A twelve-step program for your church (Part I)


Church has changed a lot in the past 30 years. To accommodate the decline in church attendance and involvement, many churches changed their modes and methods of operation. The traditional began to become contemporary in many cases. None of the changes were pernicious or even poorly intended.

Dorothy Greco, writing for Christianity Today, penned, “In the case of my previous church, choosing the seeker model began innocently. The staff endeavored to create a wide on-ramp for folks who might ordinarily bypass the sanctuary in favor of Starbucks.”

A recent Barna survey says that more than 8 million 20-somethings have given up on church or Christianity. Perhaps it is because Millennials cannot tolerate hypocrisy and they have seen too much of it in the church. They do not want us to talk about the Bible; they want us to live it. They don’t want us to talk about change; they want to engage in the kind of Christianity that actually changes the world.

Martha Jean and I have a granddaughter, Brinley, who has taken pictures and even written for The Christian Index. She went to Ghana West Africa for her spring break to minister to some of the poorest of the poor.

She is graduating from high school this year. Actually, she is not walking across the stage to get her diploma, because she is leaving Georgia before the graduation exercise to work in a Christian camp in California for the summer. She will get back home in time to repack her bags and head out to Santiago, Dominican Republic, where she will serve Christ in an orphanage for almost a year.

I think all of our ten grandchildren and the generation coming behind us are looking for authenticity and genuineness in our worship and our witness.

Having been in ministry for more then 56 years, including 41 years as a pastor, I admit I am somewhat of a relic, old-school, traditional. But I would like to share some factors I believe will contribute to a growing, effective church in any age or generation. These 12 steps to growing an effective church will be presented in three consecutive editorials.

We will begin with the first four factors, or elements, to an effective church. They are not listed in terms of priority, because all are vitally important.

1. Every church must have a vision from above.

In Proverbs 29:18 the Bible says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” If the negative is true, the positive must also be true – “Where there is vision, the people flourish.”

I have always been a dreamer. No one ever did what he did not plan to do and he never planned to do what he did not dream. Vision always hopes for something better, always expects it, and always believes it will happen. Pastors, ask God to give you a vision from above for your church.

2. Every church must maintain a high standard of holiness.

I don’t think a church can be what God wants it to be unless Jesus Christ is the head of the church and He exercises His lordship through godly leaders. The world is looking for the church to be different from the country club, the educational society, the civic club, or the fraternity or sorority. Adrian Rogers has stated, “The child of God and the church should stand out in the dark world like a diamond in a coal mine.”

Today’s younger generation is looking for authenticity. If a church preaches one thing to the world and lives contrary to that message before the world it creates a dichotomy in the church and loses its credibility in the world. I Peter 4:17 says that “judgment must begin in the house of God.” If immorality is totally unacceptable to God, there must be an affirmation of the standard of holiness in order to preserve, strengthen, and empower the church.

3. Every church must maintain an emphasis on prayer.

Jesus said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” There is nothing of eternal consequence accomplished apart from prayer. The only thing the devil fears on this earth is the Christian who knows how to pray. Prayer tips the scales in favor of blessing, good, righteousness, and truth.

A.C. Dixon stated, “When we rely upon organization, we get what organization can do; when we rely upon education, we get what education can do; when we rely upon eloquence, we get what eloquence can do; but when we rely upon prayer, we get what God can do.”

4. Every church must maintain an emphasis on an intense loving spirit.

Years ago I read a book by Jess Moody titled A Drink at Joel’s Place. He anticipated the seeker-friendly church by 30 years in the way he calls on believers to welcome guests into the Bible study and worship services. Joel’s Place, as I recall, was a bar, and Moody said, “People can often find more friendship and hospitality at the local bar or tavern than in the local church.”

However, love is not just a warm handshake, a warm fuzzy feeling, or a spiritual goose bump. Christ’s love is self-sacrificial service. Churches that are known for conflict, antagonistic spirits, and exclusive fellowships are as helpful to God’s church as an aspirin dispensary in a leper colony.

However, churches that give evidence they prefer others above themselves will grow. Let guests and the handicapped have the best parking places. Invite the stranger(s) to your worship experience to go out to lunch with you and your family. Find out how you can pray for those who are in your church whether they are members or guests. Go the second mile to express your love.

Part two will be posted soon.

church growth, culture, healthy church, Millennials, revitalization