So often when a church realizes that it is in need of revitalization, the initial response is to look for quick fixes or what’s often referred to as, “the silver bullet.” It’s natural to think and hope that if we can just find the right program then all will be well again. Good programs are good. It’s good to find ones that work for your church. However, in rushing to find a quick programmatic fix, churches can fail to address more basic needs that, if healthy, will produce far more lasting growth than any program.
One of those basic needs to address is for the members of the congregation to, in addition to loving Jesus, actually love one another. However, I’ve learned, as I’m sure you have, that knowing something and doing it are very different things. As Christians, we all know we are to love God first and love others. It’s the Great Commandment: “Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-38 NLT) We even say that regularly in our liturgy. We know it! Of course we know it, but are you and your congregation doing it?
Do you genuinely love the people you go to church with? A better question might be, do you actually like the people you go to church with? This doesn’t mean you always get along with everyone but it does mean you really love and like your church family. If you want to see revitalization in your church it is necessary to be intentional about having relational renewal (real love for one another). Here are four reasons to address relational renewal as you seek revitalization:
4 Reasons You Must Love Each Other If You Want Your Church To Grow
- God won’t send people to your church. I so often hear people complain that they are not getting visitors. Often that’s because the church isn’t being missional to the outside community in order to bring visitors, but that’s another topic. However, think about this – God wants all people saved and made his disciples. He went to great lengths on the Cross to make that possible. He’s the supreme creator of the universe. He could easily direct people to your church for them to be accepted, loved, and transformed into his followers. But why would he send them to your church to be loved if you all don’t even like each other? If you don’t even extend genuine love and grace to each other? If you all aren’t modeling mature Christlikeness to each other? I don’t think he would. It is not healthy “soil” for that precious “seed” to grow in.
- You won’t invite people to your church. If you go to church because you like the liturgy (or it’s the only Anglican option), or maybe out of a sense of duty or something, you aren’t likely so say to someone, “Hey please join me, you’ll love my church!” However, as an overflow of the love and joy you’re experiencing as a member of a genuinely loving church family, you are much more likely to want to share that with others.
- Church Revitalization is hard. There is no church growth without pain. Growth means change, change means loss, and loss means pain. Not everything needs to change. Being Anglican won’t change. The Bible doesn’t change. The Gospel doesn’t change. But many other areas of our church life must change in order to grow. And, anxiety usually runs high in the midst of change. Anxiety can often lead to conflict. If you already don’t love and like the people in your church, then that conflict can become ugly. It doesn’t have to. If you really love and like each other, keeping your eyes on Jesus and his mission for the church, you can work through those conflicts in healthy ways and stay the course to see the church revived!
- Bringing in the unchurched can be messy. Sinners sin. It’s weird, I know, but it’s true. Broken people act in broken ways. Hurt people hurt people. If your church doesn’t already love each other and accept one another for the imperfect sinners on the road to sanctification you all are, you are going to have a hard time welcoming non-Christians into your church family who are just beginning that journey. My experience with new believers is that they mess up a lot at first. It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect new believers to know how to act like mature Christ followers right away. If, as they mess up, they learn from their mistakes, and grow, they experience grace and love from their new church family, they will likely stay with it to maturity. It’s hard to extend that kind of love to new people if you haven’t learned how to extend it to each other.
By the Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge, Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching.