“The Church Doctor will see you now.”
“Tell me,” the doctor said, “What seems to be ailing you?”
The church shared her symptoms. Lethargy. Uncontrollable membership loss. And an unmistakeable rumbly in her tumbly.
“It’s most likely one of three common contagious church viruses.”
Self-Interitis affects virtually all declining churches.
Symptoms: Inability to make changes that would benefit or appeal to community people groups other than those represented by the existing membership. Poor hospitality practices that ensure visitors rarely return. Escalating and unresolved conflict between individuals, groups, and/or factions that insist the church “honor” their wishes, desires, and personal preferences, even when to do so means that the church would abandon its mission or vision.
Diagnosis: The most common symptom can be found in the phrases “But what about me?” or “us?” These words are almost uttered in the face of some change that’s being proposed in order to reach a younger or more robust community people group. These sentiments are thinly-veiled masks trying to hide well-entrenched members who oppose any change that would disturb the status quo, disturb their comfort, or challenge their personal power. Whenever a church’s focus is on itself rather than being focused on doing whatever it takes to make disciples of those outside the kingdeom, Self-Interitis is at hand. Ultimately, Self-Interitis is always present when members or leaders put their own interests (or the interests of others) above the good of the Church – and the good of the church is always about making more disciples of Jesus Christ.
Prognosis: Unfortunately, Self-Interitis is one of the most difficult of the congregational contagions to overcome, let alone to cure. Although self-sacrifice is central to faithful Christianity, it is completely countercultural and the antithesis of our consumerist society. Self-interest and self-gratification is core to our biology, aka “the flesh,” and giving up our personal preferences, interests, desires, and needs for the sake of others, including for the sake of the church, is at best difficult and seems virtually impossible for many of our own faithful church members. Once Self-Interitis has taken root in a congregation, it is almost certain that the church will experience significant decline that ultimately leads to the demise of the congregation. Indeed, virtually every church in the US that has closed, has shut its doors because it has contracted and been unable to effect a cure from this debilitating disease – that’s 41 churches each day that disbands every single day.
Treatment: I’d like to say that good preaching, teaching, and discipleship will prevail over Self-Interitis, but sadly none of that is enough to overcome this malady. Once this disease has become prominent in the church, there is generally very little that can be done to reverse the damage. However, if treated at the earliest symptoms, Self-Interitis may be contained. Treatment methods include maintaining an outward focus by the church’s leadership, even when it means raising or enduring the ire of those who bully or threaten the church. Indeed, the only viable treatment is for the majority to stand strong against those who would curtail outside focus in order to maintain their personal preferences. Sometimes this means removing infected leaders from their leadership positions in order to isolate them and keep them from infecting others. Ultimately, the only sure cure from Self-Interitis is an infusion of the Holy Spirit followed by a contrite spirit, confession, repentance, and a new birth.
Prevention/Inoculation: To prevent Self-Interitis, the church’s leadership must maintain the church’s focus on reaching pre-Christians and helping them become fully committed disciples of Jesus Christ. Embracing the biblical mission for the church of making disciples is a necessary first step, followed by a compelling vision for disciple-making will begin the inoculation process. However, since according to the Nehemiah principle vision is lost every 26 days or so [see Blurry Vision, Bleak Future], it is critical that the leadership focus all of its efforts in communicating, modeling, and achieving that vision. And whenever symptoms of Self-Interitis appear, and they will, immediate and decisive treatment is required.
And there you have it. The three most common and contagious church viruses. Effective leaders keep their congregation’s inoculated, are familiar with and keep their eyes open for symptoms, and step in with a treatment plan whenever symptoms present themselves.
How has your congregation treated Self-Interitis? Share your treatment plans with others in the Comment section below.
See also Part 1 and Part 2