Friday, April 27, 2012

Worth Checking out: An Allegory of the Collapsing American Church

Wes Moore has a gut check article that I read yesterday. Read through it and think through it. I posted it in it's entirety. It was originally found here.
American Heart Services (AHS) was once a thriving business. With multiple locations in virtually every U. S. city, number one market share, and the best heart remedy products on the market, AHS was hard to beat. 
Over the past 20 years, however, AHS has been in a steady decline. Sales in 85% of its North American offices are in a steady descent, and hundreds of its stores will close in the next year. Of the few offices that are adding new business, much of the growth comes from taking customers from other branch offices (a practice which many in management applaud).
All the while, the competition is thriving. Whether with an alternative product offering or a cheap knock-off, the competition is leaving AHS in the proverbial dust. In fact, things have gotten so bad that many of AHS’s offices have been purchased and occupied by their competition.
What’s the culprit? Here are a few of their more obvious mistakes.
Sales Failure 
Shockingly, AHS no longer recruits sales people. They make no effort to recruit those people who are directly responsible for reaching new sources of business.
Further, existing sales people have no ongoing training program. When it comes to knowing AHS’s product line, the competition’s, or basic selling skills, the AHS sales force is on its own.
If that’s not bad enough, there is also no accountability system to help the sales team bring in new customers, nor is there an organizational structure for the sales force.
The sales people get together weekly with upper management, but, remarkably, no new customers are discussed. They mostly talk about the company’s products, how much better they are than the competition, and how amazing it is that no one will buy them anymore.
Instead of strategizing and planning a turnaround, they discuss how to be better employees. Yes, you heard right…better employees! 
  Disinformation by the Competition 
  Magnifying their internal failures, the competition is on a major disinformation campaign about AHS. They have developed a powerful range of media and print advertising that negatively portrays AHS and its excellent products (the AHS product line is still the best in the world).
Competitors constantly run commercials, TV programs, and even produce major motion pictures that slander AHS and spread, in some cases, outright lies about the company.
Upper Management’s Response
Upper management is concerned, but they either ignore the problems or are unwilling to implement important changes. In fact, many in management are afraid to do anything because of how the long-term employees will respond.
While some fear, others are just apathetic; they figure the company will survive long enough for them to retire or find a better job somewhere else, so why bother. And then there are those who just can’t see doing it any other way, even if the present strategy is ruining the company.
As for the competition’s devastating disinformation campaign, management mostly ignores the attacks. Instead of putting forth the truth, they cover their eyes and long for the good old days when things weren’t so complicated.
How would you react?
How would you rate AHS’s management team, training program, or sales approach? Do their strategies make sense? How would you react if you were a stock holder, a customer, or an employee?
You, like me, would probably demand immediate action and a new course for the company. People would be fired; heads would roll. And you’d be right.
But here’s the catch: by indicting AHS, you indict…yourself. You see, there is no AHS; it is only an imaginary company meant to illustrate a very real organization—the Christian church in America. [1]
In 2 Samuel 12:7, after David’s malicious sins, Nathan told him an imaginary story about an evil man, and then said to David, “You are the man!” And now, fellow Christian, I must now say to you: “You are the man!” AHS is your church, my church, everybody’s church.
The negligent and foolish way AHS carries out its mission is in many ways similar to the way we carry out ours.
How are we the same?
We have no strategy to recruit and train new evangelists within our congregations, and we give our existing evangelists no training to speak of, except the occasional Sunday morning pep-talk about witnessing. We don’t organize our people to effectively reach the lost and we have no system of accountability to help them reach their goals.
In fact, we’re far worse than this allegory implies. Over 90% of our people have absolutely no intention of sharing their faith. [2] None. The very people who are supposed to share the good news and grow the kingdom of God have flatly refused.
We get together weekly (if not more) and talk about how to become better employees (better Christians) and cry because our churches are shrinking and our children are leaving, but we’re too afraid of the Pharisees to make the changes we need to make.
Our leaders are often too apathetic, too bogged down in tradition, or too constrained by the old guard Pharisees to make any worthwhile changes. Yet, we sit around our Sunday school tables and brag about how great it is to know the truth.
Staggering Numbers
All the while, the numbers stare us in the face: 85% of our churches are declining. [3] When you measure church growth against population growth, only about 4% of churches in America are actually growing (that means 96% of churches are actually declining). Not a single county in America has more people going to church now than it did ten years ago. And, according to the Barna Group, of the more than 350,000 Protestant churches in America, over 60,000 don’t have a single convert each year.
In America, we close ten churches every day, 72 a week, over 3700 per year. Thousands more are on the verge of collapse and soon will become pawn shops, adult video stores, or temples for our nation’s idols.
Sanctuaries full of gray hair and empty pews incriminate us. Baptisms are few and far between and unsaved visitors almost unheard of. Some have even gone to thinking that a transfer is actually increasing the size of the church.
Furthermore, our enemy is eating our lunch. Whether it’s atheism, New Age, Mormonism, “spirituality,” or just plain “carnality,” the Adversary’s lots are full. Through the media, public schools and universities, and a myriad of other avenues, Satan has trained millions that they can’t trust the Bible, and has convinced entire generations that God’s Word is nothing more than pagan mythology.
And what are we doing about it? For the most part, we do what the management of AHS did—we cover our eyes and dream of a day when things were better. In my 14 years with Jesus, I have never heard a pastor address apologetics from the pulpit in any significant way. Not even once.
Given all this, should we be surprised when homosexuals are allowed in the military, God’s name is taken off every monument in our land, Nativity displays are banned, Jesus’ name is used as a curse word, more and more grotesque forms of abortion are legalized, and atheists buy ads on billboards encouraging Americans to be “good without God”?
Given the near collapse of salt and light in this land, it’s a wonder it isn’t worse.
Too harsh or just what we need?
Though shocking, I believe this comparison is an appropriate reflection of who we are and what we have become in the church in America, and I hope it gets your attention.
I thought about closing this article with a list of things to do to set us on a better course. But I think I’ll just let you contemplate the comparison a little longer. I would, however, like to leave you with two questions: If you worked for AHS, what would be your title? And, what will eventually become of AHS?
Answer these two questions and you should have all the motivation you need to get down on your knees and start thinking about your own renewal strategy.

[1] By this analogy I am not saying the church is a business. But as both are organizations who share the goal of growth and use people to drive that growth, one can loosely illustrate the failings of the other.
[2] John Ewart, Church Consultant Training Level 1, DVD Series (Louisville, KY: Society for Church Consulting, 2008). While these statistics are from 2008, based on the numbers I hear today, there is no reason to believe they have improved since then. If anything, they have gotten worse.
[3] Ibid. All statistics in these two paragraphs are from this same source.

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