CHURCH REVITALIZATION MORE THAN A FAINT HOPE
IT CAN BE DONE
One of the “hot topics” in church life in America is Church Revitalization. There are nearly 5,000 churches each year in the Southern Baptist Convention that are dying or near death. That is the result of many complex factors too many to mention here. There are also nearly 3,500 churches being planted or re-planted by young and median adults with a fresh vision and a call from God to a specific region or city, etc. Somewhere between the death of a church and a church plant that is distinct and different from the dying church, there is something we now call Church Revitalization. I think of Thom Rainer and his group that is training people to be equipped to go to a church and help with this. This task is not easy. But it is immanently doable. The key is the fact that the Lord Jesus loves His Church and local churches. And He brings renewal and supernatural results to anyone willing to align themselves with God’s Word. That is the key. When we talk of church revitalization, we are not talking about a man-centered effort. This is how Rusty Small in his book on Church Revitalization defined it: “The Supernatural work of God that restores health and vitality in a plateaued or declining church, evidenced by submission to God’s Word, right relationships among members, and renewed commitment to the Great Commission.” We are talking about a fresh obedience to the Word of God and the Spirit of God. Nehemiah cried out to God, “Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant, Moses.” He prayed basing his plea on the promises of God for the people of God. And then he confessed the sins of the people to God, crying out for restoration and God’s divine favor as they obeyed. Everything in Church Revitalization begins and ends with our covenant keeping God and His desire to work among His obedient people. And that is the reason why (not all) many churches began a slide downward. It is easy for any local church to begin to function in a man-centered, keep-the-machinery-running, kind of way. This happens over time and is not something churches want to do. They just creep in that direction and the church staff, the people, and the key leaders just get into a rut of doing things the same old way. Judges 21:25 says: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes….” The Firm Foundation of the Lord Jesus leading the church through the Word of God and His God called servant-leaders has been weak in some churches. And as a result, well meaning churches have slowly declined (almost unnoticed). Now let’s get back to our subject: Church Revitalization.
Over the years I have rediscovered a biblical truth. Old dogs CAN BE TAUGHT HOW TO CHANGE! People in these churches CAN REPENT of past sins and they CAN obey the Lord. Back to Nehemiah again, he challenged the people to obey and build, and when some opposition arose, he said: “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 2:20). Nehemiah analyzed the situation exhaustively and saw what was needed. The people sensed God’s leadership in him, and they obeyed with a fresh energy from God. I submit that this is possible with the local church. But the people must see how and where they got off track and obey God. They must not get into a “blame game” where they look at past leaders and personalities as the cause of all their problems. Taking responsibility is admitting our need to obey now, repenting, and moving on.
People need to understand just “What Is A Healthy Church?” Yes, that is the title of the book by Mark Dever. I use that (and many other resources) in “discipling” older believers in the revitalization process. Most church members have never given a second thought to what makes a church a healthy church! But they CAN BE TAUGHT those things. I have done that several times over the years beginning way back in 1992-1994 as I did my DMin project at Green Ridge Baptist Church. The point we need to see this truth: NO ONE IS BEYOND REPENTANCE AND OBEYING! But people can’t do what they do not know. I have found that as you teach the word of God and its implications for discipleship and ecclesiology that people can and will sense the Lord’s hand in it and begin to change…for the good. Yes, some will not like it, but you can’t expect everyone to “like” repentance and obedience, especially when that means that their personal preference is not going to be “the way we do things.” It has been my experience that the Lord uses His Word to enable repentance and faith. In this case, a faith in His ability and not ours. A trust and reliance in Jesus. And I have also noticed that when that happens in the church, that the Lord God begins to move in that church. There are many issues surrounding Church Revitalization. But those can be addressed after this one fundamental question is answered: Are we going to do things according to our “likes” or are we going to seek to be biblical both personally and as the body of Christ? Church Revitalization is doable because the church belongs to Jesus. He has not forgotten about ANY of His churches! He stands ready to move in a supernatural way. In fact, when people repent and seek to obey Him, He already has begun to work!
Michael Palmer January 2024