouldn’t have to elaborate on this. Without a clear, Biblical understanding of the Gospel, pastors cannot preach the real Gospel that actually saves, but only a false gospel that will draw the hearts of many away from Christ (2 Timothy 4:2-5).
- Constant prayer for Gospel transformation in your church and in your city. God is the one who directs our paths and leads us where we need to go (Proverbs 3:5-6). If you are a pastor or elder of your church, make announcements for your members to also pray that God will do big things in your city (even if it is not with your church). Ask your other elders, deacons, and members for prayer and for the Holy Spirit to guide you where He wants you to go, even if it is not where you think you want to go or places you haven’t thought of yet.
- Be authentic with preaching the Gospel. Younger generations, especially Millennials desire authenticity. The age of the Internet has shown us how “fake” people can be, at a much larger volume and much quicker pace than in real life. We’re tired of it, we can easily spot it, and what we want is the opposite — real and genuine relationships, and this extends to the Gospel. I usually see two extremes from lack of authenticity: (1) On the one hand you have traditionalism where the people cling to “the old ways of doing things” and won’t budge to newer ideas or have a skewed view of the Gospel and won’t return to sound doctrine. It looks and sounds like a dead church. (2) The other way is to embrace all society’s culture (either sticking with the Gospel or chucking it out the window). This involves a worship service that looks more like a concert or a rave with flashy visuals, loud music, guest speakers/celebrities — the works. Millennials may be more apt to go to the flashy concert service, but what you really have is an updated version of the old rural church, an event for community to gather rather than a place for true worship and Gospel transformation. Millennials (either saved or on the cusp of salvation) notice the lack of authenticity and will steer clear of these churches.
- Act on what you say you believe. Love God and Love others in your community/city with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength (Mark 12:30-31). This goes back to authenticity — If Christians really do believe that our Gospel is the most important information out there, and that God tells us to show love and be a light to all people including the poor, the orphan, the widow, the single parent, the prostitute, and any overlooked in society — then we need to act like it. We need to get out of our cozy homes and get our hands dirty, we need to leave the cold walls of our church on Sundays and help the needy and preach the Gospel on other days of the week, we need to die to self and live for Christ!! No one will believe a Gospel in which people preach love one day and hate the next, or a Gospel in which people preach help & support, and turn a blind eye to those in need.
Good ideas to adopt for better city outreach:
These utilize talents that our church members already have and use them to serve the Lord & our community
- Daycare for single moms/dads
- Soup kitchen or food bank
- Coat/clothes drive for the winter
- A team for the community to hand out cookies and tell them we love & care about them
- Free Medical clinic from members who are nurses or doctors
- Partner with other churches & other volunteer groups
- Fall or Spring festival with free events like bouncy house, free food, face painting, games, live band, firetruck for kids, booth for firefighters, EMT, police for safety, goodie bags
- Basic automotive maintenance
- Church van to transport people for groceries or a volunteer clinic
- City sports team (city basketball / baseball team)
- School tutors
- Free haircuts & shaves to men/women to help with jobs
- Hand out food or supplies to teachers, police, fire, EMT workers
- Back-2-School bash where we hand out school supplies and get some information about those in the community to better help them or their kids
- Ask willing members to move to these at-risk areas/communities to be a light in the dark and spread the Gospel to their neighbors (be an example of Christ to those who don’t know Him)
- Have a benevolence team with pre-made packs carried by volunteers at all times (in cars, at home) to give immediate help to those who need it rather than have them wait and go through a process — it’s more relational, personal, and shows that followers of Christ are ready at all times to love & serve, whereas society would make them fill out forms, and wait, and go through bureaucratic processes. These benevolence packs can include items such as:
- a big list (or business cards & pamphlets) of volunteer/outreach organizations in the city for assistance
- a small pamphlet/flyer describing our church and mission and that all are welcome to attend (no matter what they have done in their lives)
- gift cards to restaurants or clothing stores (Chick-Fil-A, McD’s, Kohls, Sears, etc..)
- basic toiletries in travel size (TP, razor, comb, shampoo, soap, Q-Tips, chapstick, body lotion, etc..)
- non-perishable but easy-to-carry food like granola bars, canned tuna, peanut butter crackers, bottled water
- A Bible or New Testament with a slip of paper of quick verses for the new believer (Click here for a Word doc of The Gospel Story that I created)
All of these ways we can reach those in our community and live a life honoring Jesus and His Gospel, and in doing so, the Lord can save many, many people.
Take care and God Bless,
<Original work by BenBRockN. Feel free to reblog, ONLY if you give credit to the original author (me). Thanks!>