In my experience of working with The Unstuck Group, I typically see common denominators of stuck churches. In addition to attendance, other things decline as well. Unfortunately one area that usually takes a negative hit is the number of baptisms.
When helping churches build vision, I ask, “How many people do you think you’ll baptize in five years?” If the church has a history of low or no baptisms (which most stuck churches do), this question causes the team to pause. If there’s one bullet point that should be a part of every church’s vision, it’s reaching people with the gospel. It’s biblical. Jesus reminds us of this during a conversation with Peter after a fishing trip (Luke 5:10).
“…Don’t be afraid,” Jesus told Simon. “From now on you will be catching people! ”
At the end of the day, Jesus has called the church to fish for people. Unchurched people.
Here are three core issues I have found in churches that have low or no baptisms
Fishing in the Wrong Place
A good fishermen knows where to fish. If you're fishing for crappie, it’s a good idea to fish around underwater stumps. If you’re after catfish, you'll need to make sure your bait is on the bottom, because that's where catfish like to hang out. Likewise, the church needs a strategy that targets areas where unchurched people hang out. Establishing a presence in the community and on-ramps to relational environments often gives the church permission to speak into the lives of people who aren’t Christians…and this can produce great results for the Kingdom.
Fishing with the Wrong Bait
While many churches in America have moved towards a post modern, contemporary style, most have not. If we are going to catch the younger generation of people, we have to use the right bait. The only alternative is an aging, dying church. Old school ideologies, dry services and trying to preach in Old English is the worst kind of bait. That's like trying to catch a catfish with a piece of broccoli…it isn’t going to happen. Your facilities, dress code, worship style, children's ministry, etc should be attractive to the people you're trying to reach. If your church is only attractive to Christians, then you're using the wrong bait.
Fishing without a Hook
While there are different places to fish and different kinds of bait to fish with, one thing never changes, and that is the hook. Without a hook, you can fish in the right spot, attract fish with the right bait, but you'll never reel one in. When it comes to reaching people for Jesus, there is only one hook; the gospel. The gospel never changes and without it, nothing else matters.
If you want to see conversions and baptisms increase in your church, discuss these questions with your team:
- Are we focused on reaching the unchurched in our community and city? What resources are we putting into this? What results are we seeing?
- Does our weekend experience make sense to someone who isn’t a Christian? How would someone who has never been to church describe their first time experience? Is it weird? Confusing? Awkward?
- Are we giving a clear, gospel presentation each weekend? Are we giving people easy, simple steps to follow Jesus? Do people have options to respond to the gospel?
- Are we following up with people who respond to the gospel? Is the follow up effective? What needs to change?