Why are 'traditional' Reformed churches struggling?

Discussion in 'Evangelism, Missions and the Persecuted Church' started by Need 4 Creed, May 14, 2013.

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  1. Need 4 Creed

    Need 4 Creed Puritan Board Freshman

    The thread on planting a baptist church has got me thinking along this line.

    One of the things that some people seemed to be suggesting is that while there are a large number of non reformed churches (many of which are 'growing') there seems to be a lack of reformed churches.

    If this is true: Why is this?

    Why are non-reformed churches (such as contemporary/charismatic/neo-reformed (i.e Mars Hill) experiencing a measure of 'success' and growth, and the reformed churches are struggling in these areas.

    Possible reasons

    1) Non reformed churches embody a lot of the cultural values, therefore people find it easier to atend a church that basically reflects the ethos and climate of secular culture.

    2) While non-reformed churches may be wrong in many areas of teaching, their hearts are right and teh are genuinly seeking God and desiring to reach their communities - therefore God is blessing them.

    3) (other side of point 2) Traditional reformed churches, while emphasising doctrine, have perhaps neglected a 'heart relationship' with God, In seeking to preserve truth against secular cultural influences, they have neglected to engage with culture in an authentic way?

    4) We are living in times of apostacy, and small, struggling reformed churches are God's remnant. They are like Gideon's small army i.e looks foolish to teh world, but God is in the midst.

    5) The reformed churches are not struggling, they are blessed and growing.

    Other suggestions?
  2. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritanboard Commissioner

    1. The philosophy of ministry operative in many broad evangelical churches is compatible with secular marketing. If it sells toothpaste, if it sells cars, if it sells pharmaceuticals, it will also "sell" churches. Finney pioneered the "use of means" to "do" evangelism and church. He and his followers could even predict the number of conversions based on the amount of money available to "invest" in the effort. By this it was intended that if you study human behavior and diligently employ techniques that are known to "motivate" (some would say manipulate) humans to act in this way or that, then it will yield evangelistic outcomes.

    2. Broad evangelicalism in this age is inextricably linked to a view of human volitionalism that is semi-Pelagian or even Pelagian. The Gospel they proclaim is not only compatible with appeals to "free will," it does not force converts to embrace the more difficult notions of human sinfulness and divine sovereignty characteristic of the Reformational denominations.

    In other words, if you are selling something that people already believe (in some form or another) and present it in ways that they are already familiar with responding affirmatively to, then it is likely that you will be fairly successful.

    In my city, most of the Reformational churches (in this place, they are predominately orthodox Lutherans) are fairly static in membership. A variety of broad evangelical ministries have grown explosively (some from nothing to thousands in attendance within just a few years).

    BTW, on a somewhat distinct, but related issue, Ligonier ministries is pretty staunchly Reformational. However, given the direct mail pieces, seemingly daily emails, and cleverly designed "marketing savvy" phone calls and appeals, I would say that their use of modern marketing techniques shows that it "works." Interesting.
  3. Miss Marple

    Miss Marple Puritan Board Junior

    I am not sure I agree that traditional reformed church aren't growing/thriving. Of course we could always grow more.

    Our denomination, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, has more members every year. When I was first converted and joined the OPC there were I think about 15,000 in our denomination. Now about 22,000.

    I don't know about other denominations or NAPARC churches as a whole.
  4. PaulMc

    PaulMc Puritan Board Freshman

    My church is what would be called a 'traditional' reformed church, and we have very few on the Lord's day (around 10-15) and less in the mid-week meeting.

    I would like to think that while emphasising doctrine, we are (hopefully) walking with the Lord too, and are genuinely friendly (to unbelievers) and offer fellowship (to Christians).

    Over the past couple of years a number of people have come and gone, and I know for sure that the following are some of the reasons why (also bear in mind that there are no other Reformed churches in the area):

    1) As in your first point, we do not have 'contemporary' music or instruments, and so even while some have appreciated the faithful preaching of the Word, they have sought churches with more modern music.

    2) The sermons are too long (which are around 35-45 mins).

    3) This might be the saddest one, as if everyone thought like this a church would never grow - they wanted to be in a more populated church.

    We are doing outreach, handing out invitations and tracts, and praying that God would 'add unto the church daily such as should be saved'. It is easy to be discouraged but we continue to look to Him, and the means He has given us.
  5. Gforce9

    Gforce9 Puritan Board Junior

    <begin snarkiness for effect> I can't speak for your side of the Pond. Over here, your #1 goes a long way in explaining things. To build on that, the pendulum has swung from the anti-supernaturalism of yesteryear to a hyper-supernaturalism. God is speaking (literally, in the minds of many) in every situation; you must listen for that "still small voice". Almost all of pop-evangelicalism has been influenced by the earlier centuries Pentecostalism. Couple this with the brokenness of the family and the emotional neediness of the American individual; people want to feel good inside, fell like God is speaking to them about everything, including which way to turn at the stop sign. Emotion fueled by the knowledge of an Almighty Supreme have been traded in for emotionalism separated from the Gospel.
    Being an American has it's challenges in Harmitiology and Soteriology, too. We are the captains of our own ships and no one will tell us how to come to God, including Him. Furthermore, if we are not able to choose our own destiny, we are not really free (hello 5th century British monk). <end snark>
    Our Reformed faith stands in stark contrast to this wishy-washiness of the age. We stand on the faith once delivered and on it's sovereign Christ. These, I think are some of the issues, though not all, that lead us where we are today.........:2cents:
  6. PaulMc

    PaulMc Puritan Board Freshman

    I think that this gets to the root of it.

    Although on the other hand, I am sure that what Miss Marple says is true, and that many reformed churches are growing - praise the Lord!
  7. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Keep up the good work. Thank you for your faithfulness!!!
  8. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    If our Reformed church isn't growing (and some are), we always need to consider both our sin/shortcomings and the sin of those who choose to go elsewhere.

    Any answer that says the problem is all with us fails to see how many people are deceived by the world. But any answer that says the problem is all with them fails the test of humility and self-awareness—which right there goes a long way in explaining why people go elsewhere.
  9. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I would say that broadly calvinistic churches ARE growing. Maybe TR churches are not growing as much due to more rigid ecclesiology or training requirements or rules over how to plant a church.

    A general belief in the 5 points (i.e., a monergistic view of soteriology) IS advancing. Just look into the recent history of the Southern Baptists.
  10. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    Maybe the question to ask is about the OPC and other reformed denominations, how many are growing by profession of faith and covenant children constrasted with deaths, compared to how many join, because they are changing denominations due to becoming reformed who were already Christians.

    I believe most are 'growing' but what does 'growing' mean? (something to think about).

    As for my own congregation. We have remained faithful (loosely said since we are sinners), though I am sure there are obvious areas where we can improve. Excuses why visitors do not come back to our church (even after they say they enjoy the preaching):

    -music is boring/old/you sing psalms
    -not enough women
    -not enough people, too small
    -you don't celebrate easter/christmas or church calandar
    -too much bible
    -your carpet is green (which I might agree needs to be replaced due to wear, and everyone in our church agrees but no $)

    Those are most the excuses I have received (generally speaking) over the past 2 years.

    But the question of why are traditional reformed Churches struggling? This is two-fold, both of which points I will provide are fully the reason/cause.

    1) I would say the unfaithfulness of God's people to follow God's commands and obey Him in the strength of Christ.
    2) God has not seen fit in His good providence to see His Church flourish rapidly at this time in our part(s) of the world (speaking, at least to my knowledge of North America, Europe, and Asia).

    I am reminded that sometimes as the Gospel goes forth, people leave the visible Church. Perhaps John 6 is an example. You have the 20,000 or so that followed Jesus after the feeding of the 5,000 (20,000 approx), to Capernaum and heard Jesus preach. And all but 12 left him, and even 1, Judas, would still leave Him.

    Despite this, God's people need to remain faithful and preach the message despite what the people say (like Jesus' brothers (Jn 7)). God's people need to not only remain faithful but seek out those areas where they have sinned and have been unfaithful to Him.
  11. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    We find that our simplicity scares some folks away. Our worship service is just the bare elements -- lots of Scripture reading, long preaching, singing of psalms, prayer, the Lord's Supper. The means of grace unadorned are a delicacy to the people of God, but they can be boring to others. Our practice of having two worship services on the Lord's Day is also a stumbling block. We have had people leave because they could not take communion without meeting with the Session beforehand to confirm that they are members in good standing of a Reformed church (and they were not). We have had visitors on holidays who left when they realized we were never going to get around to so much as mentioning the existence of said holiday.
  12. Mushroom

    Mushroom Puritan Board Doctor

    Our Church has grown from around 50 when we started attending (1996) to about 150 now, so it's growing. But we do keep the Roman and Hallmark calendar, and sing non-inspired hymns (although fairly conservative ones) with accompaniment. We've assimilated several small nominally Reformed congregations that failed in recent years, a couple of quasi-FV groups especially, so things are going to come to an eventual head. We've added probably 40 members in the past year, had several believers baptisms, a couple of whole household baptisms, and a goodly number of covenant baptisms in the same period, so we are definitely growing. 90% or more of the congregation heads to local restaurants after Sunday worship, though. We are the weird curmudgeons that don't, and my kids endure ostracism due to fact they won't or can't participate.

    So which is it? #1 and #4 seem most applicable. But there is a nominally Reformed growth afoot, and my hope is that it is a transitory state for the true remnant that will eventually see the inconsistencies of their compromises. These folks coming out of paedo-communion & quasi-FVism is both encouraging and disconcerting at the same time. One hopes they have left those things behind, but there is concern that they will advocate for those positions here. The Lord reigns. He will grow His Bride as He sees fit.

    I have seen the dissolution of Reformed Baptist congregations at an alarming rate in our area, but there is a new one started locally, and while I disagree with their views of the sacraments, knowing there are a goodly number of folks around here of that conviction in the area, I hope that this new work finds success, at least until those dear folks come to their senses. :D
  13. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    "Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?"

    "But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?"

    "But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?"

    The carnal kingdom of the Jews is a tempting prospect but in the end it comes to nothing. Christ's kingdom is not of this world but will also outlast the world. Let's adhere to the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ, be faithful to the corner of the vineyard He has committed to us, and leave the numbers with the Lord be they few or many. As Isaiah also says, "the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied." If it is the Lord's work it is not in vain regardless of what it looks like to the eyes of men.
  14. Mushroom

    Mushroom Puritan Board Doctor

    Amen, dear brother! My sorrow is that I am so unfaithful in those things that will outlast this world, and so encumbered with those things that will certainly perish with the world.
  15. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I know what you are saying, and agree with the intent, but I can't accept the use of the word "unfaithful" in this context. There is a world of difference between an unprofitable servant and an unfaithful servant. Unfaithfulness requires repentance and reformation. Unprofitableness presupposes that duty has been fulfilled at least in some measure. The good works of believers, though mingled with sin, are still accepted as righteous in the sight of God for the righteousness of Christ imputed to them and received by faith alone.
  16. N. Eshelman

    N. Eshelman Puritan Board Senior

    Who says Reformed churches are not growing or planting churches?

    In just over a decade the RPCNA has grown by over 25%... Over half of our members are in churches that were planted in the last 20 years. We are as bare bones as it comes in regard to worship- acappella psalms, no instruments, reading the Bible, praying, preaching, and sacraments.

    There is no excuse for Reformed churches that are not planting churches and seeing some measure of growth. Jesus said he would build his church and he does.

    Here's a little article that I wrote on this: Here Come the Presbyopians! | Gentle Reformation
  17. Steve Paynter

    Steve Paynter Puritan Board Freshman

    I don't know how wide-spread the following issue is within Reformed churches, nor whether any of you will agree with my position, but in my experience, traditional conservative churches too often have old-fashioned ideas about what constitutes evangelism and how people come to faith. They often work with an "invite them in" model, and a "believe before belonging" model, and equate evangelism with a single "evangelistic sermon" which calls for repentance and faith.

    In contrast, in these postmodern/post-Christendom times, people respond better to "friendship evangelism", where we go out to them, to live our faith out along-side them, and they need welcoming churches, where they can come and belong to the "soft fringe" of the church community before coming to faith ... "belonging before believing" - testing out whether we are really living up to our hype, and trying to understand whether it is something for them.

    The earlier model works better in "Christendom" contexts, where a lot of the values and concepts are shared, and evangelism is all about calling people to make the final step of "closing with the Lord" (to use a Puritan phrase). The newer model, arguably, works better where substantial world-view building needs to go on - where there is little shared Christian heritage to build upon, and people need to be exposed to a prolonged encounter with Christian teaching before they are in a position to come to faith.

    I used to think evangelism was pamphlet drops, street preaching, and special evangelistic events, where the gospel was presented. In those days I was quite clear that church mothers and toddlers groups and coffee mornings were not evangelism. Now I see the former as of limited value, where the latter provide
    opportunities to get to know people over a prolonged period of time, get to offer practical help and/or support through life's trials, - in other words, they provide the opportunities to get to know, befriend and serve one's community, and ultimately, to call for that final "closing with the Lord".

    In my - admittedly limited - experience, being conservative theologically often means being slow to respond to cultural changes. This is not a necessary linkage. however. One's theology need not be compromised by changing the way one engages with one's culture.

    Then again, maybe Reformed churches in general know all this, and it was just my conservativism which made me slow in appreciating this.
  18. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    It is ironic that the reformed often believe in postmillenialism, but are often the most pessimistic when it comes to the growth of the church.
  19. Cymro

    Cymro Puritan Board Junior

    Over 30 yrs ago, an old much revered Pastor with almost prophetic insight, told me
    that there were days coming when even Evangelicals would not want the Reformed faith.
    His counsel was the exhortation of Paul, "Moreover it is required in stewards that a man
    be found faithful." He added ,that it will take all your strength to do that!
    That has come to pass in my nation, and that is not being pessimistic but facing
    realism. The truth has been diluted and consequently ' love of the truth' is evaporating.
    The over emphasis on reaching the young with extra biblical means has seen the burgeoning
    of charismatic churches and the rapid decline in Reformed. Without excusing ourselves for we
    have lamentably fallen short, God is sovereign and it may be that His judgments are being unfolded.
    Nevertheless, we are to preach the Word in season and out of season, and lift up our Saviour
    by lip and life.
    "And I will constantly go on
    in strength of God the Lord;
    And thine own righteousness, ev'n thine
    alone, I will record.
  20. Need 4 Creed

    Need 4 Creed Puritan Board Freshman

    I think this is an essential point.
  21. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritanboard Amanuensis

  22. irresistible_grace

    irresistible_grace Puritan Board Junior


    Some people think we're a Cult (like Jehovah's Witnesses or something).
    "No instruments? No hymns? No children's church/nursery? What do you mean, you don't celebrate Christmas or Easter? I thought you were Christian."
    Try explaining the RPW & eyes glaze over.
    Then again, there is no consistency within the "Reformed" community on worship (even here on the PB).
    "You shouldn't be so legalistic."
    They almost never come back...
    Last edited: May 15, 2013
  23. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I will say this. We've had lots of visitors say they really enjoyed what we do. They say how much they benefited from the sermon and the Scripture reading; they find the psalm-singing interesting and valuable; etc. I didn't mean to paint too dreary of a picture. Honestly, folks that have never or rarely been to church are generally more likely to like what we do than Christians who are members of a church. Sometimes Reformed people take the greatest offense.
  24. Scottish Lass

    Scottish Lass Puritan Board Doctor

    We as a congregation (don't know ARP numbers as a whole) are growing because we offer psalms, exegetical preaching, etc. Our last several families have made it clear that's exactly what they're seeking.
  25. Christusregnat

    Christusregnat Puritan Board Professor

    For the same reason that innocent children are casually disposed of: we have forsaken the fountain of living waters and have hewed us cisterns that cannot hold water.

    Once we come to our lowest law, as nations, and all of our gods are fallen in the dust, then the Lord's worship and Word will regain its rightful place among us. Until then, we worship our belly gods.
  26. Christusregnat

    Christusregnat Puritan Board Professor

    lowest low, that is.
  27. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Okay, since there seem to be many responses that say the fault lies with those people who don't know a good church when they see one... and few responses so far that suggest some of the fault also lies with us... allow me to get things started on the "us" side:

    1. Some traditional Reformed churches are smug. Not only do they insist on practices that even other traditional Reformed folks sometimes disagree about, but they take their superior practices as a source of pride. They may say outwardly that they're patient with those who don't get it, but inwardly they're smug... and visitors can tell. Smugness is not only a turn off; it reveals spiritual immaturity.

    2. Some traditional Reformed churches are insular. They wait for outsiders to come to them (and are critical when no one just shows up out of the blue), but they seldom go out into their communities to be a church engaged with the world. Their first instinct is to protect themselves from evil, outside influences... and only as a secondary thought do they consider going out to engage others—and then always warily, defensively, or even combatively. In additon, not only do their services befuddle visitors, the insular tone of the gathering makes those visitors feel like it'd take forever to fit in. These churches are so wary of being "seeker friendly" that they do little to avoid being confusing or cold to seekers.

    3. Some traditional Reformed churches put theological correctness so far ahead of loving kindness that love is all but lost. Though they rightly see the great importance of correct theology, they forget that Jesus said his disciples would be known to the world by their love for each other. They think their correct theology and proper worship should be enough to commend them to men—forgeting that isn't what Jesus said. Although there may be deep love within the church's inner circle, any newcomers who happen to arrive are treated with a measure of suspiscion until they prove they're kosher Reformed.

    4. Some traditional Reformed churches (not so many anymore, I think, but still some) have forgotten to be captivated by Jesus. They easily get cerebral. They defiantly continue to preach the law. They harp on the doctrines of grace. But they're so determined think better and act better and confess better that they end up viewing the Savior aloofly, from a thoughtful distance; seldom being simply delighted in the marvelous Person they know. Where Jesus the person (not just the doctrine) is seldom preached, other churches must resort to bells and whistles. Traditional Reformed churches rightly eschew such showiness, but some fail to actually delight in the better alternative. They're more about being anti-showy than they are about being pro-Jesus.

    Now, if I were to move to a new town and search for a church to join, I'd surely look at some traditional Reformed churches if there were any. I'd look for correct theology and proper worship. But I'd also look for humility, sense of mission, love, and delight in Jesus—and I should look for such things. Some traditional Reformed churches would not get me as a member because they would fail the second half of that test.
  28. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    All of the fault lies with them.
    All of the fault lies with us.
    All of it is in God's providence, and it is a good thing for us all.
  29. Constantlyreforming

    Constantlyreforming Puritan Board Sophomore

    Remember, the WORLD will hate us.

    To me, Success and likeability in the world's eyes necessitates a deeper look into what we are doing that the world is so very okay with.
  30. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritanboard Commissioner

    This is FANTASTIC news!!! I'm so excited to hear about church growth in confessional bodies (whether they dot every "i" my way or not). And, you, sir are one of my favorite pastors. It was an honor to be at that special service at your church, even if I had to slip out at the end for another meeting. (It didn't hurt to hear the great preacher that day, either!).

    We do need to take into account the scale, however. RPCNA would have to grow outstandingly for many decades before their numbers would balance the losses in some other Reformed bodies. By and large, the American mindset unfortunately lends itself toward the flavor of Christianity that is associated with the broadly evangelical mega churches. And, there are so many points that Jack made in post #28 that are worthy of consideration.

    After we address the concerns Jack raises and take into account the deleterious impact of the American mindset on the church, one fact needs restating. We are called to be faithful. Our job is not to gin up success by our own fleshly efforts.

    500 years ago the center of Christianity was mainly European (Rome, Geneva, and Wittenberg). Now much of that same area is a spiritual wasteland (compared to former strength). Pop Christianity may eventually die out in America and genuine faith take root elsewhere in the world. That does not excuse us from remaining faithful to the Great Commission anyway. I am not able to give first-hand testimony for all of you. But, men like Nathan Eshelman encourage me greatly for the future of the true and faithful church in America.
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