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13 Ways to REVIVE the Dying American Church

I am a quiet little man from a quiet little town you’ve never heard of.

I have absolutely nothing in common with Brad Pitt, Steve Jobs, or any of the other worshiped men of our time. I’ve never been the champion of an impressive sporting event or held any position of prominence that would impress you (although my turn as Winnie the Pooh in the sixth grade play did generate a lot of… buzz).

There’s no reason why revival in the Church would start with someone like me.

Truthfully, there’s no reason why you should care what I have to say at all—and for most of my life—nobody did. Then I wrote some words about millennials in the church that exploded.

As I continue to reel from all the doors that have opened since hitting the publish button, I have realized something about what I wrote that day has touched a very real fear in many of us Christians: a fear that we’ve lost the plot of this story we call church.

There’s no denying this reality: something about the way we’re doing church is turning people away in record numbers.

  1. Between 2007 and 2014, there was a 3.7% decline in weekly church attendance. Meanwhile, the U.S. population increased by over 16 million during that same time frame. -Pew Research Center

  2. 59% of Millennials who grew up in a church have dropped out. – Barna Group

  3. Almost half of all American adults (48%) are post-Christian (believed in the tenants of Christianity at one time but no longer do). -Barna Group

What I didn’t write in the millennials post is that I’ve spent the last six years giving my life to a local church, even buying a house closer to the building to shorten my drive on the 4 and 5 days a week I was spending volunteering in kids ministry, middle and high school youth groups, playing on worship teams (in addition to leading a young adults group in my living room, writing a blog and launching a suicide prevention ministry).

I don’t advertise the work I’ve done for the kingdom because frankly, it’s none of your business. My writing isn’t about the approval of man, it’s about glorifying God. And as it turns out, God has a lot to say to people who are willing to shut up and listen. (yes, even to social-media-addicted millennials like me).

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” -Jeremiah 29:13

As I sit reading my bible (most) mornings, I keep hearing a whisper through the silence that I don’t know what to do with. As I ask God to show me what we’re missing about church he keeps giving me one simple word: unity.

The truth is I think too many of us have forgotten what the Church is and what the Church isn’t.

The Church is not a building. The Church is not a congregation. The Church is not a dynamic preacher or hipster worship leader. The Church is not a silo in one small part of the earth.

The Church is a global, connected network of broken people trying to tell people to follow this incredible man named Jesus. The Church is actually ALL the people of God, all believers from all different backgrounds. The Church IS us—all of us—together working as one body.

Somewhere along the way, we got distracted by the desire for big buildings, cool light shows, and impressive websites and forgot the wise words of the great prophet Zac Efron: we’re all in this together.

The new testament is littered with a constant call to unity in the church.

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” —1 Corinthians 1:10

And this:

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. -Ephesians 4:25

And this, and this, and this:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. -Philippians 2:1-2 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. -Romans 12:16 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 1 Peter 3:8

We can look at the statistics and respond with fear, name-calling, and attack or we can see it for what it truly is: an opportunity for revival. A chance to reshape what this world thinks of Christians and our Church.

So here are 13 ways this tiny-waisted, suburban white boy thinks we can revive the dying American church and be a little more like the Church the apostle Paul called us to be.

1.) Fewer Denominations.

Uh oh, powerful church leaders aren’t going to like this one. Am I really the only one who thinks that the estimated 217 different denominations in America might be a little over-the-top?

What would happen if we… *gasp* …consolidated? (Cue Horror Movie Music) What would it look like for the American Church to come together as one body of Christ? 
What would happen if we stopped being so hyper-focused on our differences and instead all answered the Great Commission together:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. —Matthew 28:19-20

What if Christians took a vow to focus our collective energy on what really matters: making disciples? What if we all put down the picket signs and political battles and started loving one another the way Christ taught us to love?

*cough* revival *cough*

Oh my gosh, did someone just say revival?

Revival will come when we find ways to unite as one body of Christ.

2.) STOP ALL THE FIGHTING

ALL OF IT.

Zero back-biting or profane talk. Zero in-fighting. For the love of anchovies STOP THE CHRISTIAN CIVIL WAR.

Constructive (probably in-person) discussions on ideas, theology, and truth – yes, yes, yes. Screaming, all-caps rants and crazy Facebook posts – no, no, no.

“Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.” —Ephesians 4:29, 31-32

There are countless examples in the bible of how we should speak to one another and none of them start THOU SHALT SCREAM HATE. What if Paul, the author of more books in the bible than any other man, were coming to visit the American Church? What would he say to us?

I imagine it would go something like this:

“For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. “ —2 Corinthians 12:20

What? Quarreling…Slander…Disorder…? Who us? (Quick, hide all the crazies in the closet).

The bible is pretty clear on how we should love one another. All of the fighting, power struggles and politics of church is one of the single greatest factors keeping people away.

Revival will come when we look and sound more like the church Paul dreamed we could be.

3.) More Inter-Church Collaboration

Alright kid, pull your head out of the clouds and get practical. Give us tangible things we can do today! Ay, ay captain.

  1. What if we start our march towards unity through simple collaboration?

  2. What would it look like for all churches in a regional area to come together and support each other in deeper and more meaningful ways?

  3. What if a weekly email went out asking other churches what they need or how our church could pray for them?

  4. What if people in our community saw all of the churches working together to feed the poor and meet the needs of those around us?

What if all the hard work we do stops being about the glory of our single church building and instead, forces to people to give the glory to God alone.

Rather than “look what that church is doing” there is no other explanation except “look what God is doing.”

Revival will come when we learn to leave what divides us at the door and become intently focused on building a greater, more-connected Church community.

4.) More Guest Preaching

I always find a guest preacher to be a breath of fresh air. Whenever they start speaking, I jolt awake in a different way. Not because I don’t love our incredible pastors, but because it breaks me out of the routine.

I also think Pastors with different denominational backgrounds have different depths and expertise that should be welcomed. The Catholic Priest on the Non-Denominational Stage? You bet. The Baptist Minister just chillin’ with the coffee-breathing Lutherans? Heck yes!

One easy way to build bonds with other churches is to invite guest preachers or do a Sunday preaching exchange. I know this happens in a lot of areas, but what would it mean to go even further?

And so the preacher says something you don’t totally agree with. Beautiful! Meet in the Fellowship Hall after the service for some healthy discussion and bacon. Mmmm, bacon.

Revival will come when we loosen our death-grip on identifying ourselves first by denomination rather than as a follower of Jesus.

5.) Inter-Church City-Wide Service Days

Bazinga!

What if we picked a day and all churches came together to serve the community? How many needs could we meet and what message would that send to see hundreds of Christians out on the same day?

I’m thinking we call it something like Love Your Neighbor Day and then we actually live out the parts of the bible that calls us to serve the least of these. That’d be pretty neat right there.