There’s not much time left until Christmas now but there’s probably just enough time to order John James’ excellent little book “Renewal: Church Revitalisation along the way of the Cross” from our good friends 10 of those.
John is the pastor of Crossway church in Northfield, Birmingham. In 2010, shortly after finishing at Theological College, he went with a small team from another local church to help a struggling church. That church had chosen not to die but to seek revitalisation so that it could be a viable gospel witness in a needy area.
I’ve had the privilege of preaching at Crossway. Today, you’ll find a lively gathering of people covering all generations and from a variety of backgrounds. This is a church that is growing not by transferring Christians from one church to the next but by getting out into the community and sharing the good news. In the book, you’ll find stories of people whose lives have been changed by the good news. This is not about big rallies and mass conversions. Rather, it’s about steady discipleship, 1-1 study, meeting with families in homes. It’s about being an everyday church.
The book makes a clear and compelling case for church revitalisation and its valid place alongside more popular evangelism strategies such as church planting. It then takes you on a journey through the life of a revitalisation project, through the ups and downs, confronting the challenges and navigating pitfalls along the way.
It is underpinned with solid theology and careful Biblical exegesis. There are lots of nuggets of wisdom and plenty of practical advice. There are a lot of real life stories but more than that, John tells a story of what might be possible when believers are ready to be humble, trust God and put his glory first.
Now, when we talk about church revitalisation, we tend to think of very small churches on the point of closure. Some of you may well be in churches like that and if so you’ll find this book deeply encouraging. It may well be that some of my readers are involved in pastoring or considering a call to a church like that. However, many of us are not in churches like that. So why read this book if your happily part of a church that is holding its own?
I want to suggest a few reasons.
First of all, the book will be a wake up call to the reality for many churches around our country and the need to pray.
Secondly, it will be a challenge against complacency. If I think that my church is holding its own then I risk thinking in terms of “success” and measuring the church against other churches and by worldly standards. If we do that then we will lose our focus and dependence on Christ. When a church does that, it is not long before the rot sets in.
This brings me to a third reason. Whilst not every church will need the form of revitalisation that John describes, I think most churches from time to time need some form of revitalisation. We may prefer words like “Refreshing” “Renewing” “reforming.” The point is this, it is good to be regularly called back to that “First Love.”
Fourthly, I think there’s an unsung story in our churches. I think sometimes that our focus on the shiny and the new buries that story. You see, up and down our country there are faithful believers who have kept trusting God, kept preaching the Gospel, kept a light shining. They’ve done it faithfully when the darkness around them has threatened to extinguish the light. They’ve persevered when the rest of the church seems to have got distracted by the latest fad. They’ve kept their hope in the Lord.
I know that our own local church in Bearwood has been through its tough patches. OI know that there were times when it would have been easy for the believers here to give up and go home. They didn’t. They kept praying, kept serving, kept witnessing kept trusting. Through their faithfulness, the faithful God kept a witness going here and whatever we do today is built on those foundations.
Fifthly, much of the advice about how to keep Biblically focused, deal with conflict, walk with a congregation through change, guard against temptation and keep the Gospel the priority is very relevant whatever your church size, shape or stage.
So, I would encourage you to pop online to 10 of those and get yourself a copy of John’s book. Read it to be challenged, encouraged, moved to prayer and spurred into action.