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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Some Reflections on Church Revitalization

From here
“I don’t want to serve in a dying church.”  My jaw dropped as I heard a pastor friend retell this story.  He recounted the story of how someone had decided to stop filling in as the music leader at a small country church.  They played a role on the music team of their much larger home church, and didn’t see a point in serving as a music leader at a much smaller country church 15 minutes down the road. 

As a pastor of a church that is far more similar to the latter than the former, I was dumbfounded.  Stories like this are not unfounded.  There a massive misunderstanding, especially among younger believers, about “dying” churches.  The Bible speaks a different word over these churches.

First, the title “dying” next to any church is a denial of the gospel.  Yes, while I know what they mean, if there are believers in any church than it is by definition a “living” church.  Ephesians 2:5 says, even when we were dead in our trespasses, [Christ] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”  No church is a dying church because every church contains people made alive by the gospel.

Now, certainly we need to be put a title on the type of church we are talking about.  Often times by “dying” many are meaning to say “declining.”  Certainly spiritual life and numerical decline are different.  Also, there are studies that show that the majority of churches are in decline, not able to grow at a pace equivalent to the surrounding area.  Decline is not just something that affects the tiny country church, it’s just has a faster effect on them.  

Also, the term “unhealthy” could be used.  Often times there are churches are overrun with unbiblical traditions, whether with their membership, leadership, or practices.  Certainly these traditions could be having a negative effect.  While "unhealthy" is a better term than "dying", and gets more to the point than "declining", it doesn’t address everything that can be happening to a church.  I know many churches who are healthy in terms of their membership and leadership, but are far from impacting their community.

I propse that the term “distracted” better displays the reality of what is taking place in most churches.  Yes, they are in decline.  Yes, they are unhealthy.  But, ultimately this is due to distractions.  This could be doctrinal distractions (liberalism), or practical distractions (traditionalism) or a mixture of the two.  Ultimately, all distraction in a church is a distraction of affection.  Jesus speaks to a church in this same situation in Revelation 2:4, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” 

The goal of church revitalization is to restir affections toward Jesus and toward His Word.  Once a church is more in love with Jesus than with prior commitments (doctrinal or practical) then transformation can begin.  Jesus speaks in John 15 of this reality, I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  To see the fruits of transformation in the life of our people, they abide in Jesus, and they cannot do this without their affections resting on Him.

How do we do this?  Here are 5 reflections...

First, we need faithful preaching.  Pastor, I know it is tiring, but continue to preach faithfully.  Exalt Jesus.  Lift Him up.  They need to see the one they are to love as lovely.

Second, evaluate where the churches affections rest.  What “golden calf” do they have?  What areas of church life will be a battle to see transformation in?  When those are evaluated, make immediate changes in areas that can be changed without a battle (for us, this was leadership and membership).  Once those changes are made, and the benefits are seen, you will be in a better position to see future transformation.

Third, set your focus on the long-term.  I know I am one who cares far more about the short-term comforts of life (this is a reality I am repenting over as we speak).  But, Abraham set his eyes on his heavenly home (Hebrews 11:17).  His eyes were to the long-term, which was how he endured through the short-term discomforts.  In fact, every single biblical figure lived this way, why should the pastor be any different?

Fourth, pastor, get friends.  You may feel alone, but you are not alone.  Form networks and fellowships with other pastor's in your area.  You need brothers to cry with, to pray with, to bounce advice off of.  Especially if you are without a plurality of leaders, get friends!  Spurgeon said “Friendship is one of the sweetest joys of life. Many might have failed beneath the bitterness of their trial had they not found a friend.” 

Fifth, be willing to confront the golden calf.  I will write more about this in a future post


Church revitalization is not easy, but it is necessary.  We must give ourselves toward transformation.  This will require humility and unity- we need people of all ages!  In a future post, I implore young people to plug into church revitalization and address other issues that I have seen in the past two years of working with church revitalization.

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