Our consulting teams at the Lawless Group have interviewed many church members over the last decade.
Here is a look at some of the most common causes of tears we've seen in struggling churches:
1. They love their church, but they know the church is in trouble. Few believers want to see their church struggle on their watch. Coming face-to-face with the reality of decline (and even impending death) is tough.
2. They've lost relationships because of church conflict. Again, few people think strong friendships today might someday be broken. When internal church battles turn friend against friend, that anguish can be almost indescribable.
3. Their teens and young adult children no longer want to attend their church. Historically, church was one place that brought the family together. When next generations now no longer like their parents' and grandparents' church, church struggles then become family struggles.
4. They really do miss the good ole' days. Perhaps that's because they prefer a different worship style or a smaller church—but sometimes it's because they long for a day when life itself was simpler. Their concerns may be directed at their church, but their grief is often more about life in general.
5. They love their pastor, but something's not working. This pain is some of the most intense we've seen. Church members who adore their shepherd never want to hurt him, but they recognize a problem when the church is no longer following him.
6. Their good friends are now attending another church in the area. Churches become "families," and nobody likes it when family members move away—even down the street. If they move away because they see the remaining family as dysfunctional, the pain is even deeper.
7. They've been guilty of sowing discord. It's not often, but occasionally church members use our interview time for confession. They know they've been part of the problem rather than the solution.
8. They're exhausted. Everything they've tried thus far has not solved their church's issues. They're working even harder because the church has lost workers. Still, nothing's changing. Frustration then gives way to fatigue—and heavy weariness can become tears.
9. They've been spiritually depleted. They're "hanging in there" with their church, but they feel like they're not being fed from the pulpit. They survive because they listen to other preachers on the television or the Internet.
10. No one has given them opportunity to share their concerns before. Our interviews sometimes reveal pain because church members have sensed no other safe place to be heard without appearing disruptive. We open the door, and the emotions take over.
What other things would you add? Let us know if you want us to pray for your church.
Chuck Lawless is dean of doctoral studies and vice president of spiritual formation and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions. In addition, he is team leader for theological education strategists for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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