What we need is revival. Our nation is ripe for spiritual renewal. Our culture has been accelerating headlong in the other direction since the turn of the millennium. There are signs that Selfism is already breaking down. The end of that road, making yourself your own god, is Nihilism – nothingness. Suicides, substance abuse and rampant immorality has been the outcome of seeking happiness and fulfillment in the absence of God. Misplaced faith in science and government is diminishing as once-deified leaders struggle to understand the COVID-19 disease and protect citizens, revealing the limitations of the ultimate object of atheists’ worship – human intellect. Doors are flung open right now to spiritual conversations. Neighbors are scared and opportunities abound for Christians to step forward to provide prayer, compassion and answers to their difficult questions.
Yet what most churches are seeking today in this time of crisis isn’t revival, but survival. Big “C” (universal Church) interests are taking a back seat to little “c” (individual church) sustainability. Pastors worry about how to navigate a potential “new normal”. They’re stressed – many just trying to figure out how and when to reopen. Few can look past those minute details to consider the bigger picture – like why their members were more concerned with self-preservation than self-sacrifice on behalf of those who were ready to hear some Good News – but never did.
How can we return to business as usual when the Church’s growth, impact, influence and public perception has been in such rapid decline? Isn’t this the perfect time to rethink America’s building and event-centric model for conventional church? This blog has been questioning that status quo for 5 years, advocating a return to the biblical definition of church and its intended “customer”. If America’s churches had followed that advice, the response from church leaders and congregants during the pandemic and pandemonium would have been vastly different. A revival already could have been taking place right now if Christians thought of themselves as the embodiment of “church” and took it upon themselves to bring “church” to the doorsteps, iPhones and Zooms of their struggling neighbors.
However, revitalization consultants are reinforcing the status quo, providing advice within the context of “Church as We Know It” (CAWKI). They understand that few pastors are truly interested in rethinking existing models. Most are praying hard that the virus will go away as soon as possible, disregarding the possibility that the pandemic could be God’s will to wake our nation and His Church from its slumber. Even those who claim to want genuine change are highly likely to revert to their comfort zones as soon as a vaccine is discovered. Church strategists understand that we seem to have little choice in the matter. There are simply too many empty buildings and too many pastors trained by seminaries to do one job and one job only – run a conventional church. It’s too late to turn back now, right? How could we risk shifting more responsibility to members for evangelism and compassion when churches desperately need them to return to the building as quickly as possible – and to bring their friends with them? Decentralizing by equipping disciples to make more disciples at a time like this could hasten the demise of a fragile “nickel and nose” model that hinges on centralization and dependency.
Just as we shouldn’t expect a process designed for church indoctrination to produce personal transformation, strategies designed to ensure church survival shouldn’t be expected to produce revival…
Roots of Spiritual Revival
Evangelist Charles Finney, credited for much of America’s “Second Great Awakening,” said,
“If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the public press lacks moral discernment, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the world loses its interest in Christianity, the pulpit is responsible for it. If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it. If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it.”
After visiting America in 1831, the same year of Finney’s famed Rochester Revival, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America,
“There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and there can be no greater proof of its utility and of its conformity to human nature than that its influence is powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.”
God is His infinite wisdom and power can accomplish all things, but America’s history of spiritual revivals points to 7 characteristics that are clearly evident in churches whenever our nation has recommitted to following Jesus:
- Prayerful – Unity of believers gathered in prayer, asking God to forgive sins and change hearts
- Repentant – Mass recognition and confession of sin, pledging obedience to the Lord’s commands
- Dependent – Trading “cultural” for authentic Christianity, humbly giving God all glory and credit
- Spirit-Led – Miracles that can only be attributable to the Holy Spirit’s presence and activity
- Imperishable – Shared, eternal perspective that endures suffering, knowing our future is secure
- Scriptural – Reverential study of God’s Word to understand and share about the life of Jesus
- Sacrificial – Acts of selfless, Agape love without expectation of recognition or reciprocation
Those elements found in most revivals do not align with the advice found in articles and webinars today about how pastors should adapt their churches to new realities during and after the Coronavirus pandemic…
Popular Strategies for Church “Revitalization”
A deep concern about the state of the universal (capital “C”) Church would lead to changes that could bring revival, but authors and consultants are promulgating a set of (little “c”) strategies that won’t rectify the shortcomings of America’s prevailing church growth model – flaws that have become readily apparent over the past few months. Instead they primarily advocate the following 7 principles:
- Leadership – Clarity about how a church will deal with the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic
- Vision – Get everyone, from staff to key members, on board with future plans and contingencies
- Accountability – Delegate and execute responsibilities within distancing constraints
- Engagement – Rebuild, train and (re)activate volunteers, ministries, program leaders and groups
- Outreach – Create seasonal events and ads that enhance brand recognition in the community
- Hospitality – Once visitors respond and show up, ensure they feel at home online and in person
- Virtual – Continue to enhance “digital discipleship”, which is essentially just streaming services online
In other words, revitalization pitches and promises touted today are built around about getting CAWKI back up and running smoothly again. Few call for reformation to address the discipleship deficiencies brought to light by COVID-19 when the “church gathered” forcibly became the “church scattered”…
Real Church Reform Could Spark Revival
The pandemic and pandemonium in America should lead to church reform, an entirely different set of operating principles and metrics that are in sync with the 7 characteristics of revival listed earlier in this post. However, the path to a spiritual revival will require pastors do what they’re commanded (in Scripture) and not what their being taught (in seminary and articles).
- Prayer – Turn churches back into 24×7 houses of prayer, worship, compassion and service
- Repentance – Imitate Jesus, Paul, Peter and John the Baptist by boldly calling all to turn from sin
- Dependence – Make sold-out disciples through intentional, personal relationships rather than “consumers” of religious goods and services through expensive strategies and programs
- Spirit-Led – Equip and commission fully-empowered individuals to minister to their circles of influence, leveraging the Lord’s math of multiplication instead of building-centric addition
- Imperishable – Challenge believers to die to self-interest and surrender, crucified with Christ
- Scriptural – Reemphasize personal study, journaling and apologetics to share Christ effectively
- Sacrificial – Deploy Prayer-Care-Share “missionaries” throughout the city, acting as pastors of their neighborhoods
Lord willing, revival will come when reform leads to a reversion to the biblical definition of “church” and its intended “customer” – to make disciples who reach the “lost” in the community and across the globe. Tactical “revitalization” won’t bring revival because it will remain centered around a building, event and pastor – a model proven ineffective before and during this pandemic and racial strife.
It’s Your Turn…
Do you know of a church refusing to return to “normal” and undertaking significant reform along the lines we’ve outlined in this post? Please share how you see that church possibly contributing toward a much-needed revival…