Checking the Pulse of Dying Assemblies

The elephant in the modern North American Assemblies’ living room, is that the assemblies are dying out. Fellowship after fellowship have closed their doors during the last decade. To say nothing of the assemblies that are on life support, populated only with saints who are 60 or older.

There are no young people, no young families. If something doesn’t change in those assemblies, they will literally die out within the next 10-20 years.

If you were to survey those still in these assemblies, they would cite the slippery slope of music plus not making Christ the priority (i.e., not valuing the Lord’s Supper) as the reasons people leave assemblies.

Why the exodus?

But, if you were to ask those who have left, why they left the assemblies, you’d hear that it is lack of leadership, lack of good teaching, and lack of community.

We can pat ourselves on the back, reminding each other that we are the believing, faithful remnant. It’s the last days, cold hearts, apostates and all that…

Or we can examine our hearts and practices, honestly evaluating what we are doing wrong. Because if it truly was working right, people would be flocking to our gatherings. The early church thrived. The numbers mentioned in Acts are thousands, not tens.

The secret

What if we could be faithful and thriving?

There is a handful of assemblies that are vibrant and growing, with all the generations represented in their numbers. They are faithful to Scripture, and it is obvious that they are “doing something right”.

What is their secret? What are they doing that the majority of assemblies aren’t?

They are loving. Verb, not adjective.

That’s the difference.

1 Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:1-8a ESV)

Fueled by love

This passage clearly highlights that it is not enough to have the right doctrine, traditions or practices. These things must be fueled by love.

I am not proposing that all we need is love (that would put the church on the same plain as a social club). But, church practice without love is ritual. Rebuke without love is an attack. Acts of service without love is machinery. Teaching without love is a harangue. Worship without love is hypocrisy.

The assemblies that are thriving are characterized by love. They love the Lord. They love people. They love the Lord by loving people.

Thriving assemblies

  1. Thriving assemblies have shepherd/elders that love their sheep. They know their sheep-gifts, personalities, spiritual state, and day to day lives and concerns. They pray for the sheep and correct them as necessary. They make sure the sheep are being fed through good teaching. They protect the sheep from false doctrine, and from men and women who are seeking to harm the flock. The elders are approachable and lead the sheep without harassing them. They involve every sheep, utilizing gifts, for the benefit of the entire flock.
  2. Thriving assemblies value their children. They show by action that the children are a blessing and not a bother. They realize children are the next generation of the assemblies. They focus on teaching doctrine and New Testament assembly principles-the why’s and the wherefore’s-from Scripture. They make Sunday School a priority, teaching the stories of the Bible, and their truths. They maintain a safe environment for children, and make children welcome.
  3. Thriving assemblies love each other. They enjoy spending time together, outside of Sunday mornings. They are involved in each other’s day to day lives. They are each other’s friends, community and support network. They are quick to both admit wrong and to forgive. They bear with different personalities and crack down on gossip. They are determined to make relationships work.
  4. Thriving assemblies put others’ preferences before their own. They emphasize Scripture not tradition. They are flexible with music choices, meeting times, formats and other such things, when flexibility is not Scriptural compromise, but simply preference.
  5. Thriving assemblies love unbelievers. They are engaged in deliberate outreach. They realize that morality is not the first concern when dealing with unbelievers, but rather, showing the love of Christ as demonstrated at Calvary. The gospel is the focus. Thriving assemblies love all people, all ages, all races, all social strata, all conditions.

My experience

I’ve seen first hand how this works.

Last summer my 5 year old daughter was diagnosed with eye cancer. Our assembly surrounded us with love. They spontaneously arranged a prayer service for her, laying hands on her and anointing her with oil. They gave meals, flowers, and monetary gifts. They cried with us and laughed with us. They loved our family well.

Our assembly has over 60 children ages 16 and below. They enjoy playing 4-square, and they would chalk in the court. Last summer our elders had the parking lot sealed, the lines repainted, and painted a 4-square court in the parking lot. The children at our assembly feel loved.

Our elders recently assembled a hymnbook with new(er) hymns. They are committed to learning and singing these hymns, in addition to the old hymns. Our assembly is loving by appreciating other’s preferences.

For evaluation

Is your assembly thriving or dying? It’s not about perfection, but love. Is your assembly characterized by love or by something else?

They will know we are Christians by our love.

Bernadette Veenstra


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    I truly concur with you. We certainly cannot go on doing things like our grandparents’ days. We too have to evolve, but staying true to the essential doctrines.


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    Sadly to often, there is a rejection of accepting the reality that there is something seriously wrong. I have often heard it said about an assembly of 10 people which has been dwindling for years, “They are faithful”. Sorry but to my mind had they been faithful to the scriptures in its truth not mechanical functioning, etc they would not be in the present situation. There are off course the exceptions as when the whole environment changes, i. e old housing becomes industrial. we might, and it is a big might be doctrinally right but the evidence shows many are conditionally wrong.


    • Bernadette Veenstra

      Bernadette Veenstra

      There are many reasons, some not as serious as others…like neighborhoods changing. But, let’s pray for soft and willing hearts to change what God wants us to change.


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      Numbers do not discern the quality. … Unfortunately in Spain there was a town with ONE known believer an hour and a half away from any other church. He carried on alone happy to have occasional visits from other believers to teach him. For years he carried on this way, until finally one more man became a believer in the town, and they could be recognized as a church. (Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them. …. In another two cities there were 5 women only who were believers. They carried on with breaking of bread and had difficulty finding good teachers to come and help, but they read the Scriptures together and encouraged one another. Would you call them a dying church? The next church was hours away over mountain roads and no one had a car. … In some countries believers have to meet in secret but despite the difficulties they are happy for fellowship despite the few believers. … We need to be careful what we call a dying church. The Lord sees the situation and the people and their needs. Some of these churches may have more attention then the big rich megachurches.


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    Have you checked out VISION MINISTRIES CANADA for what is going on with churches who value their Assembly roots but wish to reach out and adapt to the needs of the world.


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    Dear Sister in Christ,
    Thank you for your candidness. I do feel that there are many things here that “hit the nail on the head”. I do appreciate loving, straight talk.

    I would like to say that I was born and raised in an assembly family. I am the youngest of 5. I am the only one of my siblings that remain. Here is the reason why. At the age of 15 I had so many questions. Why the head covering, why silence for women, why this, why that. I went to the Word and prayed. I wanted answers for myself. I didn’t want to do what others said without seeing it for myself. The Lord graciously and powerfully answered my questions. With certainty and conviction today, at 59, I still say this is where I want to be.

    There have been years when staying was a struggle. When life was hard and we (my sweet husband included) thought that maybe it was time to leave. But, my heart said stay. If we are to learn life lessons from the Lord through this place we had for years called our family, then we could not leave when it was hard. The Lord would often remind me how He loves the church; that we are “the church that is His body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all”. Eph 1:23

    Twenty five years earlier I had been in what seemed to be a dying meeting as a conference visitor, the speaker not as familiar with this meeting as we, spoke on the need to pray for and actively do what was ours to do to keep a meeting alive and functioning well as would please the Lord. I remember well the strength of his words and the tone of his voice as he said, “this is the Lords house and He won’t shut the doors till He’s good and ready!. Be faithful to the end!” Oh how this stirred my heart! I wanted to see this meeting as well as our own, go on and do well for the glory of God. Today, that meeting is still small, yet the Lord has not closed the doors. Many have come and gone there, struggles still happen occasionally but the Lord still uses them, souls are saved, hearts are strengthened and so it goes.

    There are other places I have seen shrinking and then seemingly overnight, there is growth and vibrancy. The Spirit of the Lord is at work where there are praying, devoted saints. They pray and are devoted because they love. They love the Lord, His Word, His principles and His people. But problems and sin will never be absent. There will always be those who leave for something better, those disillusioned with something; things like you mention in your article. This is a sad reality of life. Yes, sometimes there are real faults, real proud and stubborn hearts, seemingly insurmountable problems. But if I cannot call on the Lord to bring healing and change to “His church”, then I cannot trust Him in any situation.

    There are so many “churches” available today. It is much easier, less stressful and painful to walk away, cast blame and never look back except to malign “the assemblies”. Oh how this must grieve the Spirit of God. Christian community, just like family sometimes involves painful growth.

    Listen now, I am not saying that the assemblies are better than other churches. We are not! We are not more loved by God, more “holier than thou” or more doctrinally correct. We have our problems just like other groups. There are hypocrites everywhere! But I am responsible to my Father God to be who He has called me to be and to do what He wants me to do and to learn about Him. If He wants to use this place I call my assembly home to conform me to His image then so be it. I want nothing less!

    May our hearts be more criticle of ourselves and our motives. May we be more gracious and merciful when we look at our brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter where they attend. May we be committed to love, prayer and to each other.

    Thank you for allowing me to say this. It has been on my heart for many a year. May the Lord bless your work and ministry of love for the Savior and His children.



    • Bernadette Veenstra

      Bernadette Veenstra

      I really appreciate this comment. I am one of eight, and only my parents and one sibling are still in the assemblies. My husband and I really looked deeply at what the Bible says a church is when we were looking for a new church a couple years ago. I feel like I could have written your entire comment. Thank you.


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    “But, church practice without love is ritual. Rebuke without love is an attack. Acts of service without love is machinery. Teaching without love is a harangue. Worship without love is hypocrisy.”

    Just wanted to highlight this excellent quote. We should all ask of ourselves and our assemblies whether we are being loving in these areas.


    • Bernadette Veenstra

      Bernadette Veenstra

      Credit where credit is due…my husband and I were talking over the drafts of this article, and we came up with that list together. I have a pretty smart husband. =)


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    Please allow me to bring this article into the proper frame of reference by asking a few simple questions.

    Is God’s Kingdom dying out?
    Is the church universal dying out?
    Is the gospel of Jesus dying out?
    Is the truth of the Bible dying out?
    Is the work of the Holy Spirit dying out?

    For all these questions, the answer is a resounding “NO!” So why the dismay? There are AMAZING THINGS happening in God’s church, today.

    Let’s consider the doomsday scenario: If all the assemblies in the world closed their doors, what would happen?

    Realistically? Nothing. The next Sunday, people would begin looking for a new church to attend. Within a few months, mostly everyone will have found a new church and the body of Christ would continue on like it has for centuries. Fellowship would continue to exist. Love would continue to be shown. The teaching God’s word would continue to go forth. Christians would continue to pray. Like they have for centuries before.

    Please remember, the brethren assemblies didn’t appear until about 1830. The N.T. church has been around since 33 A.D. For 1800 years, the church functioned just fine without the assemblies – and it will continue to do so.

    So if this article makes you jump and say, “We need to do something!” May I ask, “Why?” You’re not saving God’s kingdom, the church universal, the gospel of Jesus, the truth of the Bible, or the work of the Holy Spirit.

    So… what are you saving? And why do you think it’s so important?


    • Bernadette Veenstra

      Bernadette Veenstra

      I would have to say that I agree with your view point, except for the last two paragraphs. My point in writing was not to “save the assemblies” but to spur on to LOVE and good works. God is not pleased when believers are acting in unloving ways. God is not glorified when believers are unloving. Believers are not being changed into the image of Christ, nor are they exhibiting the first fruit of the Spirit-love-, when they are not loving.
      It is God’s church, His kingdom, His work. But, that does not let us off the hook of obeying Scripture in how we are to act.


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    There have been many good suggestions, but I would like to add a few comments
    1.We follow the Bible as our only manual and not what others do.

    2. I worked as a missionary where there were few churches and there was a need to start new churches.

    a. You have a very ineffective approach in the west to building up and multiply churches. I wish I would be allowed to give suggestions, but as a woman I am not allowed to speak even outside of the assemblies, so I continue alone reaching out to Internationals, and most attempt to get helpers ends up with the men demanding that I turn the whole ministry over to them but they have never done cross-cultural evangelism and refuse to have a woman make suggestions. 🙁 I would love to help the assemblies become more effective in reaching International neighbours, but am not allowed even though it is not in an assembly meeting

    b. You cannot invite people to a church meeting, and expect them to love it, understand it and fit in. This was done in the past and was more effective because everyone in Canada were protestant church goers and had some knowledge of the Bible, and it was from this group that evangelistic outreach was more effective … but today our neighbours are Muslims, JWs, Roman Catholics, Mormons, Hindus, Buddists, Atheists and you are not reaching these people, BUT ARE CALLED TO DO SO.

    c You have to GO to where they are. MEET their NEED for friendship, meet their need to learn English etc. Start a Bible study in your home and invite them or if they cannot come, go to their home if there is interest. BUT LET THEM BE IN CONTROL.DO NOT IMPOSE YOURSELF< BUT ALWAYS GIVE THEM THE POLITE WAY TO BACK OUT if they want to.

    d. Do not have a teacher-students program, but have an interactive approach to discussing the Bible text. Follow a passage (not a topical study) Talk about topics as they come up in the context such as you may teach baptism when it comes up in the text, even if it is before they are saved, or the meaning of the names of Jesus( such as the Christ, the Son of God the trinity, the temple etc. as it comes up in the context.

    e. Allow them to try to explain the context by asking directed questions. Learn the technique of Jesus to answer questions with a question, and allow the women to comment and ask questions also or to pray. This is not a church situation so allow women who are gifted in Evangelism or in teaching to be able to use their gift. DO NOT TREAT WOMEN AS INFERIOR and forbidden to be part of an outreach, or order her to hand her ministry over to the men when she is an effective soul winner. DO NOT MAKE MEN THE EVANGELIST and TEACHERS IF THEY DO NOT HAVE THE GIFT

    f. as they grow and become believers, they can be taught about church meetings and functions, and introduce them gradually to Biblical principal of meeting and allow them to develop their gifts and where and how they can use them to the glory of God.

    3.Teach and train the men to discover their gift and use it. Today there is a real lack of good teaching in the Assemblies. I visited a megachurch for a while and found that many who have degrees from seminaries are also not gifted, or those who are successful in business are not gifted. THE GIFT OF TEACHING IS GIVEN BY GOD and so is THE GIFT OF EVANGELISM. DO NOT PUT MEN who do not have the gift in charge of the OUTREACH PROGRAM or make all the men take their turn at TEACHING.

    4.Often women are not allowed to participate, but when there are the same 3 men in a congregation of 100 sharing in the Breaking of Bread and it sounds more like a testimony meeting, it is not easy for us as women to sit in the long silences and find spiritual blessing. We do so because the Lord commands it this way, but it is on the men to lead, and silence is not leading in worship.LISTEN TO THE SUGGESTIONS OF SOME OF THE WOMEN WITH YEARS OF EXPERIENCE IN THE MINISTRY,and do not turn your back on them, as if their ideas are inferior to any opinion the men can offer.


    • Avatar

      I agree wholeheartedly with you comments here. Certainly, we men can learn from sisters who have gifts from God even though women are not to be the teachers in the church gatherings. I have learned much from sisters who have good, godly ideas. I have seen women who have the gift of evangelism bring many to the Savior. God bless them. As you say, men who do not have the gift of teaching or preaching should not be trying to assume that role. That is a weakness in many of the assemblies. Lack of good, godly leadership is another. Refusing to try new methods of outreach is another problem. Many are stuck in the rut of old methods that no longer work. The Gospel of Christ and the Word of God do not change, but methods for propagating them can and should change with the needs of the culture. God bless. Jim L.


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