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A pep talk for church revitalization

What we need is a pep talk

We need to honestly face the facts.  We can try to deny it as much as we want, but the U.S. church is in decline.  In a well documented book, “Restart Your Church” by Dottie Escobedo-Frank, she clearly defines the situation:

 Thom Ranier, in a U.S. study of 1,159 churches (2002), said that 94% of American churches are in decline.  Recent church attendance records show that in America, real attendance numbers are not near 40% as previously reported, but a shocking 17.7% (2004). “

While this study is close to 10 years old, the trends still hold true.  The United Methodist Church has not grown since 1964.  Less than 6% of United Methodist Churches are growing.  Despite knowing the problem, we have failed to act.  From the General Conference to the local church, we have attempted to tweak our programs and structures and serious effort at reform has been blocked out of fear.

The simple fact is this:  Revitalization has not worked.  It is time for resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:36-38 shows us the way:

 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. (1 Corinthians 15:36-38, NIV)

We must move to the death and resurrection of the church as we know it if we want the United Methodist Church to continue to be a force to “transform the world.”

What we need is a pep talk.

Inspiration can comes from unlikely places.  Meet Robby Novak of Henderson, Tennessee, who is the self-appointed “Kid President.”    The video starts by Novak saying, “I think we all need a pep talk.  The world needs to stop being boring.  Yeah, you.  Boring is easy.  Everybody can be boring.  But you’re gooder than that.”

While the video is powerful, this message of optimism and hope resonate once we hear Robby’s story.  He has Ostseogenesis Imperfecta (a brittle bone condition) and has suffered over 75 breaks since he has been born.  Bradley Montague, Robby’s brother in law, captures the essence of why this video is powerful when he states, “To hear him say, ‘Less complaining, more dancing’ has weight to it.  He shouldn’t be running – yet you see in the video that he is.”

We all need to heed Robby’s call to action:  “We got work to do.  We can cry about it or dance about it.  We were made to be awesome…Create something that will make the world awesome.”

It is time to create something “awesome!”

Jesus created something “awesome” is his 3 year ministry on Earth that changed the course of history.  He did not follow conventions of worship or doctrine.  Instead he focused on how a loving God yearned to save his lost people.  It was a single focused mission that was willing to defy the norm for the sake of all.

Many of the Saints of the Faith, from the Apostle Paul to John Wesley and Mother Theresa, followed in the same approach.  Seek the lost, serve them anyway they can, preach the Gospel and expect the amazing from God.  It is a matter of walking away from our practices, preconceptions, fears and doubts and stepping out on faith.

Leave the four walls of the sanctuary.  Some of the fastest growing worship services are outside the walls of the traditional church. Growing churches have been starting bible studies and worship services at bars, coffee houses, individual homes and even beaches. Find where people without a church home hang out and start meeting there.

Go for a walk and look for opportunities.  We need to let go of our traditional programs and follow the lead of our community.  Walk around a five-block radius around your local church and see what the needs are.  One church realized that they have 3 schools within a three blocks of their church.  They asked the principal how to help.  Today, the church tutors struggling students, provides breakfast during state testing and provides teachers a fund to help students who need it.  The church is recapturing its role as a center of the community and changing the lives of hundreds of children.

Don’t focus on money.  We often allow money to limit our dreams of doing awesome things for God.  One church set fear aside and started offering free Sunday AM breakfast to its poor urban community.  It grew from 35 senior citizens to 150 people from the community.  The free Sunday AM breakfast became a catalyst to break down the walls and reinvigorate a church.  Unfortunately, when a new pastor was appointed, they ended the breakfast program during a budget shortfall.  The church closed its doors in less than 6 months due to the transitory nature of the neighborhood.  It lost the connection between the church and the community.  We need to focus our money and resources on what is reaching the lost and cut that which does not.

Expect more.  The common perception by church-goers is that seekers are unwilling to commit to anything.  The more we expect, the more likely they will be to leave.  A number of churches found the opposite to be true.  In their new member classes, they set up a set of expectations around church attendance, inviting unchurched families, participating in discipleship, fellowship and service opportunities and giving.  One church grew from 250 in average attendance to over 750 people in less than 18-months.  The truth is that people want to be called to a higher standard.  While we have been lowering bar, many churches have been raising it with great success.

Invite constantly.  Over 65% of new church members have been invited by a friend, but many parishioners have stopped inviting people to church.  They fear rejection in an era where political correctness dictates we “keep our faith to ourselves.”  One college group overcame this by starting each bible study or event by asking everyone to text message three friends inviting them to next week’s bible study.  The college group grew from 10 to 35 in less than 4 months.  Create invite-able momentum events and create immediate opportunities for your members to invite their friends.  Create a sense of urgency and amazing things will happen.

Now, stand for something awesome and start dancing.

The United Methodist Church should not be a social club focused on amassing rules, assets and cash for the sake of the organization, but be a transformative force in the world.  When we focus on one awesome thing, it inspires us and compels us to action.  Imagine No Malaria led by the General Conference, The Sudan Project by Ginghamsburg UMC and even feeding every hungry child within five blocks of an urban church can create a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our communities.  When we serve God in faith, we can transform ourselves and our community.

When we die to our fears, own way of doing things and our limits and focusing on our “awesome” calling, there is no telling what may happen.  Let us stop talking about revitalization and begin to focus on the resurrection of the United Methodist Church.

declineeffectivenesspep talkresurrectionunited methodist church

eseiberling • May 16, 2013

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  1. Keith Daugherty May 17, 2013 - 12:40 am Reply

    I agree that the church is on the decline in the United States. I also agree that “revitalization” has not worked, and the church does need Resurrection. I disagree that reform has been blocked due to fear. Lets look at what the historical definition of reform in the church has been…getting back to the Bible. Now let’s look at what the modern definition of reform has been…a liberal based secular view that often disregards the Bible as being truth, and leads the church into being not much more than a socialized country club with programs for entertainment to keep the “congregation” within the building.

    Now I understand you were referring to the cute little video of the boy who said what we need is a pep talk, but let’s get down to some facts here, for at least the last 35 years a pep talk is all that congregations have been getting from the pulpits and much of it without being Biblically based. Now before I hear that old UMC cheer of “That doesn’t happen in our denomination”, let me give some examples of things I have heard preached from United Methodist Church pulpits by pastors who have been ordained by the United Methodist Church during this time: there is more than one way to get to heaven (specifically said, Jesus isn’t the only way); the Bible isn’t really God’s truth; there was no virgin birth; miracles of the Bible were just stories to inspire and didn’t really happen; homosexuality really isn’t a sin; Holy Matrimony is God ordained, but marriage is just a civil union; what Jesus spoke isn’t relative to today because he was speaking to those of his time and his culture; and my all time favorite that the altar call is to become a member of the congregation and denomination (and not to ask Christ into one’s life). I’m sure there are a few more, but I am hoping you are getting my drift as to the problem that we have been having within the pulpits. They have degrees, but don’t know the Bible. They know the denominational stand (not always adhering to it), but are not acquainted with the faith…and in fact, some are downright antagonistic to the faith. Oh and disciple-making? Good luck with that one without pastors being on board with it and preaching the Bible from the pulpit…unless it’s disciples for Jung, Freud, Socrates, Aristotle, Plato or Rick Warren (or fill in the blank for the latest greatest book seller). The Bible and Jesus has been put on the back-burner for the last 30-some years, unless it is with some casual passing remarks to still seem like the church…and that has been the real problem with the decline. The church has become irrelevant because the pastors have distanced themselves from God, and instead have tried to take on secular programs to appeal to whomever they can advertise to so they will show up, instead of discipling people to go out into the world and make more disciples.

    The very things brought up at General Conference each time, wasting millions of dollars for a convention that rehashes basic questions over and over again “should we scrap being followers of Christ to gain the world”…and believe me, the things being brought up and where the votes are getting closer and closer is just that. Under the rules of the Methodist Society when Wesley was alive (remember him, the guy that started the movement within the Anglican church to get the Anglican church to return to basic biblical beliefs which was referred to as Methodism), those who would be bringing up such issues as well as preaching some of the things being preached today would have been removed from the Methodist Society of Believers.

    I do agree we need to get back to doing things the way Jesus did them, but to do so means we need to get rid of alot of the pastors and bishops, and leadership within the denominations…because quite frankly, they don’t want it…they want business opportunities.

    Now about communities…over the years the church has been getting concentrated instead of consecrated. Way back a few decades ago, there were small little churches…lots of them. They also believed in repentance, holiness, and sanctification…in other words being consecrated or “set apart for a holy purpose” and that purpose was to work within their local communities that surrounded them. But leadership got the ideas of Mega-churches, set off on beautiful campuses away from communities…and so worked hard to close the smaller churches and merge them or take their congregants away from them to put them all in concentrated mega-churches with built-in Starbucks shops and book stores, and pizza parties, and volleyball tournaments, and then we need to try to get back to the feeling of close knit families so we’ll have small groups!

    The fact is…if the church hadn’t kept getting swayed by the secular culture and had stayed true to their first love (Jesus), and they wouldn’t have let those who crept in among them (that the Bible warned about, by the way) that took over leadership, and we would have stayed true with the message of the Bible…we would have already been transforming the world, instead of conforming to the world and then wondering, “what happened?”

    So we do need reform, but by the traditional definition of getting back to the Bible and back to being disciples, and back to living like we actually belong to Christ and aren’t just Sunday rentals. We can’t keep straddling the fences. There also need to be a lot of repenting going on…because the messages of all grace and no need for repentance is a perversion of grace…and it’s been preached a long time within the UMC.

  2. eseiberling May 17, 2013 - 8:47 am Reply


    The truth is that “if you do not stand for something, you stand for nothing at all.” The United Methodist Church has been highly schizophrenic on our theology on what we stand for and what we believe. This theological confusion at a denominational level has hurt the general denomination.

    Yes, the denomination is in decline, but it comes downs to the local church. We grow or decline on the performance of the local church. Many of the small local churches have bunkered down and gone into survival mode and really are in “hospice care” waiting to close. I have seen HUNDREDS of theologically conservative (which match the theology you are espousing) who have given up hope.

    This blog post is for them and any other church who looking to rexamine their role in transforming the world for the sake of Christ.

    I would not also demonize the mega-church. It is easy to blame them for the decline and claim they are nothing but watered down pop-culture meccas. If we take a serious look at their theology and their impact on their communities, the ones I have seen (Vineyard Church, Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, Gingshamsburg UMC in Tipp City) stand for the risen Christ and transforming their community. While it is easy to initiate “church-on-church” crime, be careful that it is not your individual bias coming through.

    Too many churches are content sitting within their four walls. We need to connect with our community and become engaged in our world to re-present Christ to the world.

  3. Keith Daugherty May 17, 2013 - 11:10 am Reply


    I know why some of them have given up hope, it is because they have been told by people at conference level to give up hope, and I could name names of those who have spoken these words to them. In fact I know of one of those churches who was told by an individual from conference level that they need to just “close up the doors” even though this church has been doing more for their local community than some of the larger ones in a city near by, including the congregation that the conference level person attends and is the head of missions at. If you want to call what i say an individual bias go for it, but I see it as the same for those who have straddled the fence, and especially those who have been strategists for churches who spoke programs to the denominations instead of staying true to the Word of God.

    Yes, too many churches are content to sit within their four-walls, and we do need to reconnect with the community, but there are many within the churches today that have never heard the Word of God all because we softened the message and invited them in and then made them members instead of disciples…and yes, it isn’t just happening in just one denomination.

    I had not said that all of the larger churches had gone astray, but what I was saying that it had become the focus of leadership to create more large churches instead of filling up the small ones and making disciples and then planting more churches. This was being done because it would leave a legacy for the leadership and not so much that it would make disciples for Jesus.

    I believe on many of the things you have written in the article, we are saying the same thing…however, I am not willing to appease those who keep feeding the problem, and are thereby making it worse. We were not called to follow Wesley, or Paul, or the UMC, but we were called to follow and become disciples of Jesus. However, the denomination asks people to be loyal to whom when people are joining as members? To the denomination. There is a problem with that when the denomination keeps swaying away from being loyal to Christ.

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