Recently, I fellowshipped with a missionary couple who served for more than 40 years on the foreign field. A huge portion of their focus, for many years in the UK, was to help restore dying churches.
In post-Christian America, in this and coming generations, we must not only plant churches—we MUST see older churches renewed and restored by God’s grace. Recent studies from those who track church closures would indicate that we couldn’t plant churches FAST ENOUGH to replace the churches that will die in the coming decade.
I believe God is raising up a generation of young leaders with fresh vision that He intends to lead into stagnant churches that He might revitalize gospel ministry. Often these churches have a faithful core of people, a solid body of belief, a building, and perhaps other physical resources (land, parking, etc.). Often there are dire financial challenges and relational challenges—power struggles, etc.—and closure is either imminent or months away.
In my conversation with the missionary, who had personally seen God revitalize a number of dying churches, he shared with me THREE vital quantifiers that determined “which churches” he would help. I found these to be exactly in line with the revitalizing work that God has unfolded at Emmanuel.
First, the Church Must Ask for Help—this first quantifier is huge! Strangely and sadly, most dying churches are dying for the very reason that they are comfortable and don’t see a need for help. They blame their dormancy on a “world that doesn’t want the gospel anymore.” They excuse their in-focus and stagnancy by acclaiming their “position” and willingness to “hold on” to what they value. They almost take pride in their lack of life-change and authentic gospel ministry, and they classify any “growing church” as a compromising church. Rare is the church that rises from stagnancy to become desperate for a move of God—so much so that they reach out and ask for help! This humility and hunger is a great sign that a church can look forward to healthier days.
Second, the Church Must Be Willing to Change—this second quantifier is not in reference to biblical doctrine. It’s a reference to aged philosophy, appearance, and practice. The body of belief should never change. But lots of other things should. During my years at LBC, a single phrase was repeated thousands of time before the congregation. “A growing church is ALWAYS in transition!” This simple phrase says it all. Healthy churches are always changing, improving, growing, becoming more effective, trying to be “better” and more fruitful. When a church stops changing, they have lost their vision, and the death march has begun. Not all change is bad. Health requires constant assessment, adjustment, realignment, and improvement—yes, some change is essential to church health. A healthy church is always changing—even if they say they never change. And the fact is, dying churches MUST change! Insanity is doing the same thing you’ve always done and expecting different results.
Third, the Church Must Begin to Focus on Outreach—this third quantifier is that which realigns the church with real gospel purpose—the great commission. When individual members are self-focused and inwardly focused (“what’s in it for me, how I want it…”) the church is only a short step away from significant division and disunity. Unity only comes when a church agrees collectively to focus on getting the gospel to their region, their friends, their co-workers and neighbors… and ultimately the whole world. The amazing thing is, when a church DOES focus on outreach, unity is almost instant, and rejoicing returns because nothing gives a church a reason to rejoice faster than seeing redemption unfold in new lives!
Profound! This is one 40-year missionary’s simple formula for church revitalization. I echo his outline. I’m grateful God brought me to a church family who was “asking for help,” “willing to change,” and ready to “focus on outreach!” It’s been a marvelous journey to see God restore and revive His church at EBC!
It is not only possible to see God revitalize His church—it is vital! God is preparing young leaders, shaping their lives and vision, and He’s preparing dying churches for fresh vision. There is still a harvest—pray that the Lord will send forth laborers! Pray that a generation of new leaders will not only “plant” but will also have a passion to see dying churches revived.
More than that, PRAY that God will bring dying or stagnant churches to a point of repentance—willing to ask for help, willing to change, and willing to focus on outreach once again!