by Ray Baumann

There is a growing epidemic of overweight churches in America. Week after week churchgoers attend services in giant buildings that attract and entertain people from all walks of life, but the church has not given any consideration as to the real reason people are showing up. Many people see a problem but are afraid to address the issue. What really needs to be addressed is dealing with what caused it to become this way in the first place. Which requires a shift in our focus from church growth to church health.

When churches continue to evolve into entertainment venues preaching a self-centered gospel they become lazy and overweight. They sit in the recliner of contentment and continue to stuff their faces with man-centered theology. They grow bigger and bigger and become ineffective in what they are called to do. Being overweight is not healthy, yet it’s really easy to get there. These churches are not spiritually active and they overindulge in whatever your taste buds desire, with no regard for nutritional (spiritual) value. This is very easy and it is the reason why the majority of American churches have a serious weight problem – it takes no effort or discipline to get there.

I have never heard a pastor say, “Our church went from 1200 to 900 in six months, praise the Lord! We plan to keep off the weight.” Testimonies of how preaching the gospel diminished a congregation but resulted in a happier and healthier church are hard to find. Most churches don’t see any problem with the weight: churches are ignorant to the fact that including unbelievers into the fellowship causes serious health problems for the body.

No one has ever come up with a weight loss plan for our grossly out of shape churches. Our problem has always been that we have glorified size over health, but we have never questioned the health of these oversized churches. We assume that being big is the same as being healthy. Here are a few tips for slimming down the church to the true body of Christ. I will outline a spiritual fitness program that will shed all of the dead weight in less than six months. However, as with any training and fitness program always remember, “no pain, no gain.”

Let’s start with nutrition. A pastor has a vital role in feeding the flock with the Word of God and the best way to do that is by preaching expository sermons – a verse by verse study of the Word. There is power in the Word of God, not our self-help sermons on money, relationships and success – these need to be cut from your diet. In Titus 2:1, Paul instructs Titus to, “teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.” In this strict diet regimen the junk food should be eliminated. Secondly, end every service with a great proclamation for the need for repentance and stress the wrath that is to come for those who choose not to believe as if Christ should return this very week.

Once you’re eating right it’s time to shed the entertainment weight by first pulling the plug on your worship service. No, really, go unplugged without lights and sound and see who sticks around when your worship time has no worldly or emotional appeal, without giving American Idol wannabes the opportunity to show off. There is a lot of weight hanging around that is there to be entertained and to entertain. Next, cut out the giant productions so that those who are just connected because of performances will fizzle out. This will expose the people who attend for the wrong reason.

Now that the focus is on the Word of God and the entertainment lights have been dimmed, for those who are left it is now time to equip and train them. I know this is not a new idea but for getting a church in shape it has guaranteed biblical results. Start holding people accountable for how they conduct business, their relationships, and their families. Let the Elders lead and follow Matthew 18 to the last letter.

Your building may not fit the same as before and these first steps will shed some of that make believer weight. But be warned. With any new diet or exercise plan it takes discipline and there will be many temptations to back away from the plan; it definitely has a cost.

Now that the weight has been removed it is time to rejoice and focus on toning up this body and start running this race. Start with focusing on discipleship as your main objective. If you want to lose the weight and keep it off you must focus on our main biblical objective as a church, which is to train believers.

Continue to guide your church body in their calling to go into the world and preach the gospel. Being active is a key part to a believer’s life. That idea of just bringing people to church and calling that evangelism is no longer an option. Highlight the times for corporate prayer more than the next potluck. As the church takes a new biblical shape you will soon realize the great advantage of being healthy.

This is by no means an exhaustive list; rather, it tackles the main issues confronting the church’s overweight condition, which has been entertaining false converts. Most pastors don’t have what it takes to slim down an overweight church. It is pure resistance training.

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