A church may be filled to overflowing week after week, with visitors regularly adding to the attendance and pushing the numbers ever higher. The generous giving of all those people may account for a budget that builds a grand edifice and fills it with the latest technology to stream the pastor’s message around the globe. During the week, there may be programs scheduled every day, enough to fill the family’s wide and varied interests. From the outside, the church gives the appearance of success, and yet, it might be a valley of dry bones on the inside.
Despite the external measures of health that many churches use–attendance, budget and program reach–it may be the case that internally the church is in deep need of spiritual renewal. The same metrics used by a baseball team to judge success are not the same measures that determine the spiritual vitality of a church. We measure her health on a different scale and by a different authority. The Church’s health is measured in the spiritual life of the people of God. Here are three signs that point to a need for renewal within a church.
3. Discipleship Does Not Transform
The outcome of disciple-making is the third measure of spiritual health. Discipleship should transform. To disciple is to affect the obedience of a Christian and shape their spiritual lives as their Christlikeness grows. Influenced by the world, much of discipleship has become knowledge acquisition in programmatic chunks. People, for example, participate in a program on improving marriage, fill out the study guide, have a potluck at completion and put the book on their shelves. Very few marriages are transformed, but, hey, the participants can recite from memory 5 bible verses about relationships. If the discipleship within a church does not transform the lives of Christians, it is not serving the needs of a body on mission.
2. Worship is Not Inspired
Any worship where there are performers and an audience is most likely not inspired. If no one is convicted of their rebellion while singing choruses of God’s incredible grace, spiritual vitality is diminished. This measure of inspiration requires keen insight because it’s possible to confuse emotion with spiritual practice and they might look a lot alike. Singing 5 prom-songs to Jesus can lead the ‘worshipper’ to a feeling of euphoria without once drawing attention to the lingering sin of a “wretch like me.” Singing praises to God or praying over the congregation or even standing to read the word of God should give a spiritual lift as we see and hear and feel the grace of God. At the same time that we are in awe of His mercy, we should be convicted of our own spiritual condition in His presence. Worship that does not remind us of the undeserved grace that redeems the Christian from destruction is empty.
1. The Church Doesn’t Pray Together
As Leonard Ravenhill said, no man and no church will be greater than their prayer life. Praying together, voicing our praise and petition and penance aloud in the hearing of other Christians is a unique and transformative experience. It’s also an experience most likely to be avoided by church members, and the lack of congregational prayer is usually (but not always) indicative of little individual prayer. If the Lord Jesus relied on prayer to carry Him through life, who are we Christians to say that we don’t need this discipline in our lives? The lack of a vibrant prayer life is the greatest sign that spiritual renewal is needed.
The encouraging news is that none of these traits are fatal. God encourages even the slightest move toward Him, rewarding the Christian with a new sense of spiritual depth. If this spiritual growth is recognized, it has the effect of becoming self-motivating, drawing the whole church into the life-giving practices. As the church is drawn toward a transformative discipleship that includes a vibrant life of prayer and deep, God-glorifying worship, the dry bones of the church click and clack as they come to life. The vine grows and bears fruit. The church is invigorated and returns to the gospel mission. The world is changed. Isn’t this worth it?