Dying to Live

In a season of desperation in the local church, a leadership will either hold on to the last vestiges of the church or cling to the garment of Christ’s robe. In each scenario, the idea of “dying” compels a church to resist change or radically submit to it. 

God has a fantastic plan for the local church, but it seems like people continue to block or distort that plan for their own needs and personal preferences. If your local church is going to live, it will have to commit to a greater vision, commit to each other, and commit to an extraordinary God.

1. Commit to a Greater Vision.

Over the years, as the church began to die, people began to look inward instead of outward. The church leadership bated down each proposed program and funds to host a new ministry because of a need for more funds and people for their own needs as a church. Through a self-filling prophecy, the church began to lack the funds and people they desired to reach with the gospel. 

Hebrews 12:1 reminds us that there is a great cloud of witnesses cheering the church on, yet the local church finds itself in a death spiral spinning out of control because it forgot to give the church over to God, who is in complete control.

Some revitalization strategists believe legacy churches should die, and their funds should be reinvested in church planting. I am not one of them. Churches and denominations can revitalize churches to become healthy church planters. All we have to do is commit to a greater vision that obeys God’s will and uses the church facilities and campus for a more significant community impact. Suppose your local church has a smaller footprint than before (fewer people). In that case, you will have more buildings (space in general) that are underutilized and that can see new life through partnerships with nonprofits, private schools, childcare facilities, homeschool groups, etc. 

God will send new partners if the church can reimagine its current space with a gospel-centered community focus. Reversing a church’s decline is more about positive biblical vision and direction than gimmicks.

2. Commit to Each Other.

As the church has declined, a mighty remnant of believers held to the calling of keeping the doors open. If you find yourself in a church with just a handful of people, see it as an opportunity to commit to each other, to pray for and encourage one another. 

Prayer becomes the incubator for new ideas to rebound from decline and hope for new solutions to old problems for future growth. As the church moves forward, it must commit to praying earnestly for each other and its neighborhood. It is not one or the other, but a multiprong approach to seeking after the will of God. Prayer becomes, in essence, the spiritual priming agent for the new well that will spring forth new life.

3. Commit to a Foundational View of Serving Others.

When the church is slowly dying, there is a tendency to cut itself off from the ever-changing neighborhood around it. Instead of putting up barriers between the church and community, begin to see the community as a helpmate in redeeming the church. As Christ is in the church, so too he is in the neighborhood. Imagine how the church could open its campus as a community park with a new playground, a dog park in a fenced-in area, or a large picnic shelter where the neighborhood could host community yard sales. Begin to think with eyes out instead of eyes in on the church’s needs.

The community outside the church’s walls needs a Bible-teaching church as much as the church needs a community that is invested in what it offers. God is in the redeeming business, and he wants to redeem the local church, but it must do its part in developing a community-centric focus on reaching the lost. The turnaround will not happen overnight, but through a commitment to serving others, Jesus’ redemption will not be just a wish but a reality.

Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett is the lead pastor at Winter Haven First Church of the Nazarene in Winter Haven, Florida. He is the author of several books and most recently the co-author with Charlotte P. Holter of Missional Reset: Capturing the Heart for Local Missions in the Established Church (Resource Publications) and has done extensive research in the area of church revitalization and serves as church revitalizer, consultant, coach, podcast host and mentor to revitalizing pastors and churches.