Help For Struggling Churches

The buzzword for years now within evangelical church circles is “revitalization”. The idea is that there are many churches who are dying, who are struggling, who are losing members quickly, and the goal is to bring life back into those churches and help them to become a healthy church again. This can be very noble work for those in this field, but unfortunately much of what I see from those in the field is not founded on Biblical principles, but rather pragmatism. Often the convincing point is that there was a church who ignored their advice and is now gone, and there is another church who heeded their advice and is now thriving. This pragmatic selling point should be immaterial to the Biblical church as we are not to think in terms of results. Plus, it is likely there is much that is being ignored in the analysis of why a church is dying.

To figure out why churches struggle and often die, the best place is not to read a book written by men that talks about an autopsy of dying churches, rather the best place to go is to the one place churches should be continually going, to the Word of God. Many of these churches who struggle and look to books, to programs, and elsewhere for help are revealing their core issue, they are failing to recognize that the issue of struggling churches is addressed clearly in Scripture. If the church is failing to realize that, then they are revealing that they do not go to Scripture for their advice first, and perhaps that is the very reason they are struggling so much in the first place.

 

Revelation chapters two and three reveal seven struggling churches for us, and these churches do not hire a church consultant to right the ship, rather the Head of the whole church comes to them and gives them a free consultation and analysis. Every struggling church should set their sights on these churches and think through what areas they may be struggling with as revealed by the Holy Spirit in His Word. Let’s examine them here and consider what God’s Word says about struggling churches.

 

The church in Ephesus is the first church found in verses 1-7, and we see the situation is so dire that Christ is warning them that they are about to have their lampstand removed. In other words, they are going to be closed. The issue is not that they do not hold to the truth, they do, but they do not hold to the truth in love…they have left their first love, love for God and love for one another. They are called to repent and get back to living in love with one another without ceasing to hold to the truth. Therefore, a struggling church should examine its culture and whether they are living out the Word of God in love, or just holding fast to legalism without allowing that sound doctrine to be lived in love.

To figure out why churches struggle and often die, the best place is not to read a book written by men that talks about an autopsy of dying churches, rather the best place to go is to the one place churches should be continually going, to the Word of God.

The church in Smyrna is next, and their struggle seemed to be persecution. They are holding up well, but the word of encouragement is that they must continue in their faithfulness. Their struggle is not because they are doing something wrong, but because they are doing it right. Sometimes a church may struggle under difficulty, not due to their misdeeds, but under the sovereign hand of God for His purposes. The church that evaluates itself and is remaining faithful should continue to be faithful, come what may.

 

The church in Pergamum also is facing persecution and has held fast, however, they have been too permissive in allowing false teaching that gave way to paganism in the church. The call of Christ here is to repent, and a warning that if they do not that Christ will come Himself and take care of the issue. The struggling church should examine itself in light of what is being taught there. Are they becoming political, mixing God’s Word with opinion, or are they simply remaining faithful to the Word of God. Bringing in teaching that is based on opinion and worldly ideas is a recipe for disaster in the church.

 

We then have the church in Thyatira who seems to have a similar issue as Pergamum, except here it seems it is not so much bad teaching as tolerating sinfulness within the church. Jesus warns that He is going to set this right, and I believe that in doing so He is teaching the church that they ought to set this right. A struggling church should examine whether she is tolerating open sinfulness within the body, and if so, begin to practice church discipline in the body as commanded by Christ. It is an unhealthy church that refuses to obey Christ and His command for disciplining open wickedness in the church.

Having many programs in a church is not a sign of health, but rather whether we are living out the truth and doctrine that we have been taught in God’s Word.

Chapter three opens up with the church in Sardis who is definitely in need of revitalization. She has a name of being alive, but is dead, according to her Head Jesus Christ. It appears they have learned the faith, but they are straying away from the truth. The call to the church is repentance from a dead faith to a living faith that results in holiness, purity, and blamelessness. The struggling church should examine whether they are busy or whether they are Biblical. Having many programs in a church is not a sign of health, but rather whether we are living out the truth and doctrine that we have been taught in God’s Word.

 

The church of Philadelphia is the sixth church, and this church seems to be a healthy church who is holding fast to Christ and His Word. They are commended for their perseverance under hardship from the Judaizers who hated Christianity. The encouragement is that Jesus is coming soon, so continue to hold fast. The church that is struggling against the grain of culture should not assume they are unhealthy. As we hold fast to truth there is likely to be a culture from the enemy that despises us and speaks poorly of us, and if that causes a church to remain small, they should not seek to compromise anything but to simply remain faithful. This church was not in need of revitalization, just encouragement to continue on, and I think there may be many smaller churches like the church of Philadelphia today.

The last church is the church of Laodicea, and Jesus warns them that they are useless, not hot or cold, and so He is going to spit them out of His mouth. They appear to be wealthy, comfortable, mostly with worldly possessions, and because of this they have ignored their dependence on Christ which is far more valuable than anything this world can provide. They are called to repentance and to be zealous for Christ. I believe this is the majority of struggling churches today in the United States. We have become so comfortable that we forget that we need God, we need the Spirit to work, we need to be before Him in prayer asking Him to move on our behalf, we need to look to His Word for guidance. The struggling church should examine themselves and see where their true dependence lies, and make sure it is on Christ and His Word.

 

I believe these seven church examples are all we need for revitalization. Struggling churches do not need to be burdened down with man’s ideas about casting vision, about outreach strategies, about communication plans, about reflecting their ethnicity in the community. All of this is just burdensome to that church. Rather, the struggling church, and every church, must continue in sound doctrine, must continue to fix their eyes on Jesus, must continue to obey Christ, must continue to be filled with the Spirit, and must love one another and God. Let the sufficient Word of God be your inspiration for change, your hope for the future, and your encouragement for tomorrow. Christ will not remove the lampstand of a truly Biblical church. Do not fear and stand firm, for our Lord is our Head, and He is building His church.