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Healthy Churches Embrace Evangelism, Kids, and Chaos

The tiny, older congregation meeting in a derelict church building is a common image when introducing the topic of church revitalization. Indeed, many churches fit the bill. The decline is obvious, especially if the church was much larger decades ago. Many of these churches were once thriving, only to go through a long season of slow deterioration. What caused the decline? How did it begin?

Churches decline for two main reasons, both having to do with a shift in priorities. First, they lose passion for the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. As a result (second), they no longer give God glory. When a church no longer pushes outward with the gospel, the people will no longer look upward to the glory of God. A church lacking both an outward and upward perspective will inevitably move in the other two directions: inward and downward. Inward churches always decline.

Push Outward

Churches that grow stronger in the next five years will focus on “going out.” The strength will be in a twofold strategy. First, the church’s culture will favor moving into the community. Second, leadership will train the congregation to be ready for evangelism opportunities.

A healthy outward movement is driven more by obedience than by seeking numerical growth. Serving the community can take various forms—from opening church facilities during the week as a place for community groups to gather, to helping the local homeless shelter, to creating a food bank, to developing a school of performing arts.

But serving is not enough. Pastors and church leaders must equip the congregation to spread the gospel as they serve. Far too few churches have harnessed the power of combining a culture of service with a willingness to share the gospel.

Far too few churches have harnessed the power of combining a culture of service with a willingness to share the gospel.

A healthy church has an acute concern for the collective needs of the community while at the same time maintaining a desperate heart for the lost individuals in that community.

Welcome Children

Optimistic churches also embrace children. Your church will not grow larger with the oldest generation. Older members provide stability, wisdom, and important resources, but for churches to grow and remain healthy, they must also reach, enfold, and retain younger generations. This is one of the natural tensions that will only increase as a church becomes more multigenerational.

Embracing children means understanding that messy is normal and natural, even healthy.

Embracing children means at least six things.

1. Understand that messy is normal and natural, even healthy.

Children have not mastered cleanliness. They can turn the snack table in a Sunday-school room into a work of abstract impressionist art. Children learning to take in God’s Word, to worship, and to love Jesus are going to be messy. The line of smudges across the wall is there because little hands are dragging as kids walk the halls. Messy is simply part of embracing the children in your church.

2. Value noise over perfection.

Children make noise in worship, and in classes, and in the parking lot. They cry. They laugh too loud. They scream and yell. Some churches try to suppress the noise. Others tolerate it. The healthiest churches value it.

3. Protect them at all costs.

Child security is a discipleship issue, and one of the most important. If you believe in the Great Commission, you will create robust security measures for children. Jesus says, “I am with you always.” A low-security church teaches children, “I am with you sometimes.”

4. Invest in children’s ministry.

Is your children’s pastor the lowest-paid ministry team member? Does your children’s budget match your worship budget? A church that embraces children will invest in ministries that support children. A church that merely tolerates children will give them the monetary leftovers. If it’s easier to cut your children’s budget than your technology budget, you likely are not embracing children in your church.

5. Understand church at their level.

A lot of churches seek the perspective of parents—and you should. Helping parents create God-centered homes rather than child-centered homes is one of the core elements of family discipleship. However, don’t neglect the children’s perspective. Ask them about their experiences, their feelings, their opinions. When you understand church at the level of a child, you are better positioned to guide them toward Christ.

In Luke 18:15–17, Jesus invites children to come near. In Mark 10:13–16, he embraces them. Churches who welcome and embrace children, then, are like Jesus. In fact, Jesus grows angry at the disciples for discounting the value of children. The next time a child cries out in church, don’t be angry. Children are a blessing from God. On the other side of tomorrow, a stronger church will embrace children, not just tolerate them.

Welcome Newcomers

Healthy churches are always messy. As God blesses a church with many new believers and increasing numbers of children, the life of the church is bound to become more chaotic, not less.

When your church is moving in the right direction, it’s going to feel messy.

When your church is moving in the right direction, it’s going to feel messy.

I remember baptizing a young woman who accepted Christ after getting out of prison. While we were in the baptistry area, the worship pastor said to the congregation, “Everyone knows this song. It’s a classic.”

As the people sang a familiar hymn, I turned to the woman and asked, “Do you know this song?”

“I’ve never heard it in my life.”

“That’s OK. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn it.”

And I’ll never forget explaining the Lord’s Supper to a new believer. “What’s with the plastic cups and sips of grape juice?”

Or the time someone pointed out an odd decorating fad. “Why do churches have fake plants everywhere? It’s so strange.”

Or how often we call each other funny names. “Is everyone here related? What’s all this brother and sister stuff?”

The church is moving in a healthy direction when new believers are disrupting the peace. Their questions and comments will cause you to rethink many things. Spend the next five years focusing on evangelism, children, and new-believer assimilation. Your church may not increase dramatically in size, but it will grow in health.

Editors’ note: 

This article is adapted from Sam Rainer’s new book The Church Revitalization Checklist: A Hopeful and Practical Guide for Leading Your Congregation to a Brighter Tomorrow (Tyndale House Publishers, Copyright © 2022).