The streets of every town in America are filled with once great churches. At one point, there was a vision, passion and commitment to planting a church in a neighborhood or community. Somehow, over time, that commitment waned or the next generation failed to carry the torch. Now, where there was once evidence of belief in the life-changing power of the gospel, there is peeling paint, overgrown yards, and dilapidated buildings.
There are other churches that are “alive” but are in reality, dead. They’ve forsaken the evangelistic and missional passion of their founders and replaced it with liberal theology, compromised ethics, and a social gospel. One needs to look no further than some of our mainline denominations to discover that these are undeniable realities. Sometimes I wonder what Wesley and Luther would think about what has happened to movements they started.
Sadly our cities are filled with churches that have a great past but an uncertain future. A few years ago, I visited a massive church in one of the major cities in America. It was founded in the 1830s as a “free” church, meaning the pews were free. The church started with 82 charter members and grew rapidly. Eventually, they bought a huge Broadway-style theater that they converted into a church.
In the 1850s they passed a resolution declaring that all slaves should be respected, cared for, and protected. They stood strong on the leading social and human rights issues of the day. Great preachers, including D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham, have preached in this historic 3,000-seat church. Today, they will average less than 300 in attendance on a Sunday.
My home church is another example. Someone told me a few months ago that they have about fourteen people attending, all aging senior adults. This is the church that once had a vital youth ministry and a building filled with children. Now they hold on and probably talk about the “good old days.” Fourteen people in a room that seats 1,000 is not a sign of health.
What can be done to fix this? Apart from revival, little will change. We need an infusion of the power of the Holy Spirit in our churches. We’ve depended on programs instead of prayer, methods instead of biblical messages, and buildings instead of growing believers.
We must regain those things we’ve lost. We must renew our commitment to prayer and the Spirit-filled life. There is no hope for the church apart from an infusion of power from heaven. We can’t fix such a serious problem with a “business as usual” mentality.
There are things in place that give me hope. One of the emphases in the Southern Baptist Convention that I’m very grateful for is our church planting and church revitalization push. In the 1960s, we tragically gave up on the inner city. Now we are trying to go back in and take the gospel into the very void we left in white flight. I can’t find anywhere in the Bible where it says the church is to appeal to just one demographic or be content with being comfortable. This strategy is helping us claim and reclaim areas we once gave up on.
One of the reasons we have invested so much time, money, and energy into our ReFRESH® Conferences is to encourage pastors to stay in the battle. Church planting and church revitalization is tough, and it’s not for the faint of heart. It demands the mentality of a soldier and the compassion of a shepherd. Our desire is to invest in pastors and lay leaders who are in the trenches, seeking to lead churches to a new and brighter future.
This cannot happen apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, a commitment to the Word of God, and a tenacious attitude that is not easily deterred. We’ve now hosted over 30 ReFRESH® Conferences across the nation. In 2017, we will be in the West (Las Vegas, NV), the Northeast (Harrisburg, PA), the South (Albany, GA), and, for the first time, Alaska.
I’m grateful for these open doors. It wouldn’t be possible without the support of Sherwood Church and the North American Mission Board. Their investment in this ministry has made it possible for us to touch thousands of pastors over the years.
We are believing God for great things in 2017 and asking God to use us to restore hope and increase vision, prayer, and desperate dependence on the Holy Spirit in pastors and lay leaders.
If you have a heart for God, a desperation for revival, and a longing for more of the Holy Spirit=s power in your church, please consider joining us for one of our ReFRESH® Conferences in 2017. (You can find more information at www.ReFRESHconference.org.) Even if you can’t join us, would you pray for us in this endeavor? We need to see a move of God across our land, and it begins in prayer. We would cherish your prayer support.