Raising the Dead

Some believe it’s too hard to resurrect small, dying churches. Instead, they advocate channeling our energy and resources into planting new ones. “After all,” they say, “it’s easier to have a baby than to raise the dead.” Well, I’m all for church planting, but I also believe in resurrections. And while new babies are amazing, there is something utterly unique and awe-inspiring about a resurrection.

If we change the soil, resurrections can happen. Languishing, struggling, and dying churches can be turned around—brought back to life. They can even go places they’ve never gone before. But, it’s not easy. It’s a process, and it takes commitment. Actually, it takes three nonnegotiable commitments in order to enhance the quality of existing soil.

(1) A Commitment to Good Content

First of all, we must commit to nurturing the right values into the culture of the church in order to enhance its quality. In agriculture it is well known that not all soil is the same. Even ground that is considered Class A, high-quality, high-yielding soil can still vary greatly in topsoil, structure, nutrients, and organic matter. The same is true for churches. There is no one culture or list of values that is right for every congregation. As a result, there is no formula to be copied. There are dozens of values that are biblical, healthy, galvanizing, and true, and when these values are injected into the heart of a congregation, they serve as a fertile environment for God’s Word to flourish and bear fruit.

(2) A Commitment to Intentionality

Leaders get busy doing ministry—taking phone calls, doing crisis intervention, assimilating new people, making hospital calls, and preparing for lessons—to the point that they don't think about or prioritize such things as values. When this busyness is coupled with the pressure to succeed and the guilt we feel when we compare ourselves to the church down the street, we really don’t feel as though we have the time to do this. We need results now. So, we pour ourselves into the urgent. But what is most urgent is not always what is most important. And even if we know what’s important, it takes a great deal of courage and focus to address it.

(3) A Commitment to Time

Rick Warren said that it only takes a rowboat eight feet to make a U-turn, but it takes an oil tanker at least fourteen miles. He added that too many pastors treat the church like a rowboat, when in reality it’s a big ship. Changing the culture of an existing church is not a quick fix, and if we think an awesome sermon or even a good series is going to do it, we’re woefully mistaken. Regardless of how amazing the preaching or content is, it takes time to change culture. Almost every consultant and author I’ve come across says it takes a minimum of three to four years to transition the culture of an existing organization. My observation is that, unless you have a very strong leadership at the helm, it is more likely to take five to ten years when dealing with a church.

As commitments to good content, intentionality, and time are made, the collective heart of the congregation is likely to become more open and receptive to God’s Word and God’s will. As a result, the church is put into a position where the Lord is able to move and work in a way that maximizes the congregation’s redemptive potential.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus defines the good soil as the “people who hear the word and understand it” (Matthew 13:23). The Greek word for “understand” is suvieis, which means to comprehend, discern, be aware, or have insight into. A more modern definition might be “getting it.” That’s really what it means. It’s when people hear the written and the living Word of God and are able to “get it” to the point that they can grasp what God is saying and apply it beyond the superficial. As a result, the seed takes root and grows in and through us, yielding an abundant harvest for God’s glory (Colossians 1:6). That’s the good soil.