T

hree decades ago I began to write about fatherless families. Seeing all the AWOL men caused me to ask, “Where have all the fathers gone?”  A decade or so ago, we studied and began to teach about women in the ministry. We saw prejudice in churches, and researched biblical roles. We found restrictions to be outdated.

But it is still quite common for women to be excluded from leadership in church for all the wrong reasons. This is being done by sincere but untaught, Bible-loving elders, who are all men.

That’s my introduction. Now I’m adding some alarming news, a breath-taking, undeniable, across-the-board, huge, observable pause that has taken hold in the churches of America. The pause I’m pointing out is in the reproductive cycle. It has ceased to function! It’s like we all had a hysterectomy. With few exceptions, the church of Jesus Christ in America has quit giving birth by the Spirit. It seems to me that the modern church has entered menopause – and it isn’t due to aging members!

In a few churches, new members are coming, if you count the increase from transfers. That’s when people move into your area for work, or when believers are unhappy and change churches to join yours. Another kind of growth occurs due to demographics. The members are at their parenting stage, so lots of kids need to be catechized or baptized. 

But are either of these a result of healthy evangelism? No, they are not. Don’t kid yourself. Too many churches accept these things as substitutes and never ask deeper questions.

Look at transfer growth. If “Church A” gains a new member because someone moved in, then “Church B” has lost a member. The net gain to the kingdom of God is zero. Any increase being applauded at “Church A” is an illusion, albeit a gratifying one to them.

Looking around, very few people are coming to church as a result of evangelism or conversion. That’s the kind of increase achieved by new births, by the spontaneous sharing of Christ by a healthy body, the increase that should be normal in Christian fellowships. 

Among the saints, reproduction is rare. I didn’t say the attempt or the effort was rare, I said reproduction is rare. There’s a lot of activity as we strive to gain market share, re-gather our dropouts, invite folks from other churches, promote special events, hire staff, raise funds, build facilities, or persuade people to be faithful in attendance. That activity serves its purpose but it isn’t evangelism. 

Evangelism is like being pregnant. This happens naturally, by love, unless you prevent it. We reproduce so there are more of us afterwards than before. It’s measurable growth, an increase to God’s family. It’s fruit that glorifies God. 

Can menopause be cured? In humans, it is natural, inevitable. You don’t cure it; you might bring it on early, or delay it. But it’s normal in the life cycle of females. 

Whatever your church - evangelical, liturgical, Pentecostal, non-denominational - try this. Go count the babies in the nursery, add the baptisms of children of members, add any transfers, then subtract the total from your church increase. Then ask yourself this question, “Who sterilized the members of my church?”  I won’t tell you the answer, but go look in the mirror. 

The menstrual cycle of the church can’t be turned on artificially. It needs a miracle. Is it possible to prevent barrenness from spreading to the remnant of faith communities, those still viable with God’s life? Maybe, but it’s doubtful. 

If a church sidelines the only members who can gestate or nurse babies; if a church raises all of its kids with all-male parents; if a church excludes women from leading in vital roles; well, that church won’t reproduce much anymore… unless virgin births become a lot more common!

 

Ron and Lana live in NW Arkansas where they have 2 adult children and 6 grandchildren. Ron is a pastor, teacher and writer. Visit their website at www.touchedbygrace.org. Email wood.stone.ron@gmail.com.

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