Imagine going to a new church for the first time. You walk in, receive a bulletin and proceed awkwardly to your seat. You can feel the glances of the strangers around you, assessing your appearance. The worship starts and people sing songs of joy with expressions of apathy. The preacher delivers his eloquent diatribe about everything that is wrong with the world today.
You ask yourself why this particular church exists, and an answer doesn’t readily become available. You leave feeling just as lost and lonely as when you arrived; only now with a side of disappointment. You were looking for something, but you just didn’t find it.
This example may sound cynical or over-the-top, but many of us have experienced some version of it. There is something missing in many churches today.
Going Through the Motions
Now, I don’t want to sound too negative. Not all churches are this way. There are plenty of churches that are energetic and bursting with life. That said, around 3,000 churches die each year—that should be a sign. Many of these churches that closed their doors were just going through the motions, still moving, but lifeless. Many lost sight of their purpose.
These churches appeared to be alive. The lawns were mowed, the music played, meetings were scheduled. Things were moving, but that was it. They were hollow motions.
This happens in too many churches. Healing is not administered, joy is not experienced, minds are not edified, and people are not changed. They do not grow or reach out. They just exist—and aim to simply keep on existing. The question every church should ask is: “If we closed our doors today, would anyone notice?”
All churches have to be careful not to pull away from the true source of life. It can be easy to make the focus about having great events or drawing crowds or even connecting people—none of these are bad, but if they become the primary goal, the church can lose its focus on God.
And when the focus shifts off of Christ, the church loses its vibrancy, its life. What makes a body living or dead? The determinate factor for life is the spirit. Just like zombies have a body, but are missing a spirit, churches become lifeless when they are missing the Holy Spirit.
Living By the Spirit
The Holy Spirit is not a vending machine where you can go through the right motions, push all the right buttons and get the results you want. The Spirit is alive. He moves, as living things do. When a church fails to adapt to the movement of the Spirit, it can easily lose its connection to life. When this happens, some churches notice and begin pursuing the Spirit, desperately trying to get back that connection to life.
Others respond by establishing an excessive list of rules and practices, thinking that they can get the Spirit back by doing things the way they were done when the Spirit was there.
These churches are caught up in doing what they are “supposed to do” but lack the true essence of what they are supposed to provide: life.
The good news is, there is a cure. Life is contagious. There are five practical steps to curing the undead church:
1. Love First. Love Most.
The best way to share life is through love. In John 13 Jesus tells us that we should be identified by our love. That’s the cure.
It’s easy to talk about love. Love needs to be more than just something we say. Love affects everything we do. It needs to be more important than customs, traditions or personal preferences. Love changes the way we talk to and about people. It alters how we see them, what we think of them and how we respond to them.
Love changes everything.
It was the love of God that led to our salvation through Jesus. It is that same love that reconnects us to His life when we lose it. We need to remember who we are and what we are about. Our job is not to defend every minor theological position; it is to seek to live like Jesus, love like Jesus, so we can look like Jesus.
2. Go Out.
Pride focuses inwardly. Humility focuses outwardly. Life in the church comes from living on mission for the Gospel. Jesus traveled. He got outside the synagogues and engaged culture. He met people where they were. Jesus pursued the strays and brought back those who were far from God. His Church should do the same.
3. Remove Idols.
A dead church will have idols that they treat as equal to or more important than Jesus. This may be a certain program, attendance numbers or even a certain theological idea. If a minor theological position is held as a line in the sand or is used to justify treating people in an unloving manner, that thing is probably an idol.
4. Show And Tell.
The goal of the Church should be to do more than just tell people about Jesus; it should be to show people Jesus. Living out His mission is the Church’s purpose. That purpose not only offers life to those who receive the Gospel, it sustains the life of those who present it.
5. Abide in Him.
Life or death is a result of what we feed on. Lifeless churches feed on rules and rituals. Christians feed on the life, love and grace of Jesus.
When you are surrendered to Jesus, His love fills you and flows through you. That life cannot be contained. It is not given with limited supply. Our life comes from Jesus and is give to us so we can continue distributing the life of Jesus to others. Life is given so that life can be given. The love of God that gives life was designed to be shared.
Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is the author of Zombie Church: breathing life back into the body of Christ. You can find more of his work on Facebook or you can follow him on Twitter @tedwardsccc.