Monday, July 1, 2013

Top Ten Myths of Reviving a Church

     Top ten lists seem to be a popular item these days.  David Letterman has been using such lists for years.  Even before my teenage years in the 1960's when I would listen to the Beatles, the Temptations, and the Dave Clark Five, there were the top ten hits.  Every year, newspapers will often print the top ten news stories of the previous year and such lists occur in many different areas of society.  But what about such lists as it pertains to the church?  How about the top ten myths of reviving today's church? What would you add to the list?  In this blog, I am going to outline these myths as I reflect on my many years of pastoral ministry and personal observation.
     MYTH #1: IF WE HAVE AN EVENT OR SPONSOR A PROGRAM OR CHANGE OUR STYLE THEY WILL COME.  This myth permeates many churches today.  Somehow congregations get the idea if we hold a certain event or if we change the music style or offer a program, people will automatically come to the church.  While in individual cases, this may be true, in the vast majority of cases, people come because a follower of Christ took the time to build a relationship with them and invited them to church and a relationship with Christ.  Now, this does not mean that events and programs aren't important.  They can be a tool that God uses to help people connect with Christ and His church.  Certainly some events are very community oriented.  But if one thinks that such events or worship style will draw the unchurched, then such a congregation will easily be discouraged.  The truth is that the average non churchgoer could care less about what event we have or music we play. This is especially true in our modern world in which there are a sea of choices. What will draw the unchurched, in most cases, is a follower of Christ befriending them.
     MYTH #2: WHAT WORKED YESTERDAY WILL CONTINUE TO WORK. The are many variations of this myth but the two that come to mind are reviving a program that worked 30 years ago because it was successful then, and keeping something going for the sake of tradition.  Now, I am not totally against occasionally reviving a successful past event or program (Not all good ideas are new ones!), but in most cases, chances are it won't have the same impact that it had years ago. Also, some traditions are good to keep but not if they no longer fit the makeup of the church or its mission.  Through the years, I have seen some programs that have outlived the church's ability to maintain them.  The church dinner, in which the women used to spend days preparing for because most of them were stay at home moms, no longer is able to find enough volunteers because most women work outside the home is an example of such a event that has outlived the church's ability to maintain it.
     MYTH #3: ENDING A PROGRAM MEANS FAILURE.  Allow me to say this, "It is OK to end a program!"  Churches get this idea that because a program ended that it was a failure.  But if it has run its course, then let it end.  In my previous congregation, we had started a contemporary worship service.  At first, it had gone well with a decent number of attendees.  But gradually, it lost interest and those leading it were burned out and it was evident that it was time to scrap the service.  But all was not lost.  The evening service allowed a praise team to be formed (in a very traditional church) in which they were able to help lead worship in a blended family style morning worship service with the result that the church became a multigenerational gathering of God's people.  The suspension of the evening contemporary service also freed up a time for the meeting of a small group.  Not all was lost and the ending of the service strengthened other areas of the church.
     MYTH #4: DOCTRINE ISN'T AS IMPORTANT AS RELATIONSHIPS.  To be sure, some congregations treat doctrine as a litmus test for being a member of the church regardless of the fruit they are bearing (Galatians 5:22), but it seems today that many congregations are scrapping Biblical teaching  and theology for a "feel good" experience of interpersonal relationships.  Biblical doctrine and relationships are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, a relationship that has depth and meaning requires the knowledge of that person-who he/she is, what they do, their dreams, their personality, their background etc.  Likewise, it is no different than having a relationship with God and with fellow believers. This means that an understanding of God, human beings, sin, the cross, the resurrection, the Holy Spirit, the church, and the future hope of the church is vital to understanding the relational aspects of the Christian life.  Biblical illiteracy and the lack of the understanding of basic Christian beliefs is a huge issue in the modern church because it fails to see the connection of sound doctrine and living in relationship with Jesus Christ and His church.
     MYTH #5: INCREASED NUMBERS MEANS REVIVAL HAS TAKEN PLACE. While an increase in numbers may mean that people are coming to Christ and revival is taking place, it is important not to assume that revival is taking place without asking some important questions.  These questions include: a) Is the numerical growth transfer growth from other churches and communities of people who are already professing Christians or is it truly evangelistic growth of new believers? b) Are people living out their faith by serving Christ in the everyday world or are they being entertained by a dynamic pastor or music program?  This question is harder to evaluate but is a crucial one to ask.
     MYTH #6: A SHRINKING OR A NUMERICALLY UNCHANGING CHURCH MEANS THAT THE CHURCH IS HEADING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION.  This myth is a hard one to evaluate mainly because, in many cases, this myth is true.  Often, the loss of membership due to aging, conflict and finances does indicate the church is on the decline.  But one must not assume that numbers alone tell the story.  Sometimes, churches who have had not so "well intentioned dragons" and people who have used the church for personal power are served well when those people are no longer there to stir up dissension and trouble.  This can happen by their departure either by leaving the church or by death.  Sometimes, this frees up the church to renew its vision.  In other cases, especially in a declining or stable community, a church may see very little growth numerically, but have replaced those who have died with a new generation of followers.  The important fact is not to assume anything about the actual numbers but to see the dynamics behind what is truly happening.
     MYTH #7: THE CHURCH SHOULD NOT BE INVOLVED IN PLANNING BUT SHOULD LET THE HOLY SPIRIT LEAD. On the surface, there is an element of truth to this myth, but it is important to realize that the work of the Holy Spirit and the church to have a plan are not mutually exclusive.  Frequently in Scripture, things were being planned all the time.  Jesus made plans ahead of time including the arrangements he made for securing a donkey for his triumphal entry (Matthew 21:1-3), and for the passover meal in the upper room in which He shared the Lord's Supper. (Matthew 26:17-19).  In Acts 6, when a dispute arose in the church, plans were made to deal with the issue and in I Corinthians 14:26-40, Paul carefully laid out a plan for worship when things had become disorderly.  The important fact is that intentional, carefully laid out plans that are led by the Holy Spirit are not contradictory with each other. For example, in modern day worship, there seems to be a trend to just let the Spirit lead-to spontaneously gather together, but with no intentionality nor planning.  While the more liturgical churches may be accused of being overly planned and given into formalism, I wonder if the modern church has gone too far the other way in its lack of intentionality?
     MYTH #8: THE CHURCH LACKS THE RESOURCES TO DO ANYTHING DIFFERENT. Money (or the lack thereof) always seems to be a big topic in many churches.  Unfortunately, this myth can control the direction of the church and thwart any attempts of walking in faith and for revival.  Now, I am not suggesting that a church should have unrealistic expectations about their resources ( a church of 35 shouldn't plan on building a 1200 seat sanctuary in a town of 100), but a church should realize that the Lord has given the congregation everything it needs to do the work of ministry.  The resources may be those which are already in the church or in the pockets of those who support the church.  It is my experience that when the church catches God's vision, the resources will come.  Far too often, however, the church either saves its resources for a rainy day or they talk about what they don't have so they do not act on anything.  Churches would be best served by starting somewhere in terms of pursuing the vision that God has for it, and then watch the Lord provide.
    MYTH #9: IF WE CHANGE THE PASTOR OR IF WE ONLY HAD PASTOR JONES STILL HERE, THEN OUR CHURCH WILL GROW.  Pastoral leadership, to a point, can encourage and promote revival in a church, but if a congregation thinks that revival will come merely because of a pastoral change or a desire to return to the good old days when a beloved pastor was at the church, then they have fallen to the myth of personality.  In I Corinthians 3:1-7, Paul confronts this myth head on by saying that basing a church's ministry on the personality of its leaders was a reflection of spiritual immaturity which is hardly conducive to revival.  Congregations need to learn that God raises up different people at different times in the church's life in order for it to grow into the fulness of Christ which is at the heart of revival.
     MYTH #10: IF WE COPY SADDLEBACK'S FORMULA FOR SUCCESS THEN THE CONGREGATION WILL GROW. Certainly, a congregation can learn great things from Saddleback or Willow Creek. Their resources may serve as valuable tools for ministry.  But ultimately, each congregation must look at where God's vision is for their church.  The truth is that there are no sure-fire methods or programs that will turn around a church. What worked in Southern California may not work in Wilawana, Pennsylvania.  Nevertheless, God has a plan for each church and desires to see His church revived and reawakened.
     These are a list of my top ten myths of church revival.  Now it is your turn to add to this blog.


  1. Outstanding! There is also the myth "it's the pastor's job" so congregations just sit! It's the pastor's job to get new folks coming, it's the pastor's job to call on those who have stopped coming, it's the pastor's job to make the coffee for the fellowship after ther service, it's the pastor's job to teach Sunday School , etc., etc....this myth can be added to ad nauseum. In reality everyone attending a church are ministers and all of us should be fulfilling the great commission! Share the Gospel people!

  2. Good read. Having worked with churches trying to reverse decline over a decade, I've seen these myths at work.

  3. MYTH #11 - What's working today is ACTUALLY working. So many churches are living in the world of short-sighted pragmatism. Their strategy for successful ministry is all-to-often being guided by a flawed definition of success. Therefore, while their pragmatic, "this works" approach may appear to be yielding results. Are the results eternally significant or simply a temporary flash in the pan?

    1. Good comment that makes me wonder if the focus has been more on seeking converts instead of followers of Jesus. Idleman in his material NOT A FAN hits on this when he likens the church to a sporting event where we put a lot of fans in the stands but very few are committed to the game or to the following Christ. I think part of the issue is that it is much easier to measure numbers and results than the degree by which people are truly walking with Christ. To hold each other accountable and to encourage other believers is something not easily measured so we define success by their statistical value.