By Thom S. Rainer
Perhaps my optimism is influenced by the Christmas season and the hope of the Christ child whose birth we celebrate in two days.
But I think it’s more than that. Much more.
Let me be clear. I know there are many struggling churches. I know there are many hurting and beaten up pastors. I don’t have my head in the sand. On the contrary, I deal with these churches and leaders almost every day.
My optimism is fueled by several indicators I have been noticing. While many of my data points are anecdotal and observational, I see them as nevertheless real and powerful. Let me put them out there and allow you the opportunity to respond.
- Church leaders and members are moving from denial to seeking help. A church can’t change unless its leaders and members admit the church needs help. Just at our organization alone, Church Answers, we are inundated with requests for help. Our starter revitalization resource, Revitalize Bundle, is being utilized by hundreds of churches. A church can’t turnaround unless it admits it needs a turnaround.
- Countless church members are taking a stand against the silliness and negativity in churches. Just this past week, I have heard from seven churches where members in the churches had a “counter rebellion.” They are sick and tired of the naysayers and bullies who are discouraging and distracting other church members and, particularly, the pastor. For the most part, they are letting the negative and pernicious naysayers know they will not tolerate such behavior.
- There is a renewed interest to become outwardly focused. Many well-intending churches are inwardly focused. Few of their resources are used to evangelize the community in which the church resides. Discipleship is largely seen as efforts to provide content to the members. But more churches are actually loving and evangelizing their respective communities. More churches realize that Great Commission discipleship begins with “Therefore, go.”
- There is a renewed commitment to the community. The focus to move outwardly is complemented by an increased love of the community where the church is located. The address of your church facilities is not an accident. God put every church in a community to love and serve that community. It is an incredible movement of God to see a church fall deeply in love with those who live and work near them.
- Unity is returning to many churches. Jesus could not have been clearer in John 13:35: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples (NLT).” For many years, the world has looked at Christians and church members as purveyors of negativity and fighters over minutia. I once decided I would take a week and write down all the different fights I saw among Christians and report it in one of my articles. After one day and 57 issues, I gave up. The exercise in itself was a downer. But, more and more, I see signs of hope. Church members are becoming more unified. Many are putting their preferences aside for the sake of others and the good of their churches. I pray we may soon be to that point where the early church was described in this manner: “all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47, NLT).
Reality is tough. Answers are not easy. But there is hope. God is turning the hearts of more and more church leaders and members.
In a week, I will give you my thoughts on the trends for churches in 2020.
Have a Christ-filled Christmas! I so appreciate all of you in this community. You are a blessing to me.