Church Resurrection Sunday

 

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the Body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:26-27                                                                                                                             

I recently came across a book called Autopsy of a Deceased Church. The title gives you the shivers, doesn’t it? It brings to mind pictures from one of the many forensic shows on these days. A naked cadaver is brightly lit in the middle of a cold examining room. The coroner makes a huge incision down the middle of his chest. He looks at pieces of it under the microscope. Meanwhile, family members are in a waiting room not far away grieving the loss of their loved one.

An autopsy is a sad picture for a church as well: a church consultant sitting in a café casually talking with the last remaining church members one after the other. “So what were the last few years like at… what was the name of your church again?” Each one has a far away look in their eyes as they reflect on the many years that lead to its demise.

  • “I think we forgot why we existed. We didn’t talk much about the Great Commission,” one says.
  • “All I remember is fights over some decision or another the elders made,” another reflects.
  • “We talked a lot but only prayed a little.”
  • “It became all about making the few of us still going, happy. It was all about ‘what I want in a church.’ “

Well, let’s get that image out of our head, and replace it with another… Church Resurrection Sunday. A church on the brink suddenly turns around. God is at work.

As people come in to the service, they are happy to see each other, they smile and exchange hugs. “We may be few but at least we have each other,” they say.

In the prayer and sharing time, one person stands up and says, “Please pray for my co-worker, I explained some of the gospel to him and I would love to see him come to the Lord.” A few others make similar requests.

Then another rises to their feet. “I would like to ask for forgiveness for the way I have behaved the last few years,” and after a bit more explanation of their sin of gossip, they close, “Will you forgive me?” A number of people say “yes” right out loud.

“After many years of ignoring each other,” another jumps in, “my sister in the Lord and I have reconciled and put all our differences behind us.” People begin to clap.

Then they go to prayer and it’s not just the pastor who prays; many contribute by praying aloud. He has to shorten his message because the prayer time goes so long, but he doesn’t mind at all.

The church is living out what it is called to be and it’s resurrected from what looked like certain death.

Now that’s a better picture, isn’t it?

The Numbers Game

“They’re stealing all our people,” one woman complained about a nearby mega-church. She was a member of a congregation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, back in 1978 when I was a pastoral intern there. I could understand her feelings, though the church did not actually steal people. A few members of our small 100-member church liked the programs of the 3000-people church fifteen minutes away, and so they had left for that church. What was harder though was the general pull of that big church upon others in the area. It was discouraging trying to bring new people in. Nobody knew of us, all they knew was the other church!

Today the situation is not much different, though the disparity has increased. Through satellite campuses and great online media and marketing expertise, the mega-church can greatly increase its reach, and become 10,000 or more rather than just 3000. I have heard these churches addressed as giga-churches. It seems more churches like that Milwaukee church are left in the dust with as little as 10-30 people.

In reality though, only 9% of churchgoing Protestants go to these mega-churches, according to an article in the May 8, 2012 issue of Christianity Today. The article said that 41% associate with a congregation of a 100 or fewer. Not so discouraging when you look at it like that.

It’s easy to play the numbers game, and determine our worth as a church by how big we are. It’s the business model applied to the church. We feel we have to get the biggest bang for our buck or we have fallen short and should hang it up. But God doesn’t look at it like that.

Back in Judges, Gideon had amassed 32,000 warriors to fight against the mightier Midianites. It looked tough to win even with those numbers, yet God ordered him to trim them dramatically. All those who trembled with fear could head for home. All those who lapped stream water like dogs instead of bringing it to their mouths were let go as well. (Maybe the ones left were better, more watchful soldiers, the text isn’t clear.) Now they had all of 300 men. And guess what? They won a mighty victory over the Midianites!

Why did God trim the numbers? Vs. 2 is clear, so the Israelites would not “boast against me (God).” God wanted to show his great power to them. What better way than through a much smaller army. It wasn’t the army then, it was God!

We can easily get discouraged in a smaller church, feeling like we can’t contribute to God’s purposes. But we can take encouragement that he does want to use us for his glory sake. If we do it in His strength, he will accomplish great things, and we can win great victories for the Lord!