In a few weeks I will begin my 36th year of vocational ministry. A lot has changed! The church I now serve is a prime example. Thirty-five years ago Huffman Baptist Church was one of the largest Southern Baptist Churches in Birmingham, Alabama. If you measured success by buildings, budgets, and b… fannies in the seats, HBC was a booming success! Three decades later, I was called to this legacy church to help her emerge from the shadow of her former glory.
Since more than 90% of all churches are either stuck, struggling, or in some cases spiraling toward their death, there’s a good chance you are also trying to lead a church whose best days appear to be in the past. I wish I could write out a simple plan. Do this. This. And this. Follow these five steps, and you can lead your church to revival and revitalization. It’s not that simple. But it is possible. You can lead the church you serve to emerge from the shadow of her former glory if you will…
1. Call Your Church to Prayer.
Most of us in leadership positions are wired to act. Our motto is “Don’t just stand there; do something.” We read a book or attend a conference and immediately begin strategizing. How can I implement this?
I am reminded of Nehemiah’s realization that the people of Jerusalem were in great trouble and shame. His first response:
As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven (Nehemiah 1:4 ESV).
Calling our church members to prayer sets the tone for whatever steps you will take to “rebuild the walls and repair the gates” of the church God has called you to lead.
2. Call Your Church to Daily Bible Reading
Several years ago, Lifeway Research discovered that daily Bible reading is the number one indicator of spiritual growth. That seems logical. And while virtually every spiritual leader and every church member would acknowledge the importance of daily Bible reading, relatively few followers of Jesus actually read the Bible daily. Why is that?
More than thirty years ago I bought my first “One Year Bible.” I was pumped. Finally, a Bible that gave me a systematic plan to read all of God’s Word in one year! All I had to do was open and read. Best I remember, there was an Old Testament passage, a New Testament passage, and maybe a Psalm or Proverb. Remember, I was eager to get started. But by the end of March, I was hopelessly behind. No chance of catching up.
Sincere Christians want to engage the Bible on a daily basis. But they need leaders to give them a realistic plan. This year our church is reading through the New Testament. One chapter a day. Five days a week. And we are reading with a purpose. Reading to engage with the text. Asking the questions, “Does the passage reveal a…”
- Sin that I need to confess?
- Promise I need to claim?
- Attitude I need to change?
- Commitment I need to make?
- Example I need to follow?
3. Call Your Church to Worship
These days, that can be a challenge. The pandemic. Weather. Other sickness. Our worship attendance during the month of January was all over the place. One Sunday we came close to a new high attendance (post March 2020). Another Sunday we may have hit a low attendance record. Thankfully, our people faithfully engage online when they are unable to attend in person.
I want my people to attend the worship service. But I also want them to engage in meaningful worship. I believe that every person in the room should be able to connect emotionally and culturally with at least one song every week. Not for their enjoyment. But so that they can worship God in their own “heart voice.” That is increasingly difficult with the diversity of many churches. It is difficult. But not impossible. I also believe that the text should drive the entire worship event. Since I preach in series, our worship pastor knows the text for the message each week. And he takes the time to engage with the text before planning the service.
4. Call Your Church to Repentance
Back to Nehemiah. His prayer was a prayer of repentance. It started with contrition. He wept and mourned over the sin of his people. He confessed his own sin. And he cried out to God:
Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return one and keep my commandments and do them,… I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there (Nehemiah 1:8-9).
Simply put, when we pray, and engage in Bible reading and meaningful worship, the Holy Spirit will bring conviction that leads to repentance. And repentance is necessary before the church can truly emerge from the shadow of her former glory.
5. Call Your Church to Embrace a Vision
When I interviewed with the pastor search committee of the church I now serve, they asked, “What is your vision for our church?” My answer, “I don’t know. I don’t know your church. I don’t know your community. But God does. God knows your church. God knows your community. And he has a plan. Our job is to discover what he is doing and join him.”
Now you see why we first call the church to prayer, daily Bible reading, and worship. My church doesn’t need my plan. They don’t need my vision. They need God’s vision. And God’s vision will be outwardly focused. He wants his church to be a gospel lighthouse to people who are walking in darkness. His desire is for the church to make disciples who make disciples. For us, that vision can be stated like this:
By 2025 we will become a family of churches who are sending transformed people to make Jesus known across the street and around the world.
You can read the full vision document HERE.
Leading your church to emerge from the shadow of her former glory won’t be easy. But it is possible. I love walking with churches on the journey of church revitalization. Visit Church Revitalization Resources to find out the ways I can help.
Rob Paul is a church revitalization strategist with over three decades of experience serving established Southern Baptist churches in pastoral ministry. He has helped churches in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia to experience revival and revitalization by God’s grace and for His glory. He is currently serving as the senior pastor of Huffman Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. To find out more about Rob Paul Ministries and the work of church revitalization, visit Church Revitalization Resources.
2 thoughts on “The Shadow of Her Former Glory”
Thank You Brother Rob…right on as usual!
You know, Rob, looking back at the churches you pastored over these decades, one wonders what if you had approached each of them with the same plan. Interesting to reflect on. I’m thinking it would have been good. — Thanks for your ministry.
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