Leading Your Church into an Era of Renewed Optimism

church revitalization

If God can save any person, he can save any church.

Excerpted From

The Church Revitalization Checklist

By Sam Rainer

Leading Your Church into an Era of Renewed Optimism

If God can save any person, he can save any church. The gospel embodies a movement—bringing people out of spiritual darkness and into eternal light. The gospel not only initiates a new life in us, it also sustains us throughout our earthly lives. Jesus saves each one of us in a moment of time. But he also supports us in every moment that follows.

What Jesus does for individuals, he also does for the church, the assembly of saved individuals. The Good News is both personal and corporate. If we believe any person is worth saving, we must also believe any church is worth saving.

To hear people talk, the church in North America is deteriorating.2 Reading the reports of decline can be exhausting and discouraging. Some overstate how hard the church is falling, but few would deny that many local churches are not doing well. Perhaps your church is one of them. Maybe you’re tired or disheartened. Maybe you’re hurting. Don’t give up. Your congregation is worth revitalizing.

In my congregation’s tradition, we baptize by immersion. Some baptisms are more memorable than others. I’ll never forget the young man who shouted, “Let’s do this!” right before he was immersed. He was completely submitted to Christ, optimistic about God’s mission, and ready to share the gospel. He came up out of the water to roaring applause. His optimism was contagious. The church shared his hope.

I don’t wake up every morning saying, “Let’s do this!” But I probably should. Every believer should. Biblical optimism is neither capricious nor superficial. It is a joy deeply rooted in hope. Biblical optimism is complete confidence that God has a plan and his plan will prevail.

Optimism always bends toward hope. Everyone hopes for something. In a general sense, hope is the feeling we get when we think that something we want is within our reach. This type of hope is not a certainty. It’s just a feeling.

Hope rises. Hope falls. But what if we could hope for something that was truly within our reach? What if our collective hope led to collective praise? What if our hope led to something—or Someone—certain?

The Gospel of Luke records such a hope—a greater hope not determined in the finite realm of circumstances.

Some have called Luke’s thesis “the Great Reversal.” The last become first. The least become the greatest. The least of all sit at the table with the King. This is the hope suggested in the Old Testament book of Job, of all places: “At last the poor have hope, and the snapping jaws of the wicked are shut.”4

Hope is a term often used in a context of doubt. When we say, “I hope my team wins,” there is a hint of disbelief. When we say, “I hope my church grows,” you know it’s not guaranteed. When I peer into the freezer and say, “I hope there is ice cream,” the grim knowledge of my kids’ appetites adds an element of doubt.

Biblical hope, on the other hand, conveys confidence and security. When the Bible uses the word hope, there is no inclination to doubt.

There’s only one place to find certain hope. As the old hymn has it, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”5 This hope is certain. It’s not just a feeling. This hope is collective. It’s available to all. This hope is infinite and eternal. It never dies.

Cultural Christianity might be dead or dying. Maybe that’s embarrassing for some. But I’m not embarrassed. We need more faith contenders and fewer church pretenders anyway. The Christianity I see in the New Testament is lean and determined. We’re called to work out our faith while running a race. We’re called to gird our loins with truth.

Church, let’s do this! We can stand strong. We can exude joy. We can encourage hope. I’m optimistic about God’s work. I’m hopeful about Christ’s church in North America. You should be too.

The next few years are crucial for the health of the North American church. Megachurches won’t just disappear. People won’t flock back into smaller churches just for a change of scenery. Though the megachurch movement has been more of a positive force for the gospel than a negative one, if the overall health of the church is to improve, I believe that a movement of non-megachurches must gain momentum.

I’m optimistic about tomorrow, but smaller and medium-size churches will have to move into a mode of exploration to take advantage of the opportunity. Adventurers do not embark with a spirit of pessimism. Sailors move into uncharted waters when they believe something better is just over the horizon.

I believe a blue ocean lies before us. But even though I’m hopeful, I’m not a Pollyanna. A firm grip on reality is every bit as important to leadership as optimism and a can-do spirit. The trick is to get the right mix. We’re not going to get it all right. Hope must be willing to sacrifice perfection for progress. Hope must also be willing to get up and move, even if we’re unsure exactly where to go. Where are we going? Forward! Where is that? Right in front of us.

We must start exploring now. Set your sights for five years from today, but hold the specifics loosely. If we’ve learned anything from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that the future can change on a dime. But God is unchanging. His faithfulness endures forever.13

As a leader in your church, you have a responsibility to convey a hopeful message to your congregation. Leaders take people to a better place. Pastors shepherd their congregations to a better place. Pessimism has no place in leadership—not even if you try to rebrand it as realism—and it will not move people to a healthier place. Pessimists are not leaders. Pessimists always see the worst case. Pessimists assume that evil will prevail over good. Pessimists—by God’s design—cannot be effective pastors or church leaders, because the gospel by its very nature is optimistic.15

Just because national trends point to a decline in the North American church does not mean your church must decline. Leaders cannot resign themselves to negative influences and outcomes. Your role as a leader is to translate the message of hope in your own context.

The Kingdom of God knows nothing of pessimism. Pessimism in leadership leads ultimately to tyranny. Leaders move people to the other side of tomorrow. And that requires optimism.17 Optimism at its most basic simply means seeing that something better is possible. Optimism assures us that we don’t have to stay stuck where we are. We can move, we can hope, we can take action.

A better day is just on the other side of tomorrow. Optimism and hope will lead your church there.

All together now: Let’s do this!

Excerpted from The Church Revitalization Checklist: A Hopeful and Practical Guide for Leading Your Congregation to a Brighter Tomorrow by Sam Rainer. Copyright 2022. Published by Tyndale House. 

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