Church Revitalization?

Church Revitalization?

by Erik Reynolds

Do churches need to be revitalized?

Millenials are leaving the church in droves. Most people don’t need a scholarly study to tell them of this fact because they see it every Sunday in their own context. According to Jim Singleton and Ron Bouthillette, about 85% of local churches in America need to be revitalized.[1] Their definition for “need” is any church that has not seen sustained growth for five years. Over the years the church has lost its mission as it has seen it become more important to cater to preferences of the saved rather that focus on the mission to the lost. According to Tod Bolsinger, “A healthy system makes decisions that further the mission.”[2] The mission of revitalization is to see a local church move in the direction of growth numerically, however, this should be in response to a growth spiritually as well. Based on ACGC statistics from 2006-2015, the number of Advent Christian churches has decreased by 8.5%, there are 9.9% fewer members in Advent Christian churches, and attendance has dropped by 16.5%. These statistics are alarming and likely parallel many of our local congregations.

 

Yes, churches need to be revitalized, but how?

The Gospel is always relevant, however, the “how” of reaching people with the Gospel message can change from one generation to the next. We are living in a culture that has gone from going to church as the norm, to not going to church as the norm. For many of our Pastors, church leaders, and denominational leaders this is a change in which we have not been prepared. Similar to Lewis and Clark who set out to find a river that would connect the central United States to the Pacific Ocean, they couldn’t. The river didn’t exist and they had to adapt so that they could blaze a path to find that connection on land. Our present culture is not your parent’s culture. Though I believe that God uses his Word in conjunction with the Holy Spirit to bring people to himself, if we aren’t speaking to people in a way that they can understand then our efforts will be useless.

Reaching the younger generation can be difficult for an older congregation. If the median age for a congregation is 56 it isn’t going to dress, speak, or think much like a 24 year old. As Gordon MacDonald states, “You need to think about the fact that any church that has not turned its face toward the younger generation and the new challenges of reaching unchurched people in this world will simply cease to exist. We’re not talking decades-we’re talking just a few years.”[3] Though a church should keep in mind its local context[4] when looking at ways to reach it, the fact of the matter is most churches that are in decline have a median age much older than the community in which it lives. There are two aspects to reaching a younger generation, or any demographic that a church is trying to reach. First, you want to know that if younger people are to come they will be comfortable. According to Dr. Ron Bouthillette, the younger generation doesn’t want to feel judged and they want to come as they are. Relaxing rules such as hats in the sanctuary or food and drink in the sanctuary may be a necessity. If someone’s first visit to a church is being told to take off their hat, they likely won’t come back.[5] Other preferences might need to change as well; music choices, style of dress, and use of social media are all ways to create an atmosphere welcoming to the next generation.

             Secondly, finding a church’s unique calling in its community is a necessity. To accomplish this a church needs to find a local predicament in which the church can assist.[6] As an example a church that is located in a community with a bad school system can assist by offering an afterschool program geared towards tutoring. A church that is within miles of subsidized housing might host events for the families living there or help provide school supplies.

            Missional living is a lost art in today’s evangelical culture. In the early church, believers would readily serve in their community by providing for the needs where they lived. The church body must reclaim its purpose by serving the community in which it lives, works, and relaxes. These are called missional spaces. “Missional spaces are where Christians are connecting meaningfully with non-Christians on a regular basis”.[7] Missional living focuses on individual church members building bonds with neighbors, friends, coworkers, and family so that they can meaningfully share the Gospel. They not only focus on sharing the Gospel with their words, but also their service and hospitality.

 

What does the Bible have to say about revitalization?

Throughout the Bible there are examples of renewal or revitalization. When we consider Moses, Joshua, the Judges, David, Solomon, Nehemiah, Paul and the call of God on these men; God would continually renew his people for the purpose of his glory. God undoubtedly used the men previously mentioned to renew the nation of Israel and the church. As discussed by Jim Harrell in Church Replanter, Nehemiah was sent by God to not only rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, but also encourage and motivate his fellow Israelites. We very much need to rebuild our walls of faith and encourage one another. As we face steep declines we most hold fast to the hope that Christ has a plan for his church. We can do this be encouraging and exhorting one another to be on mission. We should look for opportunities where we can serve our community. However, we must not neglect some housekeeping.

            Looking at the New Testament Church, there were significant issues. Paul wrote to the Corinthians because they had become boastful and embraced forms of sexual sin. The author of the Hebrews sought to encourage the Jewish Christians, as they were experiencing persecution, which caused many to commit apostasy. Paul wrote to the Roman church after there were significant issues with integrating Gentile and Jewish Christians into the same church. Not only since the beginning of the church have there been a need for revitalization and renewal, but also ever since God had a people they have needed to be saved by the providence of God.

            Revitalization in its most basic sense is the local body rediscovering the mission God has called it to, then placing that mission above their own preferences. This mission is proclaiming the Gospel to their community as found in Matthew 28. God’s glory is on full display when his people seek to share the hope they have in Christ with their community. Oftentimes this will start with renewing Christian love within the congregation; reconciling differences, a renewal of energy, theological renewal, and Christian hospitality are all areas in which a congregation might need to start if it is to rediscover God’s call on their church.

 

 

[1] Dr. Jim Singleton and Dr. Ron Bouthillette, Lecture in Church Revitalization 02 February 2017

[2] Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory (InterVarsity Press, 2015), 178.

[3] Gordon MacDonald, Who stole my church?: what to do when the church you love tries to enter the twenty-first century (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), viii.

[4] Will Mancini, Church unique: how missional leaders cast vision, capture culture, and create movement (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint, 2008), 86.

[5] Dr. Jim Singleton, Lecture in Church Revitalization 13 April 2017

[6] Will Mancini, Church unique: how missional leaders cast vision, capture culture, and create movement (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint, 2008), 89.

[7] J. R. Woodward, Creating a missional culture: equipping the church for the sake of the world (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 177.

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