The Shrinking But Growing Church
Without a doubt, 2020 was a crazy year, a wild ride, an unexpected turn, a year that no one saw coming. As a pastor who has just passed the one-year notch in my senior pastor’s belt, I look back with awe and wonder at what I have seen God doing through tumultuous times. “What is He doing?” you ask. He is shrinking His ever-growing church, which is a blessing we never saw coming. But how can a church shrink and grow simultaneously? Is that just glass-is-half-full thinking? No, it’s not. Here’s why.
While I don’t pretend to know the situation of every church, one thing is clear looking back at 2020—Bible-preaching, grace-filled, gospel-centered, Christ-exalting churches are growing, and they are growing like wildfire. The reason they are growing like wildfire is because the smoke and dark clouds of 2020 had a rousing effect upon many. As C. S. Lewis once said: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Consider the church roused, and even though it is but a partial rousing, this partially roused state is much more preferable to the dead, snoring slumber of years past.
Trouble tends to rouse us awake, which sends us in one direction or the other—either away from God or towards Him. For some, the trouble of 2020 has roused them away from the church, either because they were truly not of the church, or they realized their church wasn’t able to actually address the troubles of their soul. Afterall, it’s pretty hard to sell a message on “living your best life now” through a 6-inch phone screen when you’re locked in quarantine wondering if you should risk going to the grocery store. The trouble of 2020 made people realize that life isn’t a never-ending story where we all live happily ever after. In fact, many even started to wonder if the Bible might be right that “it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Many began to wonder if this judgment thing was actually a thing, and then wonder how they might fare in said judgment. And when it comes to properly addressing sin, death, and judgment with any sort of thing resembling substance, there’s only one game in town—and so enters stage right Bible-preaching, grace-filled, gospel-centered, Christ-exalting churches.
When it comes to sin, death, and judgment, these kinds of churches have the market cornered because they are the only ones with an anchor for the soul that allows us to sleep comfortably at night under death’s shadow—pandemic and all. And so, it is these churches that have suddenly become, ironically, more attractional than the “attractional” churches who specialize not so much in that “sin, death, and judgment stuff,” and instead in “living your best life now” and “seven ways to make your work week better.” When a man is faced with his mortality these kinds of things just don’t seem to matter as much; in fact, they end up being the last thing on his mind because there just isn’t room for them when the whole sin, death, and judgment thing keeps barging in uninvited. So, what is the solution? The solution is the gospel, which is a message of good news!
When it comes to the good news, you don’t get it without first knowing the bad news, and the bad news is that every single one of us is a sinner on death row. We all die, and we all die because we are all condemned sinners. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). However, though we all fall short, there happens to be one man who didn’t fall short—the God-man Jesus Christ. A little over 2,000 years ago, Christ came into our world to live the sinless and perfect life we never could, die the death we deserve, and atone for the sin we could never atone for which would crush us on the day of judgment. And now the good news—His mission was a complete success, so much so that He rose victoriously from the dead three days later, and now invites all of us to one day do the same when He returns. You don’t earn this; you don’t pay for it—you’re given it freely by grace through faith when you repent of your sins and cling to Christ as your Savior. That’s it. This message (Christ crucified) is why Bible-preaching, grace-filled, gospel-centered, Christ-exalting churches are growing in an ever-shrinking Christian culture.