What’s the goal now, get more people back in the pews, or something so much more?
In early 2020, the Gallup poll on church attendance in the United States reported the first dip below half of the adult population attending church since it started measuring in 1937. It has been on a steady decline from 73% down to 47%. The Barna Group reports that one in three Christians stopped attending church during COVID. Pastors around the country are feeling the pain and pruning within their churches. Faithful congregations are longing for the glory days when the room was filled, the environment electric, and people were attracted to attend.
Now what? How do we get people back to church?
If that’s our primary question, then pastors and churches already know the obvious answer and are pros at it. Triple down and focus all our effort on outward-facing activities.
What programs can we create that will interest many?
What programs can we run that will draw people back in?
What events can we launch that will fill up our churches?
These are good questions that spring from good desires. After all, it’s called good news—naturally, we want more people to gather and to hear it.
But these questions—that are so focused on our work, rather than God’s work—might not be the best starting place. What if asking how to fill our churches again is altogether the wrong first question?
Often it’s easy for our hope for many to drift into a lesser motivation than what the Lord wants for us. It can even morph into a broken motivation, especially when it’s tied to attendance numbers, offering totals, a sense of self-significance, or notches on our eternal evangelism belts.
We need to be asking ourselves much more challenging questions, questions that look at the root of our desires, rather than only the outcome.
What lies at the heart of our hope for many?
Is it that the seats in our half-full auditoriums would be filled?
Is it that the dwindling offerings would be revived?
Is it so I can stop feeling ashamed for a while about the unfulfilled command, “Go, and make disciples…?”
Hoping for many isn’t a wrong desire, but it is the wrong starting point. What God wants even more is that many would hunger for him—including you! Ultimately, the ignited love of the Lord within us is what draws other people to him; allowing our primary motivation to be only the urgency of the gospel, or the command to go and share so that many will hear and be saved. Our evangelism efforts must be rooted in our love for Christ. We have to hunger for God for ourselves more than we ever have before.
Our desire for the revival of our churches must begin with the cry, “Revive me! Revive Us!”
Here’s how we get there:
First comes regeneration. This usually arrives in the form of conviction, in which we see our need for God, Jesus, and the cross. We’re given the righteousness of God and become new creatures in Christ. It’s the kind of personal revival that introduces us to a life in Christ and begins the process of opening our eyes to the truth. It’s the movement that begins with the cry, “Lord, revive me!”
Second comes a process of restoration during which God, in his unfailing kindness, begins to bring back the things that were lost when we lived apart from him. Maybe it’s finances or family, relationships or health. Perhaps you have experienced this, and you realize what a beautiful thing it is, this restoration power.
Third comes reformation. This is a time of struggle and engagement with God unlike anything you’ve experienced before. You will probably become aware of your old ways of living and have a strong desire to walk in the Spirit. During this stage, we put on Christ and put away the flesh, but only by the grace and power of God. This becomes a time of incredible spiritual maturity.
From there we move into renewal, where we experience a dynamic energy that isn’t the result of human leadership but of the supernatural, legitimate working of the Spirit. This can be a tremendously exciting time where fresh energy comes and fills us and the churches we inhabit. Maybe you’ve witnessed times of renewal, perhaps in prayer or church planting or some other phase, during which you could sense a palpable excitement gathering around the work of God.
After regeneration, restoration, reformation, and renewal comes revival. During revival. the number of people who normally come to Christ in a twenty-year period come to Christ in two months. Everything is accelerated. In fact, so much happens in such a short time, and so many people decide to explore and follow Christ, that our normal ways of doing things cannot contain the work that’s taking place. Churches overflow. Lives change. Cue the imagery of those early disciples trying to haul in the nets.
After all of these, and only then, awakening is possible. This is when God transforms an entire culture.
The moral of this story is that you can’t leap directly into revival or awakening or refilled churches. We all want to see this kind of incredible awakening and emergence sweep through our families, our cities, our nations, and our cultures. Especially now. We all want to see churches filled and hearts in untold numbers turn to Jesus. But we must first travel the path, and it begins with regeneration, or personal renewal within.
Excerpted from How to Revive Evangelism by Craig Springer. Copyright ©2021 by Zondervan. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.