So what is it that causes a majority of church decline? Pastor burnout? or Waning influence in once prominent, or at least, promising congregations?
Bill Hybels calls it “Incrementalism.”
In his book, “ax i om [ak-see-uhm],” he mentions this killer in the chapter entitled, “The Dangers of Incrementalism.” In it he lists some of the common emotions and excitement present with a new church planter and the launch team. Here are a few:
- People pray big prayers
- They give bug dollars
- They donate big time hours
- They believe God is quite capable of doing absolutely anything through them!
But here’s what happens over time—a dose of reality hits them.
Now, who could possibly live in such a dream world as to never expect lean times or problems of any kind? I mean, that’s what many call, “living in a dream world.”
Well, as it turns out, that’s exactly what happened. And the difference many miss is that God gives a vision to his people when He wants something accomplished and not necessarily a dream. A vision and a dream can be the same thing, but for a lot of people, they are worlds apart. For one thing, it’s a very thin line that separates God’s dreams from our own dreams at times. We may think God called us to do something when really—it’s just something we want for ourselves. Also, there’s a big difference between dreaming and daydreaming. Dreaming for God allows for God’s thoughts to His guidance to take the lead.
Daydreaming is just being lazy. Daydreaming is like taking the lottery approach to serving God. This approach sees believers sitting around on their ‘blessed assurance’ waiting for God to part the Red Sea or come walking to them on the water to hand deliver the ‘vision’ on heavenly scrolls. But God’s Word tells us that he desires faith and a partnership. He doesn’t need us, but chooses to allow us to be a part of His awesome plan. He could just do it Himself and it would be a lot less messy. But he partners with us, warts and all.
Be thankful He does, because otherwise you and I wouldn’t be necessary.
So, here’s the danger with daydreaming—even for God. Once the slightest test or difficulty comes your way, you feel betrayed, disillusioned and maybe even a bit mad at God.
So you pull back a bit.
Another trial hits you right between the eyes. You didn’t see that one coming. This time you pull back a little bit more. And so it goes…
Bit by Bit.
A dripping faucit.
Death by Incrementalism.
Maybe the frustration is that giving is down, or there aren’t enough volunteers, or staff don’t seem motivated, or there are little factions within. It can be any number of things, but the natural reaction after you are hit with a few healthy doses of reality is to pull back a bit and come at it a little softer next time.
- a little less aggressive
- with a little less faith
- a little less trust
And in doing so, most have no idea the magnitude of what they’ve done. They’ve just started the death clock a tickin. Now they have introduced the real danger of death by incrementalism and chances are they will never even notice until it is too late. The death of the ministry and the church is on course for an early funeral. It won’t happen all at once—almost never does. No, this killer is one that gets you…
Bit by Bit.