For those of you who are new to reading these Church Revitalization articles on the American Anglican Council’s weekly update, I wanted to let you know the vision for them and the topics they’ll cover. In the introductory article, I wrote, “struck by the letters “v-i-t-a-l” [in Revitalization] I found that another definition of “vital” is: necessary to life – as in our vital organs. Just as our vital organs must all be working properly in order for our physical bodies to be healthy and growing, there are certain vital systems in our local church body that are necessary for it to be healthy and growing. I think these vitals for church health can be summed up in the following five areas:
Vision for Evangelism
Transformation to Christlikeness
Life of Service
Each of these five areas working properly and together are vital – necessary – in every local church for it to be revitalized.”
Therefore, these articles primarily focus on these five areas on a rotational basis. So far they have been on Vision for Evangelism and Intentional Worship. We’re shifting this week to transformation to Christlikeness (aka Discipleship) for several weeks.
In a recent survey of ACNA clergy conducted by the AAC, 32% cited their, “congregation’s attitude or actions were among the most significant obstacles to growth.” That is actually not surprising to me. At a national conference on church revitalization I attended, the speakers said that one of the biggest barriers to church growth in all churches is the resistant attitudes in the minds of some members. They referred to this as a problem of “immaturity” of church members. One speaker called it the “perpetual adolescence” of the church.
This isn’t a new phenomenon of our times. We can read about immaturity in the church in the Bible. Paul, writing to the Church in Corinth wrote, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” (1 Cor. 3:2 NIV) And again, “Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” (1 Cor. 14:20 NIV) In other words, grow up.
So, if immaturity is a common barrier to growth in the church, what is the solution? The solution is to have a spiritual growth plan for church members to follow. A plan that moves people from immaturity to maturity, from selfish to selfless, from self-centered to Christ-centered. Just hoping people will grow up won’t work. Sunday sermons alone won’t work. Even getting people into small group Bible studies or Sunday School isn’t enough. There are plenty of Christians who go to church and Bible study every week who are still selfish and resist the mission to bring in the lost and grow the church.
Every local church needs a clear plan for how to move members through the process of transformation to Christlikeness. Jesus was the perfect person. He was mature. He lived his life for the sake of others. Each church needs a discipleship plan with the end goal of members living out Philippians 2:4-8, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privilege; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”
What is your church’s plan for making mature, obedient, selfless, followers of Jesus who are transformed to Christlikeness? Is there a plan? If so, is it clear and doable? If not, perhaps that could be a goal for 2018. Pray about what to do, commit to a plan and implement it throughout next year. More on this in the weeks to come.
The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching at the American Anglican Council. Read other Church Revitalization articles here.