The Principles New Life in Your Church
Spiritual formation and the Missio Dei often suffer in a church that is plateaued or in decline. The inner life and a Great Commission footing fall prey to the “more pressing” concerns of survival and whether the church will make it to next Sunday. But for the leader with a heart and vision for restoring the vitality of a body, these essentials of congregational life are the seeds and spreading roots of revitalization. Men and women of God who will look clear-eyed at the challenged spiritual condition of a church will not look for hope in process and programs, but in the biblical calls to develop Christlikeness and a servant’s heart. How do we do that? The answers are contextual to a particular church, but working from principles rather than programs can guide and motivate the first steps back to health.
Dry bones can live…
The revitalizationist will probably find that the principles of church health have become secondary concerns of the congregation in stasis or retreat. Where the kinetic energy of events and programs might seem to solve a church’s issues, the immediate blessings of doing something will fade quickly unless they come to rest upon a foundation of spiritual vitality. The pastor or lay leader seeking to renew a declining church should be prepared to set short-term gains aside and devote themselves and those under their leadership to restore spiritual health from the bottom up. Churches in the North American Baptist Conference [NAB] are blessed by a set of guiding principles that invite all member congregations to take them as their own. For the revitalizer, these are four principles that provide an outline for restoring areas of church life that can lead a church back to life. The principles [called End Goals by the NAB] are simple, biblical and direct:
- Churches will be missional and formational
- Churches will engage their neighbors cross-culturally
- Churches will be committed to raising up the next generation of leaders
- Churches will keep ‘all the nations’ in their ministry scope
Applying these principles as the foundation of a renewal plan addresses the wide variety of causes and symptoms of decline. Consider the church planted decades ago in a neighborhood or borough of the city. Over the years of faithful kingdom service, the church experiences declining membership and attendance. A census of the remaining membership shows most people not living in the immediate area and the makeup of the church no longer aligning with the changing demographics of the surrounding neighborhood. The reasons for these disparities are many and varied, but the underlying principle is much easier to find; the church has not consistently loved their neighbors as themselves. Now, this doesn’t have to be interpreted in a negative sense or assigned any nefarious motive. Every church with a history can identify with slowly changing surroundings, while the congregation carries on in the memory of their more fruitful days.
The temptation of the church is to have an event, intending to connect with their new neighbors. No doubt the Holy Spirit can produce fruit from this occasion. For longer term health and growth, however, the better choice is to put in the work of prayer and teaching to build a missional culture and an attitude of welcome for the church’s neighbors. Over time and with a commitment to the principles of spiritual health, the body of believers can become more naturally missional, not relying on special events to be a part of the life of the neighborhood. Consistently applying the principle of cross-cultural ministry to the church’s teaching and practice can be used by the Spirit to create a new sensitivity to the needs and issues of those who live within the parish of the church, resulting in open hearts and welcoming arms.
We’ll look at each of these principles individually as tools of renewal in the weeks ahead. If you are a part of the NAB family, be encouraged that our leadership has prayerfully given the conference a consistent set of guidelines for our collective ministry. One of the great blessings of these end goals is that they are applicable to all ministry contexts, from the church planter to the missionary and to the legacy churches that are seeking new life.