Why are Missions declining?

Why are Missions declining? by a missionary/pastor on the foreign mission field discusses why are Missions declining? This article investigates the decline in missions in American Christianity. This greatly important topic is just not addressed in most circles of Christianity. They deal with it lightly but never get to the essentials of what is going on and how to turn it around.

Missions are declining

The truth of the matter is that missions are declining in the United States’ Christianity. We note that at the same time, the United States has been the leader of world-wide missions for so long, and that is now changing.

England’s Leadership, and then Total Vacuum

We can see the very same pattern in history if we turn to England. At one time, they were sending missionaries all over the known world at that time. Imagine, England was sending English missionaries to the United States to win the American Indian. There is not even much interest in that today in our time, nor in the last 50 years of American missions.

Nobody’s Invincible

First of all, it can happen. I think Americans think that the United States will sit on the “top of the world” forever. That is not true. With Obama and the general decline in religion that I believe was invoked by Obama’s pro-homosexual, pro-Islamic line, religion has declined in the US. I saw in a news article in Breitbart news a while back where general attendance in a religious place of worship (any religion) declined 10-20% during the eight years that Obama was in office. It figures. Obama made Christianity an enemy of the state. He made Islam the government endorsed religion of the United States along with a homosexual quasi-lifestyle/religion.

Secondly, we see this same thing happening to England in history. This is sad, but it is a very real threat. Part of this happens because of factors outside of Christianity (the British Empire turned from everybody loves their civilization that they provide) to a general rejection of British Imperialism. But the fact is that a nation is a leader in God’s work on earth for a reason. That reason has to do with God, but it also has to do with a commitment by the people (especially the leaders) to push God’s work in their country and out.

England, a Religious Vacuum

We can get into the particulars of England’s case, which might not be America’s case, but the end result we observe is that England is a godless country today. They are not only NOT a world leader in missions, they are in great need of missionaries to come into their country and start good churches. Over the years I have seen news of major church buildings being turned into libraries and coffee shops.

One thing I would like to point out here is that the people who “held down the fort” in those churches, just occupied space, and didn’t really do the work of God although they bragged that they did. To do the work of God is to look beyond today, and prepare for the next generation of Christians. Make the church in that place endure through the next generation. Few people have the foresight or ability to affect things much beyond their own generation, and the best of them can have some kind of impact on the next generation, but the only real impact that goes beyond their generation is when they build great Christians, men and women, ministers and lay people, that have moral worth in them, and become leaders themselves.

America’s Missions Turn-off

The lack of interest that happened in England is also happening today in the United States. I am a missionary, and I contact churches looking for financial and ministry support from other churches. Believe me when I tell you, most pastors are not interested in missions anymore.

Turning declining missions around

How do we turn this trend around? There are ways. But basically having an intense interest in the Lord’s work is the primary “way”.

What are we doing?

I visit a lot of churches, and I examine a lot of church websites, listen to sermons, etc. I evaluate churches that I see for two reasons: 1) I want to know if I want to pursue them to try and get them to join our ministry in a missionary partnership. 2) I compare my understanding of what I am doing as a pastor to their ministry understanding, philosophy, and methods. More times I come away with negative examples than any challenge to me to emulate what I see.

Most of these churches I see simply do not understand what church is all about. We have fallen into a carnal, mindless, idiot mode where we understand things only as brute beasts. For most beasts, they are brutes. See food, kill, eat, happy (sleep). Mix some sex in there which is another kind of domination and you have summed up their entire mindset. Most churches are about at the same level. Get people. Squeeze money out. Spend money. Make people drag more people in. Happy. Enjoy. Live in luxury. Retire rich. This is their thinking completely summed up. How can I say that?

Churches are chasing money, power, and fame.

See my tract ch31 3Bs of success: buildings, bodies, and bucks.

What we are doing, we are doing wrongly. Our only goal should be to please God, i.e. do his will, and that will is only found explicitly in Scripture. We should be studying Scripture to find our marching orders. The work of God is not about getting a great crowd in our churches, but rather, it should be about fulfilling God’s will.

Big is not the Goal

If we compare our mindset with Scripture, we find we are really messed up.The entire “church growth” movement, as well as the Hyles-bus bigness movement, is based on a premise that big is what God wants. God doesn’t want big. If God would have wanted big, he would have made the universalist position of everybody will get to heaven in the end truth. It is not true. It is not Bible. All through Scripture we are constantly presented with the same image, God’s true people (those that really please him) are a remnant. Now however you take “remnant”, it is a small part of the whole. Do we have a remnant mentality or a “moral majority” mentality? God’s true people will never be in the majority. Moses took a stand against the moral majority in his day, and God opened the earth and drug Korah and the majority into hell alive. Israel that God saved from Egypt, the majority died in the wilderness and did not enter the promised land. Jesus was not dealing with the Jewish people’s majority or the majority of the Jewish leaders as the favored people of God but as a corrupted group. So as you go through Scripture and see over and over again that God’s blessed people just are not represented this way, why do preachers force this as the concept that they MUST IMPOSE on the local church?

Instead of working for great numeric success, why don’t we focus on great spiritual success? Why don’t church’s produce great men and women of God and focus their energies on that rather than bigness? Programs are the world’s instruments for success. Holiness and obedience are God’s instruments for success.

Giant Monuments are not the Goal

I understand that a church needs to house its people. But truthfully, all you have to do is go visiting churches on a historical society’s list to question this. Church abandoned building after abandoned church building represents a principle that we never learn. Buildings are not the key to obeying God’s will. For a church to spend a million dollars for their church to meet is just a hard thing to take as a given. When buildings are ALWAYS linked to people, and those people AS A RULE go bad over time, why invest so much in something that ultimately will be brought to naught? I mean you look at denominations where they build great monuments to men, these complexes, and the denomination carries the buildings and people into unbiblical positions. Eventually, they become corrupted, and what happens to the buildings that God’s people invested in as their spiritual heritage? The Methodist denomination I believe had to sell its denominational headquarters building. It should be worth some 5-6 million dollars, but they could not pay the property taxes on it. This is repeated over and over again.

I am not saying that we meet in the open air like Jesus did. We should have buildings. But we should keep always before us that the work of God is the people. What they do, and what they stand for and represent to the world for God that is what matters. I have seen many good people of God sacrifice greatly for their church to pay for a building, and with a few years, things change, and the people in possession of that building are not of the same doctrine and practice as the people who sacrificed for it. I think this is the pet sin of pastors, building programs.

Consider that if a church was to spend a million dollars for a new building complex instead of accommodating their current situation with multiple services or breaking off part of the church to form a new mission church, then a million dollars spent on salaries over 10 years, what could that buy those people? 20 ministers that go out and win thousands to the Lord in that community and the surrounding communities in their state and area of the country? Unfortunately, the same mindset that wants to funnel all of the money into static buildings that are not winning souls, these men when they put on staff, they put on staff people who are not concerned about winning souls and just hardly ever do it.

We don’t need to mention what such a church could do for world-wide missions if out of a million dollars, they funneled $500,000 into foreign missions. (That would work out to $4,166 per month, and if they give $100 per missionary, that is taking on 41 missionaries for 10 years.) But the rule is that churches can reasonably accept spending millions of dollars in their facilities, but not spending that money in missions, or even for evangelism in their own local situation. I am no expert here, but I think if a church was to spend a million dollars, put up with not investing it in buildings but 50% in local evangelism “intensely”, and 50% in foreign missions, they would have 2 million dollars to do the same after 10 years, and probably could easily redo their own complex. There is no vision for the Lord’s work. When people have the only vision of making money instead of doing God’s work, then everything falls apart, and this is where the church growth movement has come from. They don’t obey God, God judges them, and they look for human Madison Avenue ways of getting around God’s curse on their ministry.

Churches have missed the principle thing

What is the principle thing then? While people talk about loving God and loving people, they miss it completely! How is this love that is so important and profound manifested by God? God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son. Winning the world to Christ is the principle thing.

Oh, how I could go on this topic for days. The early church had as a fact persecution. The people in the early church had a mindset, “I will die for Christ maybe, but I will confess Christ always until that end if that is my end.” We read about the early church’s martyrs. These people lost all their possessions, they got thrown out of any kind of income and stability producing work. They picked up and physically fled to other countries. And all of this was because their mindset was to reach the world. Modern Christianity is abnormal and flawed. It somehow thinks a typical Christian can be good with God without sacrificing anything really. Church people today won’t go to a church if it is not physically “pleasant.” Soft seats, short services, children services apart, exciting, entertaining, etc.

You wonder exactly how many of these people would die in persecution before denying Christ? From what we see today, I doubt most churches would have more than 1 or 2 that would remain faithful until death. That conclusion is based on the fact that they are not faithful in life. People cannot come to Sunday evening service, or Sunday School because “it is too much”. Forget Wednesday nights. When those early Christians had loved ones in prisons dying, do you think they even considered for an instant NOT GOING TO PRAYER MEETING? They had prayer meetings every day of the week.

Churches do the work of God however it occurs to them

Again, we look at how people do the work of the ministry, and it is as if somebody said, “Hey, God never gave us any instructions or guidelines or precedents about how to do the work of the ministry, so anything goes.” Even in the day when God did prove the authenticity of his ministers with miracles and healings, that was not the draw they focused on, but on the gospel. One place Jesus comments that the crowds only followed him for the free food he was giving them. This is exactly our mentality today, give away free stuff (even free entertainment), and you will build a big church. But people come one of two ways and no more. They come with an empty hand opened asking for something, or they come with an offering and sacrifice to give God. They come to take advantage of or they come to worship. That are the only two ways people come to church. When you focus your ministry on those who come to take advantage of what you are giving away, you please them, not God.

Ministerial Ethics are non-existent.

Ministerial ethics judge and direct what can do, but what you should not do, or visa-versa. Yes, you can give candy away to kids to get them on a church bus, to bring them into a church to hear the gospel. But that is not the question. The question is should we do that? Do children who do not understand most of “church” get the most important thing by bribing them with candy to get them in the door? No. There is the rub. These children need their own parents (be that what they are), to take them by the hand and walk them into the church, and sit down beside them, and help them understand what the gospel is, what church is all about. But these parents are asleep in bed, and we are doing the kids no service by ignoring the unsaved state of their parents, and just focusing on them. Why don’t we evangelize these same houses working on getting the mom and dad saved and coming to church instead of the kids? The bus is unnecessary because the mom and dad have a car and can bring the entire family into the church.

How we do the ministry is very important, and most pastors have a convoluted philosophy of the ministry. Where exactly did Jesus focus on bringing the children and ignoring their parents? I don’t see it. Even in meeting the crowd’s physical needs, he preached long and hard, and when they were weary, he fed them. If you offer food to the down and out people, and you make them sit through hours of preaching before they get the free food, how does that work? You don’t get so big of a crowd, because those who sit through it will do so because they probably are somewhat interested in what is being said.

There is nothing wrong with helping people. But when bigness is the goal, and bribery is the method, the whole thing goes south. These ministries do not produce holy men and women of God. There is no real transformation taking place. It is simply going along with the church to get the free giveaways.

Missions is dying

Why is missions dying in the United States? Missions is the reproductive element of the body of Christ. In other words, missions is the element by which the church reproduces itself. This reproduction is on three levels. 1) New Christians are formed in each generation. 2) New Churches are formed. 3) New ministers are formed.

Missions is dying, but it is dying because the churches in the United States are dying. The problem with this is simply that with any animal or person when their physical health is on the rocks, they are not usually going to reproduce. Churches are in the most anemic and pathetic condition in centuries. The best solution to boast missions is to look at the conditions that are causing missions to go down. These symptoms are in the local churches. Missions is a projection of their Christianity around the world, and what the modern missionaries are setting up around the world are just copies of the pathetic Christianity the United States has.

The unfortunate part of all of this is that the real work of winning people to the Lord in the foreign mission field is not being done. If America gets its act together and fixes what is wrong in churches, it will still miss a whole generation of young people who would go to the mission field and serve the Lord, but who won’t for lack of funds. Some will get through, but the majority won’t. These people are precious, and they will not be recuperated easily.

It will take years of preaching and encouraging the next generation of young people to go (once America is serious about missions again if that happens), and this is tragic. Not only that, the experience that these young people COULD learn from working with veteran missionaries will be lost also. Back in the 60s, 70s, and even 80s, I remember a lot of people weekly praying for their missionaries. Today’s church member doesn’t do that. He hasn’t been taught to do that, and he doesn’t see any effort by their pastor or church leaders to do that. This is another problem that won’t get better without a lot of serious focus on missions.

How to fix the Church?

This is a complex question. But you can bet things will not get better without a lot of changes and sacrifice. Once people start getting concerned about winning the people in their own community again, then missions will pick up. Once pastors and churches stop this entertainment circus we have fallen into, missions will pick up. When we finally get out of the “feel good at any cost” attitude and start being a good soldier of Jesus Christ that endures hardship mentality, then things will pick up in missions.

But realizing that there is a problem has to happen first. We are Christians and follow the Bible. Therefore nothing good will happen unless we use our powerful resource, prayer. Each and every Christian can pray, and they should pray. When Christians start praying for their own spiritual life, for their church life, and specifically for missionaries, then things may begin to turn around after a lot of prayer has been poured out before God.

The author of this article is Missionary David Cox

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Pastor David Cox is a missionary. See my ministry updates here.