Have you heard the Christian song, “I Can Only Imagine”? Great message. In fact, they’ve made a motion picture now to tell the story of the writing of the song. Powerful.
But this piece is not about that. I need to tell you a story – a true story – as told to me recently by a colleague. There was this little church in a medium-sized town, and it appeared to be in a death spiral. A generation ago it had been vibrant but the membership had either died, grown discouraged, or moved away. There were still forty names on the books; average attendance, sixteen. Youngest: seventy.
The pastor’s first observation was that he apparently had been sent there to officiate at a corporate funeral. But the more he prayed the more convinced he became that God might still have a noble purpose for this struggling, aging congregation.
So he prayed. And he invited the entire congregation to meet with him to pray for their church every morning from 6:00am to 6:30. Six of them showed up. All ladies. After a few weeks a seventh one joined them.
Two, three months went by and there was no visible change. They pled for the people of their community, especially for the families, especially for the children. They didn’t go house-to-house. They spent no money on marketing. They just prayed. They pleaded. They interceded. Nothing changed. Except they couldn’t get all the praying done they wanted to do by 6:30 so they extended their daily prayertime from 6:00am to 7:00.
A couple of months later a new family showed up at church. No one could remember the last time that had happened. A year later the average weekly attendance was fifty four. Some of the new folks began to join them at 6:00am. Three years later their regular worship attendance was near 300.
So that raises a question: Was the growth of the church the result of God’s supernatural work in the community, or the result of the renewed focus of the members? I suspect the answer is: both. People are only drawn as the Holy Spirit draws them. Jesus brings people to Jesus; we don’t. But when a passion for seeing the lost come to the cross saturates a group of believers, it changes the effectiveness of the church. It changes what God can do there.
So, what if every one of our congregations could catch that vision? Small town and large, small church, medium, large…sleepy or vibrant? Average age seventy or average age thirty-seven? What would happen? I can only imagine.
By Don Jacobsen