I read a doctoral thesis by George Bullard recently called, “The Life Cycle and Stages of Congregational Development,” and it compares the development of a church to various stages of human growth. It was helpful because our tendency is to just think of the church as a static entity but it’s more like a living organism that is either growing or dying. Let me explain the stages in the life-cycle of a church that Bullard presents.
Last week, I took a course in church revitalization. As the name suggests, it was about restoring to life to churches that have lost their vitality. Over four days, four pastors shared lessons and insights they had learned in leading their churches through renewal. What was so refreshing was that none of them pointed to gimmicks or novel ideas. The course focused on the fundamentals but with clear strategies on how to grow in them. Whereas 20 years ago churches were talking about shorter sermons, skits, interpretive dance and avoiding words like sin or hell, today growing churches are focused on prayer, evangelism, discipleship and glorifying God. The conversation has changed – for the better! Let me share one of their stories.
One of the biggest challenges of the Christian life is the struggle to believe. If we really believed that God answers prayer, then we'd pray more. If we really believed that God wants what's best for us, then we'd be more obedient. And if we really believed that God's Word changes us, then we'd be more faithful in reading it. One of the ways that God seems to grow our faith is through amazing demonstrations of His power. By showing us that cataclysmic change is possible, He encourages us to keep pursuing incremental change in our lives. This week God encouraged me through the incredible transformation of a Japanese murderer, named Tokichi Ishii.
I’ve heard stories about evangelistic tent meetings. And while I’m sure there were obstacles and challenges, I’m always amazed at the simplicity that seems to describe them. Hold a meeting in the biggest room you can find and with the right speaker and almost everyone would come – and many would find new life in Jesus. Times have changed. And while I’m still envious of the simplicity of former days, I’m also amazed at the new ways that the gospel is bearing fruit in our day. There are four characteristics of effective evangelism that I’ve seen recently.