The Priority of Prayer in Revitalization

SBSGThe Priority of Prayer in Revitalization

There is a huge movement for revitalization of churches these days. Books, blogs and more books have been written. There is no shortage of resources to tell you how to revitalize or be an agent of revitalization in your church. When Kenneth suggested we put together a book on revitalization, I told him we needed the chapter that no one seems to include in revitalization or preaching books. The chapter on prayer. The first step in revitalization is prayer. Only a few people will tell you this, but most will not. The recent resources on revitalization give much strategy and assumed prayer. We will give you a resource that is dependent on prayer. Ramping up a revitalization campaign requires prayer in the planning stage (the return stage). Prayer is crucial in the implementation. It’s crucial.

Prayer is crucial. Here is why. The church I serve went through a split seven years ago. Then for the first two to three years we just seemed to never get to a season of health. I say that not because we were not growing numerically. The reality was that we were relationally unhealthy. Part of this is my fault. I failed to mobilize key people and the church to pray. When people pray together, it is harder to be relationally unhealthy. In revitalization, doing the things that bring life back to a church, people will be challenged. It is at the challenge point that health is revealed. When leaders jump to the assessments and procedures, we are convinced not enough praying has gone into the preparation. When the hard stuff of revitalization is addressed, people operate either with limited wisdom, fleshly wisdom, or wisdom from the business world. The wisdom of God is needed to walk through a revitalization process.

We address revitalization because most churches are at a plateau. They not growing or declining, but are on the verge of decline. No offense to others who are addressing revitalization of churches, but something is missing. What is it? Prayer. This is a hard question, but why are we not seeing more revitalization of churches with all the resources we are producing? We make the case here that revitalization must include a real prayer plan that at least includes the leaders of the church. Loyal members who desire revival in the church should be included also.

What is revitalization? Revitalization is bringing life to something on the verge of death. It is making something once vital, vital again. What would a church look like that was revitalized? More numbers? Better health? Kenneth says “spiritual health precedes numerical increase.” . Any measurement of church health surely would start with the Book of Acts. What role did prayer play in the early church? We argue from scripture a prayer priority in Acts. We remind anyone tackling revitalization of a local church, Acts 1:8 power comes from Acts 1:4 praying.

What’s the priority?

Open your Bible and skim these passages just to see the thread.

Acts 1:4; Acts 1:8; Acts 1:14; Acts 2:1; Acts 2:42; Acts 3:1; Acts 4:31; Acts 6:4; Acts 7:60; Acts 12:5; Acts 13:3; Acts 14:23; Acts 16:13; Acts 16:16; Acts 16:25; Acts 20:36; Acts 27:35

The topic of prayer is spread pretty evenly throughout Acts. Early in Acts we see a priority of prayer established in Acts 1-6. Acts 2 is the foundational passage most church leaders would show us as to what a church should be doing, but prayer often fails to make it in the list. It gets swallowed up in worship. The early church prayed. We believe much more prayer happened than Acts records. We would argue prayer is established in Acts 1-6 as a priority and in Acts 7-28 it was a natural practice. While Acts 2 is the main chapter for prayer and Pentecost, Acts 6:4 is actually the anchor verse. The apostles drilled prayer down into the church as a priority not only for them, but for the entire church (Franklin, And the Place was Shaken).

Most churches in need to revitalization rush to the things that bring numerical growth, but forget to sow the things that guarantee a harvest that will last. Prayer paves the way. Prayer changes culture. Pray gets the church body desiring revitalization. Now one thing needs to be clarified. When we say “get your church to praying” we do not mean “pray and do nothing.” Strategy is important. What we are saying is strategy is born from prayer.

Why the hard push for prayer?

– Prayer kept the church unified.
– Prayer acquired the power of God.
– Prayer fills the church with the Holy Spirit

The same thing that happened in the first century can happen in the twenty first century.

“Pastor, when did we start praying?”

I (Alan) had a deacon who asked me “Pastor, when was it that you started focusing us on prayer?” I was excited someone not only noticed the change but was willing to voice the change. It was obvious. Our church culture had changed. Things were better. Better from what you might ask. That leads to more “why the hard push for prayer.” Let me give you a list.

– Those two or three men in the church who are more fleshly than spiritual?
– That little critical rumbling that never seems to go away?
– Those two to three critics in every key area you want to see revitalized?
– The tone set by you mediocre tithes and offering that keeps things stirred up?
– Those classes that are entrenched inward at the expense of an outward focus?
– The spiritual vibrancy that seems to be missing from your worship service?

How will you deal with the negatives that are always barriers? If you start with strategy and procedure, you may be doomed. What happens is leaders start with strategy at a fast pace that leaves behind preparation in prayer. At the same time, leaders who do not prayer are given a voice at the table of revitalization. When this happens, some at the table will treat revitalization as a business endeavor instead of a spiritual issue.

When did we start praying?

About a year from when the deacon asked me that we had started praying. I focused the church on praying after I preached Matt 9:35-39. The Greek work in v. 37 is deomai. It means beg or ask. Literally it would mean, “ask like a beggar because we are desperate.” A desire for revitalization should come from a desperation that churches are not healthy and growing. One of the challenges, the main one, is creating a culture for revitalization that sticks. God prompted me to get our church body praying. Why?

When a pastor sees the church as desperate, he looks for solutions. He, as well as other leaders, wants the church to flourish in Great Commission work. So a pastor will lead change. A meeting will be called. Then a series of meetings. Yet the soil will not be tilled with prayer. So in the revitalization meetings an obligatory prayer will be offered at the start of the meeting. Once the pontificating of expertise is over (a little facetious here but not far off) another prayer will be offered asking God’s blessing. The problem with this approach is that is lacks real praying for gets people involved in a spiritual level. I take a risk in saying this. Usually a church meeting can get by without prayer, which is sad. Revitalization requires a deeper, more passionate prayer. Why?

When revitalization meetings happen they involve evaluation and these meetings open the doors for carnal people to cause trouble. Many a pastor has been sacrificed on the altar of strategizing before leading a season of praying. The amazing fact is no church growth books on revitalizing say this truth. Why? It is easier to have the expert come for $3000 than to get before the face of God and get instructions from Him. Now do not take that statement wrong. We are not saying a voice from outside the church is not good. It is good. Yet the pastor of a church will have to own revitalization at some point. The pastor should start revitalization with prayer. Prayer should permeate the entire process. As a matter of fact, revitalization should insert prayer in the center of the church. Revitalization should make a church prayer driven.

We know what you are saying now – “How do I do that?” Look at the appendix. We are giving you a one page plan for the average church. It is not perfect. You will need to evaluate your own church and make your own contextualized list. Yet we do believe this one page can change your church. I may take a year, six months, or ninety days. The Spirit of God will lead you if you are willing. Use the page in the appendix called “Remember the Prayers!” to start your revitalization process.

Use sermon based small groups to reinforce a 4 week series on prayer. You can use your existing small groups or you can create short term small groups for the series duration only. We suggest off campus options. The staff, elders, or deacons and other leaders could create prayer groups for 4 weeks. Refresh yourself on Jeremiah Lanphier’s strategy for praying during the 1857 Prayer Revival. When you start the series on prayer (or other topics in revitalization) use these sermon based groups to undergird the movement in prayer.

What to do with your Sunday School in a small groups culture?

What to do with your Sunday School in a Small Groups culture?
God brought a great man into my life here in the mountains of Ruidoso, New Mexico. While in Texas I had 2-3 great men around me who fed into my life. I can still call those guys, but when you move the communication seems to slow. It’s not intended by anyone it just happens. Well I’ve been introduced to a legend up here. John Burton. John has experience and passion for disciple making. I had the chance to spend a couple of hours with him today. I’m blessed to have him feed into my life right now. Having a mentor keeps the fire burning.
Well today I was reminded in talking disciple making of this question: “What is a church to do with its Sunday School in a small groups culture?”  Many churches face a dilemma. They are stuck with a Sunday School in a small groups culture. What should a church do?
When I say “small groups culture” I don’t mean the entire church culture of the West for example is now “small groups.” It’s not. But there is a need for small groups. Many new churches use small groups instead of Sunday Schools. Also, in established churches there is a need for small groups in homes. As I’ve started and reproduced groups in established churches, I’ve found 1/3 of the church would get into a small group in a home if offered the chance.
What should a church do?

Sunday School – if you have a Sunday School the way for it to work is for it to intentionally balance content and relationships. In a Sunday School “content is king.” Relationships are usually in the superficial level. By superficial I don’t mean something less. I mean it is light and limited. That is needed in churches. Superficial fellowship that is not too much is what some people want. In order to get into more fellowship, relational connection that is beyond superficial, a Sunday School class will have to be intentional. It will require off campus fellowship times for people to get to know one another. This is crucial. A real Sunday School class that is interested growing cannot leave out fellowship that gets real.
What to do?Increase your fellowship off campus. Eat together at least once a month. Have people introduce themselves in class on Sunday morning. This is tough but possible. Do a three minute drill with a timer. People tell about themselves for three minutes. If they don’t, the class can ask them any question they want. 
Small Groups – if you have small groups the way for it to work is to also intentionally focus on content and relationships. Groups in homes or in coffee houses have a different feel. They are strong on fellowship. Usually there is a food trickle in that lasts for about 45 minutes. Of course over food, week by week, relationships are built naturally. In the small groups I’ve lead off campus, we always ask that the first couple of weeks meetings engage this outline. We have everyone “state your name, tell your story (as much as you want to tell) and state where you are on your journey with God.” It works overtime. Immediate bonding that move the group from superficial fellowship to transformational fellowship. If the group is small enough, it can encompass sacrificial fellowship. The work for small groups is to make sure the content drives the groups evenly with relationships. Just because a small group is strong in relationships does not mean it can short cut content.
What to do?Plan content. Use a semester system. Stop meeting weekly in the summer for two months. Meet for 12 weeks in the Fall. Stop at Thanksgiving. Meet from January to Easter. Then Easter to end of May. Also, give a little more time for content to prevent fellowship from completely dominating. Remember knowledge of scripture is important. When starting a group, make sure the DNA of the group is to reproduce a new group within two years. Make people a priority. Use an empty chair to prioritize evangelism. 
Hybrid – I was mentioning to John that many churches are in need of a transition to a Hybrid model. In other words, Sunday School modeled churches need to start small groups, now. If a church only offers on campus, content oriented, small groups, it will be ignoring one third of the congregation that would come to a home group. I’ve started many groups now, and I find there are many people who are hungry for a discussion styled group than a lecture styled class. We live in a Hybrid culture. Most churches under 75 people are stuck with a structure that is not reproducing new groups. A Hybrid model of on campus and off campus groups sets a church up to thrive. Smaller churches are prime candidates for renewal in disciple making by going to some off campus groups.
What to do?Create an off campus group or two. Start them off with a short term commitment. Try 4 – 6 weeks on a topic the entire church will engage. Preach a 6 week series on prayer, or vision and use 4-6 small groups for 6 weeks. It will work. Then, when they work, see which groups will be ready to keep going. Let them go forward meeting. Evaluate the groups. Reproduce news groups from any group that reaches 20 people. Do not pit on campus and off campus groups against each other. That is a no no. 
The Hidden Treasure – We need to create an awareness for disciple making. All the ideas above have been based on a model of 12 to 20 people in a group. Jesus discipled 12. We need to remember also thought that he discipled one on and one or three. Peter, James and John receive special teachings and time from Jesus that the other did not receive. We must get back to a point of disciple making at the most personal, intimate level. This is where disciple and leaders are born. I have to admit I’ve been more committed to the model of 12 to 20 than I have the 1 to 1 and 1 to 3 model.
What to do? Hand pick 1 to 3 people you feel led to lead in small group discipling. Walk these few though what it means to know Christ, have assurance, and experience the love of God. Remember that disciple making is as much caught as it is taught. Hang out with these few. See who would be leader material. Could there be a small group leader among these few disciples? There is a hidden treasure that happens before getting in a small group. The smaller group of a few or 1 on 1 discipleship is worth more than you think. 
I’m a believer in small groups. I’m for Sunday School, especially when it works. For it to work there must be a commitment to training. More on that later, but it’s a must.
What will you do? Will you let you Sunday School coast to a slow death by saying and doing nothing? I hope not. What would an easy Hybrid look like in your church.