Brian Croft

  • 5 Times When a Declining Church is Actually Healthier

    I am amazed at how much material has been released recently about church revitalization. I just heard a statistic that 80% of churches in America have either plateaued or are in decline. I am grateful for the efforts of those who seek to bring life to these struggling churches. I am one of them. Yet I have a growing concern the more I learn about many of the materials out there addressing this problem. If we are going to characterize local churches as “declining,” then we are basing a church’s health on how many people attend.

    How many people now attend a church versus ten years ago and why does give us some helpful insight into why a church is struggling, but that does not always tell the full story. This way of evaluation can also be an unnecessary source of discouragement to a pastor. The more I hear the push to overcome the “plateau or decline,” the more I begin to think of scenarios where a church’s decline in numbers is not necessarily a sign of trouble, but may be even a sign of health. There are many, but here are 5 reasons that came to my mind, several of which I even experienced in my own church:

    1)  Unconverted people leave because the gospel is being preached

    If there are many unconverted members in local churches (I believe there are), they will not want to hear a new pastor come in and replace the typical feel good, better yourself message from the pulpit with the true gospel of Jesus Christ that is the only source to bring true spiritual life to a dying church. Unconverted church members will either leave or stay and cause problems, especially if they are in leadership. Preaching the gospel is the right thing to do and is the only thing that can give life to a church. No pastor should ever be discouraged if he loses people over declaring the gospel.

    2)  Church members pass away and go to be with Christ

    We had a year where we lost several dear elderly saints, and the amount of those who died was more than the new members we brought in that year. A pastor should celebrate faithfully taking sweet saints of Christ to their eternal home and not fret about “replacing them” all at the same time.

    3)  Pastors and missionaries are tested, trained, affirmed, and sent out into the ministry

    That same year we experienced a decline in numbers not only because of the amount of deaths, but because we sent two families out into the ministry that we had invested in and trained to do so. I can remember someone coming to me concerned about the sliding numbers, and I replied, “Really, in God’s eyes this may have been our most fruitful year.” That was received well, and we were both encouraged in the reason for our declining numbers and struggling finances that year, both of which were recovered the following year.

    4)  An intentional process to take in new members is established

    Raising the standard for membership and protecting the front door a bit might cause you to have fewer members join the church in the beginning, but God is honored in pastors making sure believers in Jesus Christ are the only ones that become members of the church, even if the church numbers do not boom like you hoped. Membership meaning something has actually been the eventual cause of numeric growth for us, not the other way around.

    5)  A new pastor takes a long-time declining church

    If you take a church as I did with decades of decline, it is a challenge to change that pattern. It takes time, even years. I talk to so many young pastors who, inside of two years, are discouraged because they have not be able to change the patterns that brought much of the decline. Remember what you have inherited, and if it took 30 years of decline to get your church where you find it today, it might take 30 years to change the pattern. But God’s gospel and word are powerful enough to do just that over time.

    Therefore, dear brothers and fellow pastors, press on. You may be the cause of the decline, and if that is the case, you need to take a good hard look at yourself before God and ask for those blind spots to be revealed.  However, in many cases, imperfect pastors, especially those new to their congregations, are still bearing too much of the responsibility of the decline. Sometimes God takes us through ups and downs, and there is so much more to evaluate on a church’s health than whether your numbers are “higher” this year than last. Decline can reveal many problems, but it can also be a source of encouragement to a pastor.

    Pastors, preach the word, love those people, stay a while, and may God give you grace to determine what your “decline” should say.

    Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

  • How Does a Pastor "Pick His Battles"?

    Pastors who walk into existing churches are quickly burdened by needed changes to improve the church. Where the challenge is for most of us is when and how those changes need to be brought. If you are wondering how to choose those battles wisely, first receive this most excellent counsel I received as I entered my first Senior Pastor position at a church clearly needing change and revitalization, “Preach the Word, sacrifically love those people, and do not change anything for a while.”

    Now, having shared this invaluable counsel that should be applied first, here are 3 questions to ask yourself as you move to bring the change that is needed and how to do so with discernment and wisdom:

    1) Is it biblical or preference? Whatever you wish to change, make sure you have a strong biblical argument to do so. If you desire to change the structure of your church to a plurality of elders/pastors, or raise the commitment of all church members to gather regularly on Sundays together (Hebrews 10:25), those are appropriate biblical changes that should be pursued. If you want to change which translation of the Bible to preach, the style of music, or remove the giant picture of a white, American, Jesus in your lobby, those do not possess as clear a biblical argument. Whether it is biblical or a preference matters in how you bring change, and in many cases whether you should change it at all.

    2) Is it the right time? Just because a biblical argument can be made for the change, does not mean it is the right time to make the change. So many young pastors walk into an existing church, make quick, needed changes because “it’s in the Bible” and think nothing of shepherding a congregation through those changes. Then they wonder why eighteen months into their pastorate, half the church remains and there is a general lack of trust and suspicion towards the pastor. That’s because the new pastor was too busy figuring out what “had to change” instead of first loving and shepherding that congregation so they would later be receptive of the change.

    3) Is it worth the possible consequences? Determine if the change can be taught as biblical, consider if the timing is right, then a pastor must weigh whether the consequences deem it wise and worth the risk. For example, I would not split the church over a plurality of elders/pastors, or purging an inflated membership role in the first few years at a church. Those are changes that can come later with good teaching and patience. However, I would risk being fired over confronting a deacon found in open adultery, or an attack on the deity of Christ, whether the church was ready for it or not. Choosing the right battles wisely involves whether you are willing to face the potential consequences of your decision as well as stand before God with a clear conscience.

    This is a general template to follow as you determine the changes you desire to make and how they should be chosen and done. Whatever you do, choose battles wisely as if you will be at that church ten years or more. That will give you a different perspective and will help you be patient.

    Oh, and one more thing. Listen to you wife. My wife kept me from getting fired a few times by her wise cautions about a few different things I was about to change. Your wife is your helpmate and will be a particular help to keep you from doing something you might regret. Listen to her.

  • What Are 5 Reasons Christians Do Not Visit the Sick and Dying?

    One of the most important tasks in a pastor’s ministry is one of the most neglected: Going to hospitals to care for the sick and dying. It has practically become a lost art in the younger generations of pastors. Why is this? Here are 5 of the most common reasons Christians do not go to hospitals and visit the sick and dying.

    Christians neglect it as a priority. All of us are busy. Busyness can be the excuse to get out of just about anything. Make sure busyness is not the reason you are failing to care for your people. Make it a priority.

    Christians dismiss it as our responsibility. Visiting the sick is the pastor’s responsibility; no, it’s the deacon’s responsibility; it’s both their responsibility; I have even heard pastors say it is the church member’s responsibility to care for the physically infirmed. It is the responsibility of the “body of Christ” to care for those physically suffering. Do not allow yourself to put the responsibility upon others.    

    Christians fail to see the value in it. We question the value because we do not know if it will be fruitful. Will they be there? Will they be coherent to talk? Will they be gone from the room having tests run? We question its value and that makes us neglect it. We fail to see the value; when in actuality, it may be one of the most fruitful ways to serve Christ’s church.

    Christians forget it is biblically commanded. It is not love one another, or preach the word, but Christ and the apostles commanded that we care for one another, specifically those who are sick (Matt. 25; James 5).   

    Christians avoid it because of fear. We can fear many things when it comes to going to see someone sick, suffering, and hurting. We may fear getting sick ourselves. We may fear facing the reality of sickness and the possibility of death. We often fear not knowing what to say or do. Although all these are issues to be prepared to face, they are not reasons to neglect obedience to Christ’s command to serve Him while caring for your brothers and sisters who are sick and dying (Matt. 25).

    The best way to overcome fear is to be equipped and prepared for whatever you might face in visiting the sick in hospitals, rehab centers, nursing homes, and even their own homes. The practical tools to be equipped for this task is the purpose of this book. Examine your heart and your daily schedule to make sure you are not hiding behind these excuses and ultimately neglecting Christ’s clear command to care for His people in these moments of greatest need.

    Pastors, it is not just your responsibility to set the example for your people in this area, but a hospital is where some of our most significant ministry takes place. Go and find out.

    Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

  • When All Else Fails, Pray This

    When all else fails… pray the gospel. One morning, I was called by a nurse at a local hospital requesting my immediate presence. The non-Christian spouse of one of our members was moments away from dying. I had no idea what awaited me when I arrived. I walked into a room full of family with this heartbroken husband motioning me over to his wife’s bed. He was also suffering from some medical problems that resulted in a tracheotomy preventing him from speaking.

    However, it did not take me long to see why I had been summoned. He was asking me to pray over his wife as the doctor removed the ventilator. Twenty minutes ago, I had been in my office neck deep in my studies. Now, I found myself being asked to pray a final prayer over a dying, non-Christian woman in front of her husband and fifteen to twenty non-Christian family members hanging onto some miracle with my prayer. I literally had a few seconds to decide what to do and how to pray.

    I decided to pray the gospel for this dying woman, her husband, and this room full of non-Christian family. I did not pray for God to spare her. I did not pray that God would heal her. I did not pray some manipulating request that God would receive her (which is what I think they expected me to pray). I prayed that the gospel was her only hope in such a way that God could let every person in that room know it was their only hope also. Praying the gospel does not have to be complicated, just simple and faithful.

    God taught me an invaluable lesson that day in the hospital room that has had a profound impact on me and my ministry:

    When the gospel is prayed, the gospel is heard.

    When I prayed the gospel in the room that day, it was for this dying woman moments from facing judgment, her Christian husband, and her lost family members to hear. If we truly believe that faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17), we should never leave a hospital room, nursing home, rehabilitation center, or home of a sick person (or healthy person for that matter) without praying the hope of God in Christ.

    When you visit, it is ideal in the midst of attempting spiritual conversation to speak about God’s righteousness, man’s sinfulness, and Christ’s dying on the cross in our place for our sins. However, many circumstances can make that difficult. But nothing prevents us from praying the gospel. It is God alone through his Holy Spirit who transforms the darkest heart. Whether through prayer or proclamation, we should see every visit as a divine appointment to make the saving power of the gospel known.

    Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.

  • About Brian Croft

    Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  He is the husband of Cara and adoring father of four children, son, Samuel and daughters, Abby, Isabelle, and Claire.  He has served in pastoral ministry for over fifteen years and is currently in his eighth year as Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church.  He was educated at both Belmont University and Indiana University receiving his B.A. in Sociology.  He also undertook some graduate work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

    He is also the author of Visit the sick: Ministering God’s grace in times of illness (foreword by Mark Dever) and Test, train, affirm, and send into Ministry: Recovering the local church’s responsibility to the external call (foreword by R. Albert Mohler Jr.). Both of these volumes are published by Day One in their pastoral series designed to serve pastors, church leaders, and those training for local church ministry.  Brian has also published Help! He’s Struggling with Pornography and Conduct Gospel-centered Funerals (co-written with Phil Newton).

    A Faith That Endures: Meditations on Hebrews 11 is Brian’s newest book, released in fall of 2011. His next book on The Pastor’s Family, co-authored with his wife, is due to be released by Zondervan in Fall 2013.

    Brian is also a guest blogger at both The Gospel Coalition and 9 Marks.

    To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.