Question: I am thinking of a United Methodist church. It is several blocks from a main street, has a dusty set of buildings that need maintenance all over the place. Average age about 70. Very few baptisms or new members in the last several years. 47 members left. Attendance 27. 1/4 time pastor. No fresh ideas in the last couple of decades.
Assuming the grace of God and ordinary human effort, but not magic, what can be done? This is a real church, and also one that represents many others.
My best answer:
My DMin project is on resurrecting such churches. The challenge is to stop thinking out of an institutional paradigm, and start working on finding 12 followers who will do whatever it takes to evangelistically make disciples. Stop worrying about the buildings. Jesus had no buildings. Stop worrying about the people who live around the church. People don’t attend church based on the church that’s closest – not since the days when they had to walk to church because there were no cars. They drive by all sorts of Churches to attend the one where people love them and nurture them spiritually. Stop making plans to increase your parking lot or to redecorate your sanctuary or hire a hot praise band to pack them into your building. Stop trying to figure out how to get strangers to line up on Sunday waiting for you to unlock the door.
You’re going to have to unlearn most of the denominational BS that you’ve been fed about church growth. This will not be hard because it doesn’t work. In other words, you need to abandon right handed church for a while and exclusively focus on doing what Jesus did … be left handed church. What’s hard is to give up the yearning to find some way to make the institutional church function and flourish; if you can’t, it will continually distract you from the commands of Jesus which are instructions for the making of disciples.
There is an article at this link which describes the new paradigm: “A New Way of Making Disciples: Using the Left Hand” http://www.beadisciple.com/blog/a-new-way-of-making-disciples-using-the-left-hand/
Here is the rest of what I started to describe above – it’s one quote from Yongii Cho, the pastor of Yoido Gospel Central Church, the largest church in the world. If you simply do this, it will change everything:
“You know, we don’t do evangelism in Korea the way you do it in the West . . . We have 50,000 cell groups and each group will love two people to Christ within the next year. They select someone who’s not a Christian, whom they can pray for, love and serve. They bring meals, help sweep out the person’s store — whatever it takes to show they really care for them.
When a person asks, “Why are you treating me so well?” our people answer, “Jesus told us that we’re supposed to do good to all men, and we want you to know that we love you, and so does Jesus.”
After three or four months of such love, the hardest soul softens up and surrenders to Christ.”
Then the new Christian participates with his or her cell group as they select the next person they will love to Christ. This is the most effective system of evangelism in the world. Joel Comiskey defines a cell group as a small group formed for the purpose of evangelism. It will worship, it will fellowship, it will study, it will serve missionally, but the purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission is always the priority. The command of Christ is not to love the neighborhood around the church building … that’s institutional … but for Christians to love the neighbors around the Christian. If your people do this, their church will flourish. It’s just as simple as that.
The Yoido quote is from Carl F. George, The Coming Church Revolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 1994), 93-94. Note the similarity to the Moravian humility that so influenced Wesley on January 25, 1736. John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), 1:21-22.