A 2010 study by the Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary found that only 6.8% of Southern Baptist churches can be considered “healthy churches.” The man who led that study was my doctoral mentor Dr. Bill Day. The results of that study were considerable because it didn’t simply focus on church growth, but rather on church health. Not all church growth is healthy growth, for example, if a church uses unbiblical methodology to grow membership that isn’t healthy growth. Healthy church growth will always involve the following components: Ongoing ministry assessment, clear and concise missional statement, visionary leadership, a shared congregational strategy and a well communicated model for disciple-making. A church with these components will likely experience more baptisms, more community engagement, a healthy financial situation and lots of exciting Sundays!
However, the truth is that some churches can do all of those components well and still not experience healthy church growth.
If a church is organizationally strong, but spiritually weak it will never grow to its full potential.
Spiritual growth and vibrancy in the individual lives of church members will ALWAYS precede corporate numerical growth and effective ministry. A church can have a robust missional purpose and detailed strategy, but if the members of the church are not growing spiritually the full potential will never be realized. Church health and spiritual health are perpetually conjoined, you can not and will not have one without the other. Church revitalization is a spiritual process before it is a methodological process. Another study of revitalized churches revealed that over 75% of these churches started spiritual initiatives to enhance the growth of church members. Of the churches studied the number one component of revitalized churches was spiritual growth initiatives. (John Larue, Back from the Brink, Your Church Magazine). At the beginning of the revitalization process it is a mistake to take church members to the board room for a meeting without taking them first to the prayer closet. All the plans in the world will not overcome spiritual deficiencies in the lives of individual church members. For the membership to discern God’s leadership for their church they must first realize God’s active presence in their lives. Every revitalized church is filled with spiritually revitalized people! Every single one!
With this in mind here are few things to keep in mind to spiritually revitalize your church.
- Prayer initiatives will under gird the process of revitalization. It is an old saying but it still holds true, prayer makes us more aware. The more time churches spend praying the more members will become aware of what God wants to do in their church. Even more important, prayer awakens the hearts of members to be more sensitive to the Lord’s direction in their individual lives. In the early church all big decisions were preceded by individual and corporate prayer. (Choosing Judas’ replacement, selecting the first deacons, sending out of Paul and Barnabas, etc.).
- Spiritual focus will bring to light unconfessed sins and spiritual disobedience. The Lord’s blessing on a church will always be the result of right living more than right planning. In Acts 5, the first church was held back due to the sins of Ananias and Sapphira. Had it not been for the proactive approach of Peter to deal with the sin, the church would have paid a heavy price for the indiscretions of members. The sin of Achan in Joshua 7 is also worth noting. The Bible reveals to us that God withholds His blessings from His people due to their lack of spiritual vibrancy. This is a necessary and painful part of the process of church revitalization. Feelings will be hurt when the actions of the dark are brought to light, but without this spiritual confrontation a church will not be able to move forward. Corporate and individual sins of omission and commission must be confessed and repentance must follow.
- Church leaders must exhibit lives of vibrant spiritual growth. I believe that spiritual growth and vibrancy is both taught and caught. Do church members see in their pastor and ministers an authentic spiritual vibrancy that encourages them to have a deep walk with the Lord? No church will be spiritually vibrant if the ministers are not living in deep connection with the Lord. For example, the sermon on Sunday morning should be a overflow of what God is doing in the life of the preacher. Church members know when their leader is falling on hard times spiritually. Some church leaders will try to mask the situation and “do their job”, but you can’t fake genuine spiritual vibrancy. Some churches are not being revitalized simply because their leaders have grown spiritually weary. Church leaders cannot expect their people to be emboldened to their mission if the leader has lost passion.
- Spiritual expectancy is a bedrock in healthy churches. I remember with great fondness a few years ago when I was a full time pastor of a healthy vibrant church. As I drove to church on Sunday morning I expected something great to happen. I was never shocked when God did something amazing in our services. Our people expected Him to do something because our membership was enjoying an authentic spiritual journey together. I remember one particular Sunday during the invitation when the line of folks wanting to join the church went all the way down the center aisle! I wasn’t shocked because God was doing a mighty work in the lives of our members and the people coming that morning was the result. When churches are experiencing spiritual revitalization they come expecting God to do something great. With great spiritual growth comes great spiritual expectancy. The presence of God’s Spirit is tangible. This is not a result of what God is doing in the church house, it is a result of what God is doing in the people that call it home.
Before you begin the process of working through the various components of church health, don’t neglect the most important. If you want your church to grow numerically, it must first grow spiritually.