The statistics are alarming. Anywhere from eighty to ninety percent of evangelical churches have been identified as plateaued or declining. Church planting efforts are staying on par with church funerals, which means that no ground is being won. A recent national survey has indicated that those who are not affiliating with any type of organized religion are climbing higher than ever before.
If you look around the region you serve, more than likely there is a church gathering where last year there was none and a church building closing when last year it was open. These stories and statistics are enough to drive any present or future church leader to panic “the sky is falling, the sky is falling.”
Like Chicken Little, church leadership must be reminded that the sky is not indeed falling. Nominal Christianity is fading; that is a good thing. Unhealthy churches are not looking for the next program but asking what does a healthy church look like; that is a good thing. Church Revitalization is gaining traction and church leaders are being trained in and discussing what Church Revitalization looks like; that is a good thing.
Lets look at three reasons to invest your life in Church Revitalization.
1. Jesus Commands Revitalization.
In the seven letters to the churches in Revelation, Jesus commands those churches that are unhealthy and have never been healthy to repent and return. He called them to be revitalized.
The great assumption for Church Revitalization to occur is that at one point in time the church in question knew what it meant to be healthy. Specifically the Ephesian church—which presents an illusion of health—was called to remember and return to their first love. To return to when they were healthy. Jesus is commanding their revitalization.
2. Paul Practiced Revitalization.
In Acts 15 following the Jerusalem Council, Paul and Luke determine to set out on a second missionary journey. Their purpose is very unique and strategic. “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” (Acts 15:36, HCSB, emphasis added) The two shortly parted company but Paul carried out the intent of the mission, which was to strengthen the churches (Acts 15:41).
The two held the purpose of building on what was established, diagnosing their present state of health and then strengthening what was there. This is the task of a Church Revitalizer.
A Church Revitalizer learns and builds on the history of a church. They diagnose the churches present state of health and then engage in the difficult work of developing a strategy and implementing a model that will, Lord willing, strengthen the church.
The Lord changed Paul’s mission following Acts 15 but it is clear he and Luke set out to practice revitalization.
3. The Prophets called for Revitalization.
The calling on the lives of the prophets, the burning in their bones, was to declare God’s great name, His just judgment upon His people, and call them to return to Him. Specifically Jeremiah 24:7 says, “I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am Yahweh. They will be My people, and I will be their God because they will return to Me with all their heart”(emphasis added). Jeremiah not only declares God’s provision during the exile but His desire for them to return, to be revitalized in Him.
In many cases, but not in every case, a church is in need of revitalization because their orthodoxy and orthopraxy is far from what God desires. Their mission statement may sound biblical but in practice it is far from it. Their theology gives an appearance of piety, but it is no more than a tickling of the ears. The prophets stood in the gap between a broken people and the Lord who was broken for them and cried out “return, be revitalized!”
What more shall we say then? The closer Scripture is examined, the more examples of revitalization that can be found. Taking on the challenge of Church Revitalization then is a burning in the bones. Intentional Church Revitalization is hard work; it is not for the faint of heart but for those brave in faith. These are not hopeless days for the church, but days to see the Lord’s amazing power in the life of the church.
The day is here not for the church to draw back but for an army of Church Revitalizers to be called out. Embracing the words of the great missionary William Carey, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” Together lets see a great wave of Church Revitalization.