As I stood to preach from Mark 6:7-13 a couple weeks ago, I shared with our church family some sobering statistics concerning the health of the church in the United States.
Consider the following from LifeWay Research:
- Over the next seven years, 55,000 churches will close their doors.
- Only 20 percent of churches in the United States are growing.
- Only 1 percent are growing by making disciples of Jesus Christ.
No matter how you slice it, the church in the United States is losing ground. It’s easy to cast blame on the broader culture, but if the church is to reverse these trends it must first examine itself.
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Generations of Christians have assumed that if they remained faithful to come to church, give their tithes and offerings, sit under faithful gospel-preaching, etc., the church could never fail. After all, Jesus said so right there in Matthew 16! The above statistics prove otherwise. Many of those 55,000 churches have been faithful to preach and teach the gospel within the walls of the church edifice. So why are so many “faithful” churches failing?
It could be that we have misunderstood the imagery of Matthew 16. When Jesus speaks of a “gate,” he is drawing imagery from the ancient world, in which city gates were the most strategic defensive weapons of a city. City gates were designed to keep invading armies out, and to keep the people inside secure. When Jesus says, “the gates of hell shall not prevail,” he is suggesting the church is like an army on the offensive, and its primary mission is overrunning the kingdom of hell.
This reminds us of an important principle of mission: our mission lies far beyond the walls of our church buildings. We can’t set the captives of hell free by playing it safe in our own sanctuaries. We must invade enemy territory to transfer people from the domain of Satan into the kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13). When the church lives for this purpose nothing can stop it, not even the gates of hell.
We see the seeds of this principle in Mark 6:7-13, where Jesus sends his disciples out on their first mission endeavor. He’s trained them and equipped them, and now they are ready to invade enemy territory. As the disciples went, Jesus “authorized” their mission. Note specifically that he gave them authority to exorcise demons—to overrun the gates of hell (Mark 6:7)! He also instructed them to go with the bare necessitates, trusting God to provide. In the same way, Jesus has authorized us to “go” (Matt. 28:18-19). As we are faithful to go, I believe we can trust God to provide all we need.
One of my goals for Main Street is that we would be obedient to “go” beyond the walls of our church. I am pleased to see the church respond well, as just this week we made an important staff change to implement a renewed missions emphasis. Daniel McNeil, our previous youth director, has agreed to transition to Director of Missions, Outreach, and Discipleship. I am looking forward to working with Daniel as we begin to form a strategic focus on missions for Main Street. Please pray for us as we seek to go. Pray that our people would be eager to go. Pray that we will trust God to provide our needs. Pray most of all that the result would be an abundance of gospel fruit, leading to the glory and praise of our wonderful Savior, Jesus Christ.