Special Feature



unnamedIn 1980, a young pastor fresh from seminary arriving at his first pastorate encountered some startling realities. Thinking he was informed as to the condition of the church, he soon learned just how uninformed he was. Church attendance had diminished from over 1,000 to an average of 55. There were no children’s Sunday school classes because there were no children. The average age in the congregation exceeded 70 and its past had become glorified nostalgia. On his first Sunday, when the service ended he and his wife made their way to the lobby; amazingly, the congregation had exited and rapidly emptied the parking lot. There were no sounds of fellowship from lingering crowds, only an empty sanctuary and parking lot. Within five minutes of giving the benediction, he went outside to try and speak to the departing congregation and found himself embarrassingly locked out of the church building by the equally rapid exit of the part-time church janitor. After breaking into his own church to obtain his Bible and car keys, the pastor and his wife looked at each other with the sudden realization of the enormity of this pastoral challenge. But there was more to come.  While all other churches in the area had monthly accounts at the local office supply store he soon learned his church was excluded and designated as “cash only” due to past payment delays. The church had not met its budget in years.  So what was he to do?

While grateful for his seminary education he realized he was unprepared for this moment.  Thankfully his seminary preparation had been framed by a relentless commitment to the inerrancy of God’s Word. So to his study and to the Scripture he went. I can verify all of the above since I was this young pastor. So how would God’s sufficient Word instruct me to respond?

Here was a church in decline and its demise imminent. It could be said one flu season would put the church out of business, yet the neighborhood was full of unreached people. The daily vandalizing of the church revealed two factors: one, the neighborhood viewed the church as a derelict unused building; two, there were people to be reached. Could this church be revitalized?  I soon discovered the answer is “yes,” and the Holy Spirit has provided a roadmap in the Bible for pastors to lead churches back to spiritual vitality.

In the book of Acts there are thirteen words uttered in frustrated anger from an enemy of the Gospel in Europe less than 25 years after the Ascension of Christ which I would love to hear once again, “these people who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” We know who turned the “world upside down,” the people of God empowered by the Spirit of God. We know what turned the “world upside down,” the power of the Gospel. We even know how they turned the “world upside down”:  evangelism and discipleship; church planting AND church revitalization; deeds of love and mercy; and leaders multiplied and mobilized. We are not in need of new strategies; we simply need to implement the apostolic strategy to “turn the world upside down.” So what is church revitalization and how is it done?

Christ Himself reveals the three-step church revitalization roadmap.  

God’s instructions to the church at Ephesus found in Revelation serve as a curriculum outline for church strengthening:  “Remember therefore from where you have fallen and repent and do the deeds you did at first.”  (Rev. 2:5)  The Scripture presents a paradigm of moving from spiritual decline and functional malaise to Spirit-filled vitality. There is found our three-fold paradigm for renewing our churches:

Church vitality is nothing more than following God’s prescription for church health, which naturally leads to conversions and improved

personal discipleship, for our good and God’s glory.   For the past three decades, “church growth” has been the focus of many churches.  All this emphasis on size, numbers and programs has been to no avail as evidenced by thousands of churches closing their doors every year.  Church health must precede church growth.  Only healthy churches manifest well-balanced, long-term growth.

So how does a church follow the three-step roadmap?

The answer is found in the Epistles of Paul, who strengthened churches and mentored bothunnamed revitalization pastors Timothy and Titus. It is there that the ten strategies to implement the three-step roadmap of Remember, Repent and Recover are found.

To learn the ten strategies leading to church health, attend the Embers to a Flame Conference, January 19-22, at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, AL.  Embers to a Flame is an affordable conference for pastors and church leaders where timeless, proven, biblical strategies for church health are taught.  Go to Emberstoaflame.org and register today – don’t wait as seating is limited.

Dr. Harry L. Reeder, III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL. Dr. Reeder completed his doctoral dissertation on “The Biblical Paradigm of Church Revitalization” and received a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina (where he serves as adjunct faculty member). He is the author of From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Church, as well as a number of other published works.

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