Too many sick and dying churches in the country are in denial over their dire situations, a nationally renowned speaker, author and evangelist told a recent Baton Rouge seminar.

“Most churches are moving toward death because they refuse to acknowledge their condition. Stop living in denial,” said the Rev. Manuel Scott Jr., of Los Angeles.

Scott led a workshop titled “How to Keep the Church From Dying” at Greater Morning Star Baptist Church. The lecture was part of the two-day Pastors Please Stop It Summit sponsored by the Fourth District Baptist Association Pastors’ Division.

Churches have taken the focus off of Christ, Scott said.

“We try to do it our way instead of God’s way, and that’s where congregations mess up and they begin to die,” said Scott, a graduate of UCLA and Princeton Theological Seminary.

The summit was a small-scale version of an expository preaching conference held the past two years at Mount Zion First Baptist Church.

“This is a spin-off of that to bring a smaller group of people to discuss issues in our churches that we need to wrestle with, that we need to work on and be taught about,” said the Rev. René Brown, pastor of Mount Zion and head of the Pastors’ Division.

The issue of sick and dying churches is a passionate one for Scott, who said churches have gotten too comfortable and refuse to move forward.

“So many churches die because so many members suffer from a paralysis of nostalgia, whereby they romanticize the past so much that they become angrily resistance to any change whatsoever,” he said.

Scott kept the audience’s attention with his humor but also offered some sobering statistics about the fate of the church. Scott centered part of his lecture on the Thom Rainier book “Autopsy of a Deceased Church,” in which Rainier researched and found that as many 100,000 churches in America are showing signs of decline toward death; sick churches comprise 40 percent (about 150,000) of U.S. congregations; and 10 percent of the churches are dying.

“Whenever you hear about an autopsy being performed, you know that something has died. That’s not the paramedics coming for something; that’s the coroner’s wagon,” he said.

Scott addressed several reasons for the churches’ decline, including forgetting and disobeying the Great Commission to spread the Gospel and make disciples.

“We are commanded and commissioned to go,” he said.

In addition to the Great Commission, Scott pointed to some key actions members can do to keep their church from dying.

The first was being supportive of all church activities.

“What this means is you cannot be prejudiced to what group in the church you decide to support,” he said. “If you want your church to grow, you have to support all of the church’s activities, all the groups, all the auxiliaries, all the boards as much as possible.”

He then added, “Those of you who are retired, you can support everything.”

That support also should be financial.

“God loves a cheerful giver, and when you make God happy, he will prosper your church,” he said.

Scott placed church members in two categories: tithers and robbers.

“When believers connect to a church and do not tithe, they are robbing God in his presence,” he said. “If you want your church to grow, to become healthy, you become a tither. … This is God’s way of financing the church. You can’t give your offering first legitimately until you’ve paid your tithe.”

Another way to stop the church from dying, Scott said, is positive talk.

“We have to learn to speak positively and be positive about our congregation and about our pastor — intentionally and consistently,” he said.

Scott directed listeners to Proverbs 18:21, which reads, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

“When you speak life, you speak positively. When you speak death, you speak negatively,” he said.

Scott said it is important for members to compliment and speak positively about and to each other.

“(The church) ought to be a complimenting institution,” he said. “Most of us have been beaten up by the world Monday through Saturday. We need to hear a good word, a strong word, a complimentary word.”

Encourage the pastor, Scott said, by complimenting his sermons when they are inspiring and helpful and by praying for him.

“You can’t pray for the pastor and fight the pastor at the same time. He needs prayer,” Scott said.

Attendance also encourages the pastor. “It always did my heart good, when I was a pastor, to come to church and see the church packed. It let me know I was doing something right,” Scott said.

“That’s what’s troubling to me. … If you’re not there, you’re not supporting,” Brown said. “You’re saying you’re a member and you don’t even come but once a month.”

The Pastors Please Stop It Summit was a great opportunity for church leaders to receive sound teaching about issues important to the church, such as morality, Brown said.

“What I’ve learned from pastors and parishioners is that there is so much that’s happening that we need to stop in our churches,” said Brown, who has headed the Pastors’ Division for five years. “Saying one thing and doing another, we got to stop that.”

There have been many learning opportunities in the Fourth District and more are expected, Brown said.

“Teaching is not the emphasized,” he said. “We seem to not be as interested as we are in preaching,” he said.

Small groups study ‘mixed’

High participation in small church groups helps get church members to work in the community, but it also has a down side, according to a study co-authored by an LSU professor and recently released in the journal Social Science Research.

The study, “Small Groups, Contexts, and Civic Engagement: A Multilevel Analysis of United States Congregational Life Survey data,” found that small-group participants in a congregation are more likely to be civically engaged than their fellow worshipers — unless a church has high overall small-group participation.

“It’s a mixed bag,” said LSU professor Sam Stroope, who led the study with Clemson professor Andrew Whitehead.

“Our finding regarding small groups is true whether you’re talking about a small congregation or a large congregation,” Stroope said.

Whitehead and Stroope’s research analyzed data from more than 83,000 people affiliated with about 400 congregations in the U.S. It found small-group participants active in prayer, discussion or Bible study groups are far more likely to be engaged in civic service activities, volunteering, financial giving and advocacy than their fellow members. In churches with high levels of group participation, the members are nearly two times less likely to donate money to charities other than the church.

“Our research found participants in small groups within a congregation where few other fellow congregants were involved in a small group were about 60 percent more likely to be involved in congregational civic activities and 33 percent more likely to be involved in social service activities compared to nonsmall-group participants in that same congregation,” Whitehead said. “Essentially, the beneficial effect of being in a small group for congregants’ civic engagement is diminished in congregations where most of the other worshipers are involved in a small group.”

Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or by email to trobinson@theadvocate.com.