When it comes to reviving churches, “It is easier to give birth than raise the dead”. I guess that is why there seems to be a focus on church plantings. Start a church from the beginning and there is no baggage from the past.
Part of the problem and reason for the church’s decline over the years is that the church has become increasingly irrelevant for its own members. For example, how well have we discussed and ‘wrestled with’ matters such as climate change, sexuality, what healthy relationships look like, and how shall we respond to the societal drift from a Judeo Christain ethical framework?
To address that challenge the church needs to send the message: Life has been given to us as a challenge. Can we stay on the path that God has given for us, the path of order. On either side we are constantly being pulled off by chaos. Can I pay my bills, my future, my children’s future. Can I get a job, keep a job, I hate my job. Can I find a partner, keep my partner, am I a good partner, am I good enough? Am I healthy, should I do more, when will I die, is that all there is?
If I lose my way how do I get back on the path? I want to be on the path because when I live in truth and in the way Jesus instructs, life gets better, a lot better. Stray of the path and into chaos I create my own hell, a hell that has a depth without end, I can always make my life worse.
The bible tells us how to find the path, if we sin, it tells us how to return, if we suffer, how to continue and most of all, our life is worthwhile.
Perhaps a way to address this point is for the Church to have courage, utilise the gifts of teachers (And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers Ephesians 4:11, And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Acts 2:42), and preach and teach on current topics from a biblical/theological perspective. For example, climate change: stewardship (Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28) ; relationships: love, respect (“and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.”Ephesians 5:21-6), sexuality and its healthy expression: (All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:12-20), money: (“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Matthew 6:19-24) and changing social morals and a drift from Judeo-Christian ethics (When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp-stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:1-16) etc.
I would add, that an important element of people being shaped by the bible, and ‘staying on the path that God has given for us is having a healthy connection to a church. That is, to a group of Christians. The text in Acts 2:42-47 is very informative on this point. “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Some points to note about church life in that passage are the devotion and commitment of believers to a) authoritative teaching, b) fellowship (sharing life together) including sharing possessions and support of those in need, c) communion/eucharist and d) prayer and praise. The natural outworking and product of these things is an increase in numbers.
You have to wonder whether the combination of the two matters mentioned, namely, the church being relevant and practicing healthy church life are significant factors in addressing the current topic, namely halting and changing the direction of the decline in church numbers.
There is the church’s need to relate its beliefs to the surrounding culture. In living more closely to God’s ways and seeking to keep to His Path, an onlooking society may see practical expressions of God’s kingdom. Or, to use Jesus’ words in Matthew’s gospel (chapter 5:13-16) when speaking of the church, “You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father in heaven”.