Church Growth – Inhibiting Diseases
Church pathology is the study of the growth-inhibiting diseases of Churches, the characteristics and symptoms of those diseases and the prescriptions to deal with them to achieve the goals of church health and growth. Made popular during the 80’s and 90’s, this topic has dropped off the radar even though most of the original growth-inhibiting diseases still exist in Churches today and continue to strangle the life out of Churches.
God has always intended for His living creation to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The Church is certainly no exception. Just as a vine that doesn’t produce fruit is un-natural and considered unhealthy (John 15:2,6), a Church which does not grow and reproduce is also unhealthy. What would we think if the human race were to produce a generation of mostly sterile women? Would we be concerned about the health and well being of these women? Would we have concerns for the future of the human race? Of course we would. But shouldn’t we also be concerned for a Church that doesn’t grow and reproduce. The scriptures in fact seem to indicate that barrenness is in some cases seen as a curse (Matt. 21:18-20; John 15: 1-11). Certainly the people of the Bible viewed infertility as a curse. We should bear the same burden as Rachel when she pleaded with God, “Give me children or else I die”.
One of the growth-inhibiting diseases identified in Churches has been given the tag ‘St John’s Syndrome’ and describes a Church in transition from first-generation Christians to second-and third-generation Christians. It happens when Church goers become Christian in name only, when their faith becomes routine, when Church involvement is going through the motions, and when belonging to a Church is a family tradition. The title ‘St. John’s syndrome’ derives from Revelation 2:4, ‘you have left your first love.’ It describes a Church that was guilty of leaving its first generation commitment to Christ. Because the apostle John wrote The Revelation, early Church leaders ascribed the principle to his name. Because internal growth is foundational to fruitfulness, a Church that has ‘left its first love’ will soon cease experiencing growth.
Below are some of the tell-tale behaviours that are identifiable in the change process.
‘St John’s Syndrome’ is difficult to deal with especially if a Church is into the latter part of the second generation or the third generation. The best approach to ‘St John’s Syndrome’ is preventive rather than therapeutic. It is much easier to avoid it than cure it. Getting over it usually requires a complete blood transfusion which is in itself is probably not a cure as much as helping the existing Church goers to die with dignity.
Because it is a disease of the second generation it can be prevented by making sure that there is a steady stream of first generations Christians in the church. Biological growth alone tends to produce more of the same. Transfer growth may or may not be helpful, but new first generation Christians will keep the Church healthy, vital and growing.
Colin Noyes is the Director of ResourceZone International. He has thirty-five years of ministry experience as a pastor, college lecturer and consultant/coach to consultants, denominational leaders and local church pastors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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