A Primer for Overcoming Three Common Barriers to Church Renewal
Not long ago I was forced to detour around a bridge closure that added significant mileage and time to my journey. Thankfully, there was a detour with clear signage to help me reach my destination. Barriers and detours are common in my state as officials try to repair and strengthen infrastructure to support a rapid influx of new residents. But as I’ve learned from working with pastors seeking to continue of their mission of making disciples in their community, they too face barriers and detours that have probably been there long before they moved into the parsonage or preached their trial sermon. The road to fulfilling the Great Commission is closed due to a drift in mission seeking to attract new members through programs or pastor performance. Or years ago something destructive happened like a church split or misappropriation of funds and membership erected roadblocks protecting them from future harm. These roadblocks that are isolating them from the community and keeping them from the very mission Christ gave them in Matthew 28:19, “Go, make disciples.” Ultimately, these roadblocks are the very cause of their declining numbers and shrinking witness.
How does a pastor create a detour around them and begin a process of renewing the church’s strength?
Mark Clifton and Kenneth Priest list eight common barriers to church revitalization in their book entitled Rubicon’s of Revitalization. Barriers such as prayer, preaching, evangelism, discipleship, leadership, programs, policy, and facilities – each of which could have a series of roadblocks to the Great Commission in each category. But rather than lament about them or swing at them with a sledgehammer during a church business meeting, I’d encourage a pastor encountering a roadblock to begin with three steps of faith.
- Make prayer a priority again.
- Reengage the community with the gospel.
- Intentionally disciple a few men.
These three resonated with pastors in a series of small town revitalization summits across our state with good discussion and acknowledgement that renewal must begin with prayer, evangelism, and disciplining men.
Make prayer a priority again.
Pastor, this begins and ends with you. Block off time in your schedule for intentional fervent prayer to cry out to the only One who can change hearts and remove barriers.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.Romans 12:12
- Pray for your members, especially those guarding roadblocks to mission.
- Pray for your community.
- Pray for your own sanctification and perseverance.
- Pray for church renewal that brings glory to God.
Then, lead your members to pray as you are praying. Make mid-week prayer meetings effective again, which means you’ll have to explain why you aren’t preparing a mid-week message and focusing on prayer. Teach your members to pray the Scriptures and celebrate every answered prayer.
And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers
Reengage the community with the gospel.
Pastor again, this begins with you. I know your schedule is crowded with sermon preparation, visitation, facility needs, and a host of meetings, but remember the mission. We aren’t called to preserve an organization, but to advance God’s Kingdom by making disciples. “As you go…” includes you. If you aren’t engaging the community with the gospel, your members won’t either. And while you should proclaim Christ during every sermon, those 20 or 30 minutes on Sunday morning can’t be the only time you share Jesus with others.
But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.2 Timothy 4:5
And as you reengage the community, share stories of life transformation with your members every chance you get as a means to encourage them to make declaring the gospel of Jesus a priority again. Teach them to share their faith. Take them with you and let them see how you serve others and share eternal hope out of love and concern for your neighbors.
Intentionally disciple a few men.
I have yet to encounter a declining church with an abundance of men faithfully serving God’s Church. Usually there are a few men faithfully maintaining the internal organization and facilities like a business or their own home, and often a few disengaged men due to past conflicts or poor discipleship. But, we can’t find a detour around discipling men just because they aren’t active members or their priorities have drifted from making disciples. Intentionally discipling men must be a priority for church renewal.
The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.2 Timothy 2:2
Clifton has consistently emphasizes the need to reach, disciple, and train young men in any revitalization setting. You may not have any young men in your worship gathering, but you’ll have children of senior adults attending Christmas Eve service, or young men playing a round of golf on Saturday morning in your community. Find them. Connect with them. Share the gospel and disciple them. If you have a few young couples still hanging around the church, figure out a way to invest in young men for the sake of their marriages, families, and ultimately the congregation. Kyle Bueermann simply states, “Reaching young men means spending time where they spend time.”
There will always be roadblocks in church renewal, but that doesn’t mean the journey ends at the barrier. So much of leading a church toward a hopeful future requires pastors to take those initial steps of faith alone and trust God for the results. Build a detour around the barrier through prayer until God removes it. Take the long way to your destination and trust God will place a lost soul in your path along the way ready to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Invite other men to join you for intentional discipleship that wil renew the mission of the church rebuild roads to fruitful ministry.
Keep going. The gospel has been entrusted to you and there are many around you still searching for the hope that is only found through saving faith in Jesus Christ. Pray. Engage your community. Make disciples among men. And lastly, if our team can be of any assistance to you on your revitalization journey, feel free to contact us at email@example.com.
After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.Acts 14:21-22