Question: "Why do some churches thrive while others die?"
Answer: The true church is one where Christ is acknowledged as its Head, the Bible is preached and taught, and the way of salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ's death and bodily resurrection, the Holy Spirit is obeyed in the leadership and the people, and the Great Commission is being carried out. Churches that don't have these characteristics are dead already because they do not have the Holy Spirit at work in the members through faith in Jesus Christ. There are many such churches today, both small and large, which are, sorry to say, just social clubs. The true Christ is not honored there, and although there may be a lot of form, there is no substance. The supernatural has been sapped from their fellowship. In some instances, churches once preached the gospel of Christ, but then as time went on, they no longer did so. Of course, this is also sad. They have become dead churches as well.
Then there are churches where Christ is honored and the Bible preached, but they are content in themselves just to be that way. They are just existing. Like the church of Ephesus in the Book of Revelation (2:1-7), they have left their first love. They have good doctrine, but they have lost their passion for Christ to reach out to those needing the Savior. In this sense they are dead. They are content to be Christians, but there is no sign of God at work in their lives. Sometimes a church dies because there is a split in the congregation. Too many people leave, and the church can't continue. This is also a sad state of affairs, and God is not honored. Some churches die because of the area in which they exist. Smaller churches in rural areas have to close due to changes in the population. In some areas, where smaller churches exist, and they have the same beliefs, they have joined together to form a larger congregation.
At the same time, the size of the church is not the issue. What is going on within the fellowship is the key. The characteristics of an alive and growing church are found in Acts 2:42-47 where the believers "were continually devoting themselves to the apostles" teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." They were serving one another, and reaching out to those who needed to know the Lord, and the Lord was "adding to their number day by day those who were being saved." This tells us that the church has five purposes:
1) Worship/Prayer " We were created to give God praise and to have a personal relationship with Him through prayer (Psalm 72:15).
2) Learning " We were designed to become like Christ by seeking Him daily in His Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
3) Fellowship - We were formed to be part of God's family (Acts 2:44-45).
4) Service " We were shaped to have a ministry within the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
5) Mission " We are commanded to share God's love and gospel (Matthew 28:19-20).
These five areas describe what the true church of Jesus Christ should be about today. The Holy Spirit must be obeyed in the local church in the leadership and the people. Prayer must be a vital part of the church, for without prayer, a church only operates in the flesh. People need to know and use their spiritual gifts. There must be a ministering to one another in the fellowship, a caring and sharing. There must also be a passion to reach out to those needing the Savior, fulfilling the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. Yes, the church must know why it exists and what it is about.
Any church, large or small, honoring Christ, preaching and teaching the Bible, in tune with the Holy Spirit to minister to the congregation as well as to reach the community and the world, will be a vibrant church for Jesus Christ. A true follower of Christ can't be a pew-warmer or a spectator. Christ came not to be served but to serve. We must do the same.