Home > Commentary, Deaf Ministry > “My Deaf Church Is Dying!” Part 2

“My Deaf Church Is Dying!” Part 2

In my previous post on this topic, I began to examine the “numbers are important” fallacy in describing the health of a church. Let me recap what brought this about.

Recently I talked with one of my church members (hereafter CM for “church member”) about a group discussion in which CM took part. CM was telling me about an issue they were discussing, in which apparently “church growth factors” or some such nonsense was being discussed.

Long story short, once it was disclosed to the group that our church (Louisville Baptist Deaf Church) has a membership of about 35, with an average attendance of 25, CM was in no uncertain terms immediately told by CM’s peers (all of whom were hearing), “Your church is dying! It may already be dead!”

Needless to say, CM was upset by such an assertion. This was, quite honestly, an assertion made from ignorance. Moreover, this assertion assumed that numbers is a valid judge of the “health” of a church.

In my first post, I began deconstructing this assertion by showing that those who made the assertion failed to understand the unique ministry setting of the church. They failed to understand that Deaf churches tend to be small groups of less than 50, with the average Deaf church having at least 15-25 members. Very few Deaf churches have memberships greater than 30-50. Larger than this, you have a “Deaf megachurch.”

Today, let us continue by examining a second mistake made in this discussion.

Second, CM’s peers failed to consider the spiritual health of the church. This is the more dangerous failure of the two, even though it is difficult if not impossible to assess the spiritual health of the church without first understanding the unique setting of the church. But even having done this, you cannot determine the health of a church by the number of people in membership or attending.

In other words, numbers are not an accurate gauge of the health of a church. Numbers mean absolutely nothing. Even though the verse is usually applied to church discipline, Matthew 18:20 promises believers that “wherever two or more are together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” A church could consist of no more than two and still be healthy. In fact, some church plants begin with little more than two people! No, health must be measured by means other than numerical.

In our church, the Word is preached forcefully, the Gospel is proclaimed shamelessly, Scripture is exegeted and applied carefully and expectantly. Our people are hungry to understand Scripture. Our people want to know and understand the Bible. To my knowledge, all of our members currently “on the roll” are believers. And that is a lot more than can be said for many hearing Southern Baptist churches.

Are we a healthy church? By no means, if by that you mean a church bucking the current (hearing) denominational trends. But comparative to those denominational trends, we are healthier than many of the hearing churches with 300+ members, including mega churches! Comparative to Deaf ministry trends, we are healthier than the vast majority of Deaf ministries.

That said, we still have a ways to go before our bill of health is “clean.” Like many of our hearing counterparts, our church does not evangelize. Many of our members seem to believe “that’s the pastor’s job.” Yet our members are enthusiastic and supportive of missions. They do not understand that missions and evangelism are synonymous; that is, they are one and the same. Our church does not make a habit of working out their salvation (Philippians 2:12). Discipleship to many of them is nothing more than Bible study, Bible study, and more Bible study. Some have been taught all their lives that “real Christianity” consists of going to church on Sundays and Wednesdays, praying when you need to, and studying your Bible. Changing their lives, Christian service, and other evidences of faith are strange to many of them. Our church does not make a habit of prayer. That is either “the pastor’s job” or it is “boring.” The only times many of them pray is when there are sicknesses or needs. Again, many of them have been taught this all their lives.

But a church of regenerate members hungry for Scripture can be transformed. In fact, I believe such a church is actively being transformed by the Holy Spirit. Can we say the same of a church of mostly regenerate members or a church half-full or less-than-half full of regenerate members with little or no desire for Scripture? In my less-than-enlightened opinion (because not only am I a fallible man, but Deaf on top of it), there is no way that is possible outside of a work of God. A true revival is necessary for such a church.

All this is to say that a church, especially a Deaf church, cannot be considered “healthy” unless, at the very minimum, all of its members are regenerate. Numbers do not equate saved church members or saved attenders. A church will not grow when its members are lost. A church will only grow when its members are saved and seeking Scripture. Beyond that, a church can only grow when that saved, Scripture-hungry church begins to be transformed by what it is learning. They will be pleased with the church because they have learned to please God and be pleased with Him.

But if you try to grow a church numerically, you will not really have saved, Scripture-hungry, transformed (and transforming) people in your church. You will have a crowd that looks like it showed up for a Saturday college football game — only happy and content so long as you are pleasing them.

Categories: Commentary, Deaf Ministry
  1. Steve D
    April 25, 2007 at 7:49 am

    Smiling about the college football crowd, happy and content. That is a good point. The health of a church or ministry is by their spiritual hunger and maturity, not the physical bodies that show up. Gives me something to whack our people in the head to think about.

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