Are you willing to let your church die for the sake of Kingdom advance? Or, are you so locked in on local church growth that the region you are assigned to suffers?Is it possible that the high majority of churches in our nation are dead-end churches? As you continue to read, you'll come to understand that many of the most vibrant, focused and Spirit-filled churches would be considered to be dead-end churches, or it's cousin, cul-de-sac churches. Millions are assessing the current state of the church in America and the Western world—and they are right—it's in trouble. The church is so far off course that one might wonder if there's hope at all. Listen to John talk about dead-end churches on his latest podcast… While these millions are correct in their analysis, many of them are wrong in their response. They have left the church they have deemed to be in violation of God's design and have isolated themselves and self-identified as “the church” presuming their action moves them closer to revival. It doesn't. (Read my article that addresses this fallacy, “You are NOT the Church : The Scattering Movement.”)
THE GOVERNMENTAL CHURCH IS THE KEY TO REVIVALI often write and teach on the church, and my reasoning is simple. It's not because I am advocating for a better, more vibrant and impacting church experience (though I wouldn't be opposed to that). It's because the regional church, and the local churches that make it up, are the governing bodies and the way they function is critical. The church is the authority in the region and unless it's setup correctly, the hopes for revival can begin to fade away. I'm not saying that a spark of revival can't ignite through small groups of Believer's who are going deep in prayer and crying out for an outpouring. It absolutely can. Historically it has happened more than once. However, that small group can't govern, can't administrate and can't facilitate the outpouring. While you may argue that no man has any business governing a move of God, you'd be wrong. God has set up the church as a governmental authority that not only has the responsibility but also the ability, if truly consecrated, to push back the enemy, to make room for God and to create healthy, Spirit-designed systems that both protect what God is doing and promote his activity throughout the region—and beyond.
A DEAD-END CHURCH DEFINEDAs I explained above, dead-end churches can be full of life, active in outreach, aggressive in their mission and growing. In fact they can sometimes become very large, which very well may be a false positive for spiritual health. Growth and vibrancy aren't the problem. It's the vision and/or the implementation of that vision that can become poisonous. Simply, if the focus is local church growth ahead of regional Kingdom advance, they have become compromised. The pastor or governmental leader of that local church must have clarity on the vision, and it absolutely must be centered on regional impact. What this means is that their own desires for local church growth must be set aside as they give their energies to revival in the city God assigned them to. Drawing and keeping visitors, growing in influence, developing local programs and ministries and other in-house focuses are put on the back burner, or sometime back on the shelf entirely, as their mandate has them focused regionally. A move of God in their city becomes the main thing.
A CUL-DE-SAC CHURCH DEFINEDA cul-de-sac is a dead end too, but it has a different vibe. While a dead-end church may be extremely focused on (misguided) vision, a cul-de-sac church is focused on family. Relationships. Togetherness. Imagine a nice neighborhood with a safe and lively cul-de-sac. The kids are out playing, neighbors are talking amongst themselves, barbecuing, laughing, eating and everybody is truly enjoying spending time together. I am more convinced then I've ever been that “family style” churches need to give way to true, apostolic, Spirit-filled movements made up of warriors who are contending for fire. The church is a military, not a vehicle for friend building. The call is to surrender all, to die to self, to cry out for God to move and to advance with a fervency that will cause the enemy to shudder. It's in the foxhole of Kingdom war where true friendships are forged. Simple social gatherings won't cut it. We are under attack and we need warriors to assault the kingdom of darkness with ferocity. This, friend, is the church.
LET YOUR CHURCH DIEPastor, you have to be okay with letting your church, in its current form, die. Two times in my nearly 30 years of ministry I made a conscious decision to let my church die. Both in Colorado and in Detroit I had heart-wrenching meetings with God as he instructed me to go deeper, to pray more intentionally and to invite the people on the journey with me. In Colorado, we were in a time of momentum and I'm convinced, as were others, that we had what took to grow the church to 500 people or more if we stayed the course. Understand, our church was intense and alive. The gifts of the Spirit were in play. The passion and vision were powerful. We weren't a dead church by any means, but we were on our way to becoming a very vibrant dead-end church. The only way to avoid that was for me as the pastor to allow my vision and everything I was contending for to die, even if it meant my church would die along with it. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I had a clear choice: continue as we were going and grow the church to 500 and beyond or obey God, become zeroed in on intercession and revival and drop in number possibly by 50-90%—or more. I knew I'd probably lose my salary and may have to find outside work. I knew people would be upset at the change in direction. I knew people who misunderstood my heart and calling would laugh and mock. I knew I was creating a very difficult situation for myself and my family. I also had peace. God wasn't interested in my ability to grow a large church. He wanted my heart and my obedience. In Detroit God gave me a directive to take people deeper, to come up against some destructive theologies and belief systems that many in the global church were adopting, and to focus on holiness and consecration, all from the furnace of intercession. I knew most people wouldn't be interested in such a lifestyle, but I had no choice. Again, I had to obey God. Overnight we lost a large percentage of the people in the church and we shifted into exactly what God had for us—an army of warriors, small in number yet zealous in spirit, who weren't looking for numerical growth, happy worship services or church as usual, a people who wanted nothing less than to be in the middle of God's blueprint for our region. The thoughts of revival consumed us. The point? Church growth, local church vision, a family style focus, financial strength or attracting and keeping visitors isn't the goal. All of that, quite frankly, can compromise the goal of being a vehicle for regional Kingdom impact. Frankly, the hundreds of people you are seeking may very well threaten your ability to fulfill God's call on your life and for your church. I would never change the decisions we made in Colorado or Detroit, even if it meant we would have grown a church of thousands. The model of a successful church has become quite skewed, and it's time we let those ideals die and capture the heart of exactly what God is calling us into.
MARKS OF A DEAD-END CHURCHONE: The pastor/leader doesn't connect and regularly collaborate with other churches and ministries in their region. Their energies are given almost entirely to their local church, misunderstanding the importance of their local expression of the city church. They don't realize that the church in Scripture has a regional designation attached to it. The church defined is the regional body of Believers who function under regional apostolic authority. Within that context, there are smaller, local churches that are never to be self-identified, but rather are to strategically connect and often yield to the regional expression. This is why it was so important for me to give leadership to two prayer movements, one in Colorado Springs and one in Detroit. We would visit a new church every Friday night and pray in the Spirit from 10pm until midnight. We visited over 100 churches in Colorado and over 70 in Detroit. That regional connection was invaluable. TWO: The pastor doesn't encourage people in his church to connect with other churches and ministries on a regular basis. When I was leading churches I realized the immense value of other churches and ministries in our area. I'd let my folks know that they should definitely consider becoming faithful to other churches throughout the week, as we were but a single department of the city church. Other departments, other local churches, were important in the grand scheme and they would benefit from joining with them. In Detroit, I cancelled most everything in my church for a month as I led the people out of our church and into another about 45 minutes away that was experiencing a powerful move of God. We were there every single night for 28 days (I actually missed one night, reluctantly). My passion was not the growth of my local church but rather in fanning the flames of revival in my city. THREE: The pastor has a competitive spirit. We need to kill that nasty spirit once and for all. I propose one way to do that is to invite other pastors and leaders to recruit anybody from our church that they would like. I'd let other leaders in the city know they could freely connect with my best leaders, my worship team, my staff and anybody in the church, and see if they might be interested in leaving us to serve with them. That eliminates competition and any threats of sheep stealing. They can't steal what I don't own and what I freely make available to them. FOUR: The church has contagious and aggressive vision for local church growth, yet they rarely talk about regional revival. They emphasize the goals, the strategies and the determination to grow their church, to develop their ministries, to increase in number, to outgrow their building, to attract visitors or to focus on what benefits them on a local level. FIVE: If they have a prayer emphasis at all, it's almost entirely directed toward their own local endeavors. They pray for all of the stuff I mentioned in the point above while having little zeal for an outpouring in the city. They don't understand that the revival may not even launch in their own local church, so they focus on a move of God happening in their own body while forsaking the call to intercede for regional transformation. Instead of groaning and crying out for God to move in their city, for wickedness to be exposed, for other churches to come alive, for an earth-shaking outpouring, they are praying for internal ministries, for their own tent pegs to expand and for local increase. SIX: Money isn't sowed into their region. They use finances internally to grow their own local church. While they may have earmarked funds for missions and benevolence, the idea of sowing into regional revival is foreign to them. Further, when dead-end churches do give to outside ministries, it's almost always churches within their own denomination. SEVEN: They rarely if ever bring in guest speakers who are leaders in other local churches in their region. They want to control the narrative and they don't want people to be influenced by a more dynamic speaker or someone who might connect better with people in their church. They fear losing those people. They fear their nice, tidy local family being disrupted. They also fear another leader behind their pulpit who carries a more potent vision for the region than they do. With all humility I can say that as a visiting guest minister in regions I've never previously been to, I've often had more vision for that city than the pastor of the church. It's crazy. I've also boldly coached pastors not to undo what God is about to do in the meetings. When God calls me to speak in a church, a lot will be confronted and exposed and a firestorm of God's loving reformation will be in the room. Pastors, have the guts to embrace someone who won't simply affirm what has been built, but will call the people higher.
MARKS OF A CUL-DE-SAC CHURCHONE: It's all about family. As I said above, I believe the family style church is a threat. Many of these types of churches could fit into the “seeker sensitive” category of churches. Many others emphasize the grace and love message in excess and, while there may be praying in tongues and dancing in the aisles, it all comes back to relationships. The thoughts of a vertical experience where people lock in with God and contend for him to move is something they would struggle with if it interferes with their desire for horizontal connections. It can be both vertical and horizontal, but in a cul-de-sac church, preference is given to personal, human relationships instead of aggressively advancing in the Spirit. TWO: Their definition of revival is off. They see a growing number of people who are enjoying God and one another as the prime goal. While nobody can argue that growing in intimacy with God and that developing Kingdom relationships is wrong, it's the focus and the priorities that send cul-de-sac churches into the wrong direction. Instead of a supernatural war they value a growing, happy family of people who are enjoying God together. They would call that revival, and it's a far cry from it. They misunderstand the severity of the battle and don't regularly engage at the required level. THREE: Positivity rules. They are adverse to anything that would be a downer to their block party in the cul-de-sac. They want their people encouraged, happy, stress-free and at ease. Topics such as Hell, sin, eternity, repentance, correction, expectations or anything negative are avoided like the plague. They refuse to speak to the national cultural crisis, politics, the end-times, wickedness such as abortion and homosexuality or any other issue that would be divisive, challenging or confrontational. Just as people advise others to avoid the topics of religion and politics around the Thanksgiving table for the sake of civility and keeping the peace, cul-de-sac churches avoid anything that would cause any measure of disturbance. FOUR: Connecting with other churches, especially those that are aggressive in the pursuit of revival, holiness and a supernatural manifestation of God, is a no-go. They are happy within the four walls of their family gathering and they don't want any outside influences threatening that.
MARKS OF A KINGDOM CHURCHInstead of a list of attributes of a Kingdom church, I'll draw this article to a close. I believe it's easy to deduce just what makes up a Kingdom church by reviewing the opposing views above. The bottom line is that we absolutely must see a massive correction come to what we know as the church today. Regional and national revival is greatly hindered by a lack of true, Kingdom churches that are in existence not for themselves, but rather for the advance of, well, the Kingdom. Pastors, let your vision die. Let your church die. It's okay. Let the stress of growing your own little spiritual experiment in a tiny little petri dish fade away. Even more importantly, get on board with what God has planned in your city. Let your personal endeavors go, as great as they seem to be, and contend with others in your region for an outpouring. Just gather together somewhere, anywhere, with governmental, Kingdom leaders and other revival-minded people and press into God's heart and intercede and advance exactly as God reveals to you as a part of the regional, governmental body. That's church. That's a Kingdom church. That church will turn the world upside down.
GRACE IN THE SHIFTIn closing (for real, this time), I want to encourage you not to get jaded. Don't point fingers at churches or pastors. Understand that they have a mega-burden, and even if they aren't advancing the way reform demands, pray for them. There must be love and grace in the process and in the ultimate shift. Also, understand God is diverse and there are many different types of people giving leadership, and they have varying levels of ability, experience, gifts, offices, prophetic revelation and understanding of the purpose of the church. In fact, many will disagree with this article. That's okay. This doesn't mean we can't contend for transformation in the local church, but it does mean we must have grace in the process. I want to strongly encourage you to read a related article that is sure to provoke you to urgently considering the need for severe reformation in the church: “Nine reasons we may have to choose: Grow a large church or contend for revival.”
If a church is small, does that mean God’s favor isn’t there or that the pastor has failed? Not always.
Given a choice, I’d attend a large, impactful and vibrant church. That’s simply a preference of mine, though I understand why many others prefer smaller churches. Additionally, given a choice, I’d prefer to lead a large, impactful and vibrant church instead of a smaller one. The key words are impactful and vibrant. Over nearly three decades of ministry, however, I’ve learned that large does not always equal successful, small doesn’t always equal failure and a lack of numeric growth doesn’t always equal stagnant. It’s time we overcome the stigma of the small church.
Like most young church planters or pastors, my vision for the church I was leading included explosive numeric growth. That seemed to be the non-negotiable, obvious part of the ministry plan that required no explanation. Starting and developing a church clearly demanded attracting people to the mission as a core strategy. In fact, the Ekklesia is defined by three distinct marks: People. Leadership. Instruction.
The Ekklesia is a gathering of people in the region under governmental authority in order to receive apostolic instruction. More simply, it’s people coming together under God ordained leadership to fulfill a mission. So, yes, people are needed if you want to lead a church.
Some of my most memorable church planting moments include an empty 700 square foot room in Manitou Springs, Colorado where I’d pray, usually alone, in the early stages of our church launch there. Eighteen years have passed and a lot of lessons have been learned, but those hours on my knees or pacing around that room were the foundation of my church planting experience.
I’ll eliminate the countless remarkable stories, miracles, supernatural encounters and other happenings that spurred the church development process, both there in Manitou Springs and also in Detroit where we planted our second church. I’ve written about these miracles and wonders in some of my books (www.burton.tv/resources), but suffice it to say, I’m humbled at how God moved. In fact, I’m stunned at just how much God did. I and many others will never be the same, and for all eternity we will be able to praise God for what he did in those seasons.
To this day I wonder if my two church planting exercises were massive tests—for me. I know for sure that both contained many tests, but my question is about the comprehensive experience. Did God call me to plant two churches mostly to develop me personally and to test my heart? Certainly there were enough stories of impacted lives to fill many books and countless articles, so I don’t question whether the ministry was legitimate or not. I’ll be forever wrecked by the transformation that resulted in people in those two regions, in those two seasons. Watching lives supernaturally transformed before my eyes caused tears to flow.
Yet, as God truly branded many people with his fire in those many years of ministry, I do wonder if God was mostly testing me. Would I be more interested in growing my legacy, my ministry, my church and my reputation—not to mention my bank account—or, was I truly in it for love and to minister to the heart of God?
In both Manitou Springs and Detroit we saw the churches grow. People to this day count those years among the best of their lives. God was drawing people together and we were contending for revival together.
In both Manitou Springs and Detroit, God tested my heart. It was difficult to say the least. Crushing even. To simplify what he was doing, he called us to go deeper and to raise the bar higher. The cost of consecration and the call to fervent intercession became a much greater focus (and we were already known for being an edgy, intense ministry). While we had amazing people in both churches, I knew the decision to become even more revival focused, even more intercession driven and even more devoted to a consecrated, holy lifestyle would result in many people disengaging. I knew it. I was troubled. God was calling me to “intentional failure.”
I’ll never forget the key moments in both places when God nailed me to the ground and directed me to surrender all, including my reputation. There were many cries and questions during the many hours of prayer in those two defining seasons in Colorado and Michigan. If I obeyed God and introduced a new wine, reformation church that was very unique and specific to our particular mission, those who were mostly invested in the church experience for reasons other than revival, reformation, intercession and revolution would most definitely jump ship. That would be almost everybody. Literally. No exaggeration.
I was right. That’s exactly what happened. I could have stayed the course and watched the churches continue to grow and “thrive,” possibly into several hundred in number. I have no doubt that I could have chosen growth over God, and that freaks me out. It would have been very easy to spiritualize my decision and avoid the pointed fingers and accusations of failure by continuing on the way we started. And I would have failed some of my most critical tests. I would have satisfied people and rejected God and the church would have grown. That is absolutely terrifying.
Attempting to transition a passionate, Spirit-filled, fiery church into a church that’s even hotter, more costly and one that results in a terrifying tremble in our spirits is not for the feint of heart. You see, there are many who absolutely love to warm themselves by the fire, but very few who are willing to lay across the fire as it consumes their flesh as a sacrifice to the one they love.
If small churches have a stigma attached to them, and failure has a stigma attached to it, failed churches most definitely have a stigma attached! But why?
Stop and think about it. Pastor, I want you to be free from the finger-pointing and cruel accusations if you struggle to grow your church or if you fail altogether. Has anybody figured out why failure in this manner is such a negative for some people? Failure in man’s eyes means little. The question is, are you growing in God? Are you truly obedient to God even if such obedience results in people presuming you are weak? (By the way, we are all weak!)
Here’s a portion of an article based on my book Piece of Cake, which deals directly with the stigma of failure:
One of the greatest fears man has is that of failure. It invites scrutiny, accusation and mocking—but society’s greatest leaders embrace a culture of failure!
The goal isn’t to look like you know what you are doing, the goal is to experiment, try, fail, try again, grow, have epiphanies, gain knowledge, fail again and ultimately succeed!
Success doesn’t develop experts nearly as well as failure does.
Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” (attributed to Thomas Edison)
If we understand the scope of our project, it’s actually quite insane to presume we will accomplish it without significant and repeated failures.
Yes, you are going to fail. Go ahead and wrestle with it now, you can’t avoid it. I don’t mean ultimate failure, of course. But, I do mean that you will pray much, do your best to gain insight from God, consider your best options, seek wisdom from others and then move out with at least a measure of confidence—and you will experience failure!
Failure should not intimidate you! People will presume you to be inadequate, confused or immature during your experimenting.
Most young ministers crave for others to see them as successful and steady with a pipeline directly into the command center of Heaven. The reality? We see in part. We understand little. We have clarity on a small part of the big picture, and when we initiate action, others will watch as we stumble and struggle. Are you OK with that?
THE STIGMA OF SMALL CHURCHES
I’ve heard it said that small is the new big. I believe that is true for many, though we have to be careful not to use that as a cop out. There are some leaders out there who have what it takes to grow a large church yet their lack of personal growth, faith and surrender is standing in the way. Small is the new big only if God has called a particular ministry to be small. There are a lot of silly excuses pastors give for having a small church, just as there are many compromises pastors make to have a large church.
I know we could have easily seen our churches grow moderately large, but I also know I’m probably not gifted enough to lead anything in the thousands. But, in reality, if I honestly analyze God’s mandate on my life, I may not be able to stay true to God’s call while leading more than a hundred—if that. Twice I have traded my ability to grow a church for God’s mandate for a small army of zeroed in warriors. You have no idea how thankful I am that I didn’t fail those tests (though I’ve certainly failed a bunch of other tests over the years! I’m thankful for God’s grace and mercy!).
Further, many pastors simply are not equipped or called to lead a large ministry, yet they expend ridiculous amounts of energy trying to fill the seats.
Pastors, if you have a small church, it could be that you aren't gifted to lead a larger one. God didn't give you that ability. Leadership doesn't come naturally to you. The quicker you can admit that, if it's in fact true, the quicker you can shift expectations and pivot into strategies that take advantage of what you are gifted at.
There's such a stigma regarding small churches. People presume them to be failures. Why is that? Numeric growth should not be the barometer of health and success.
The moment you realize it's okay to be small, the stress and pride and anxiety will fall off. Joy will return as you enjoy being who God created you to be.
The truly scary reality is that many people are naturally gifted to lead a large church or ministry, but God has actually called them to lay that on the altar—and they don’t. They can’t imagine the ridicule, the mocking, the accusation and the massive price that would come if they took their church in a direction that few would join them in.
In fact, I wonder how many mighty church growth visions are being fulfilled as Ishmaels instead of Isaacs. I propose churches all over the world be laid on the altar of sacrifice as God brings redefinition and redirection. The revival we are yearning for requires a sacrifice—a surrender of personal ambition and dreams of success. Put it all on the altar. It requires the church is birthed supernaturally, as Isaac was, not naturally as Ishmael was.
I often think about heroes like Leonard Ravenhill. I would imagine if Ravenhill had decided to start his own church, it would probably be initially well attended, and then a colossal failure. His rebukes of the church that he’s so well known for in his writings would most definitely drive the typical church goer away with mocking and accusations flying out of their mouths. You see, if he would have experienced failure such as this, it wouldn’t be his failure, it would be the failure of those who rejected the call to respond.
Leonard Ravenhill received a lot of criticism about his view of the church being weak witnesses for Christ. He sought to rekindle the fire of the church into the devotion that the first century church had. To him, the greatest tragedy was not sinful activities of the world; it was a sick church in a dying world and so he thought, “Save the church and you will save the world!” Leonard Ravenhill was an old time preacher that warned of the wrath of God, hellfire, heaven, the need for repentance, confession of sin, living a life of holiness. ~Jack Wellman
IF I DECIDED TO PLANT MY THIRD CHURCH
I’d encourage you to read an article I wrote about just what my third church plant might look like, should God direct me to launch one: What My Third Church Plant Might Look Like.
Here’s a portion:
We Will Be Intentionally Small
Understand, I'm someone who absolutely loves large-group meetings. I love praying and contending with thousands of people at various conferences and events. I also would have no problem with a church that does in fact explode in number as a result of revival. I believe we will see that.
However, after 26 years, much of that in pastoral ministry developing churches, I no longer value growing numerically for the sake of numbers. I don't get excited when more people show up, unless those people are hungry and ready to engage God with us at an extreme level.
I believe the sharp, offensive messages that will be preached, the call for 100 percent of the people to be invested in supernatural, fervent prayer and the extreme commitment necessary to advance apostolically will repel most people. Only a remnant will be left. It's with that remnant that we can preach what much be preached, pray what must be prayed and do what must be done to prepare a region for revival.
IT’S TIME FOR REMNANT CHURCHES—WHICH MEANS MOST CURRENT CHURCH MEMBERS WILL LEAVE
Large churches can be a serious threat to revival—or a great strength to revival. We cannot measure success by the number of people who are attending. We must measure by the number of remnant Christians who are fully devoted and being equipped and marked by God in the fires of intercession. Again, some leaders can gather a small group of firebrands and some can gather hundreds or thousands. The key is the temperature of the fire and the level of surrender. When the fire gets hot, many will leave.
We have too many churches filled with people who are marginally interested in a move of God. They would be counted among those who rejected the call to the Upper Room. Understand, what happened in that Upper Room resulted in the launch of the church. If we don’t see tongues of fire igniting above everyone in attendance, and we don’t feel the wind of the Spirit of God blowing through the place, we have to know our church is either compromised or not ready.
The call must be so severe that most people reject it. Hundreds rejected the opportunity to be a part of the Upper Room prayer meeting. Those who did respond changed the world and ultimately impacted billions.
So, yes, when I gave leadership to the churches in Manitou Springs and in Detroit, I was so hungry for God to move more in the region than in my own meetings that I refused to pursue church growth at the cost of obedience and the greater vision. Those were painful years that resulted in a lot of tears as people moved on to other places. Understand, I don’t blame these people. Many are great friends who simply had a different focus in their lives. It’s easy for us to presume such decisions are black and white, but they rarely are. People are at all different places in life, and sometimes one crazy and wild church may just not be what God has for them at that time. I understand that.
I blessed those who left, as difficult as it was to see them go, but I knew my heart was pure and my decision to contend for revival and God’s plan instead of growing my church was correct. Would I do some things differently? Of course. But, the final, big decision to say yes to God and no to personal ambition was the only decision that really mattered.
Simply do what God calls you to do. Period. It really is that basic. There are many pastors that would be better served entering the marketplace. Others need to come to terms with the size of their ministry. Others have to mature and develop before they will see the next level. But, don’t allow people’s analysis of your progress control you or impact you emotionally. People, even many Christians, love to capitalize on someone who is down, and they will use that opportunity to elevate themselves. Just let them. It’s okay. Love them and trust God. All eternity will be marked by the way you respond to people and challenges. It truly is a glorious thing to be free from the scrutiny of others as we allow the fear of the Lord to overcome us. He is truly a very good Father who is cheering you on, not stepping on your neck when you are down and broken.
A sinister spirit is behind much of today’s church growth movement.
Leonard Ravenhil: “We need to close every church in the land for one Sunday and cease listening to a man so we can hear the groan of the Spirit which we in our lush pews have forgotten.”
A recent post on Facebook resulted in a long stream of comments from people shouting amen, asking me to start a church, sharing heartbreak over today’s church and dropping in a bunch of fire and bullseye emojis. Here’s part of what I wrote:
I'm more convinced than ever that attempting to grow churches and develop programs and ministries has made it nearly impossible to see the remnant church so many are yearning for.
Pastors, please hear me. Stop the madness! Stop counting how many people show up every Sunday morning. Stop analyzing metrics. Stop setting numerical growth goals. Stop casting vision that’s centered around your local church growing. Stop. For the love of everything holy, just stop.
I know, I know. The Bible tells us that the church was added to daily.
47 …And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:47 (ESV)
Notice, however, the Lord added to their number, not the assimilation team or the marketing team.
In fact, if we back up in the text just a bit, we’ll clearly see it wasn’t marketing or a seeker sensitive, low water level approach that resulted in growth.
40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. Acts 2:40-41 (ESV)
Unapologetic preaching and a call to repentance was the impetus for growth. A Holy Spirit infused message calling people out of a lifestyle of wickedness is what triggered the awakening—not assimilation strategies. The apostles had no need for church growth. They simply preached a transforming message in the power of the Holy Spirit and watched God move. Can you imagine the early Apostles sitting around a table in the Upper Room discussing how to form greeter teams, what coffee and donuts to buy and how to attract people to their services? The thought of it feels like blasphemy! Yet, today’s churches do just that every week. The fear of the Lord is nowhere to be found.
31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. Acts 9:31 (ESV)
The fear of the Lord and the moving of the Holy Spirit—not programs and ministries—resulted in growth and impact.
In fact, consider this powerful truth: False prophets and false teachers are smart enough to know what will truly attract is an encounter with the supernatural—not programs and pastries.
24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Matthew 24:24 (ESV)
If false prophets are focusing on the (unholy) supernatural, why are so many pastors and leaders tied to natural ideas and gimmicks to draw in the people? It’s foolishness. We need the fresh fire of the Holy Spirit to fall. We need to eliminate the distraction and undue stress of most of our church ministries and programs—and simply gather the remnant to pray.
FOCUS MUST SHIFT TO THE REMNANT CHURCH
I absolutely believe in church growth, but I don’t believe every local church must grow numerically in order to fulfill their purpose. The stigma of small churches has haunted many a pastor. Our focus must be on the city church and regional revival as opposed to local church numeric growth. The group of people on the local level that will spur on the pursuit of revival in the city is the remnant. It’s the remnant church. These are your champions of intercession, holiness and passion for Jesus. They will zealously dive deep and advance into uncharted waters. Note that I didn’t say these people are your core group or your leadership team. The remnant should be the whole of the church. Everybody going deep together. The lukewarm, apathetic people that so many pastors attempt to grow their churches with will be alerted to their condition and then left with a decision. They will either dive into the depths with the rest of the body or they will, by their own choice, shrink back. In fact the Bible says they will ultimately die. Pastors, why are we trying to grow our churches with the spiritually comatose?
1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Revelation 3:1-2 (ESV)
We need bold messages of awakening in our pulpits today! The call to holiness, prayer and revival must be continual. Their must be a prophetic unction burning in the guts of pastors today. The goal is not church growth! It’s obedience to Jesus and a lifestyle of intercession and fire!
From a recent Charisma Magazine article Should the Church Get Scary?:
We need to stop trying to attract the lost to church. The purpose of the church, of the ekklesia, is NOT to draw in the lost. Entire church mission statements and vision statements should radically change.
While the church isn't for the lost, it remains obviously true that we want to see the lost come to Christ. When the church is again a house of prayer, we will again see the necessary power to truly impact the world. The spirit of revival will explode as will the church.
When we understand that a group of twenty or fifty fiery, praying, devoted remnant Believers can do more to minister to God and shake a city than a thousand mildly curious church goers, our energy will shift from church growth to Kingdom impact. Are both mutually exclusive? No. But, the risk of compromise is great when we are attracted to numbers.
THE REMNANT IS DONE WITH CHURCH AS USUAL
Pastors have been duped into believing they need to (witch)craft their services in such a way that the seekers will be drawn, and not overwhelmed. They manipulate the environment to attract the largest possible group.
First, as I have already explained, the church wasn’t designed for the lost. The call for all is to radically and immediately surrender and turn from their wicked ways. Creating a culturally relevant atmosphere that gives people a comfortable warming up period to the concept of God is no way to run a church. The church service was never meant to be used for evangelism. It's a Believer's prayer meeting, not a place to assimilate seekers.
Second, when the lost do come in, when a move of God shakes the foundation and the neighborhood bars empty and the desperate line up at the church doors, they are not looking to be pacified and affirmed. They are ready to break! They want an encounter with deity! They don’t want your programs or ministry philosophies. They want Jesus!
The remnant has had enough of these low water approaches to ministry.
Those who are desperate for a move of God don’t really care that much about being greeted with a handshake and a smile at the door as they arrive on Sunday morning, yet pastors invest much energy and focus on assimilation, hospitality, visitation and other people-centric strategies. The remnant doesn’t care about being assimilated. They want to burst through the door and head to the altars alongside other desperate people.
They aren’t impressed by a perfectly produced and executed worship experience led by people who haven’t had an encounter with God in years—if ever.
They are not interested in the pastor’s latest, greatest teaching if it’s not burning with fire and dosed with anointing that can only come from hours in the prayer room.
They are bored with today’s predictable, powerless, structured and forgettable church services.
The remnant simply wants to gather together with others that have the smell of fire on them and pray. They aren’t looking to shake hands with others and they really could not care less about announcements, programs and special events. They want to be wrecked and rocked by the glory of God.
How far have we fallen as leaders when we think an unthreatening, casual environment would be the medicine for a spiritually apathetic people. Churches have the smell of death on them because they are attracting the dead to something devoid of resurrection power. Sometimes I wonder if there’s any difference between those in the pews and those in the ground in the church cemetery next door.
When the fear of the Lord manifests in a church service, people will immediately either hit the floor or hit the door. The travail, groaning, and agonizing over sin will either grip people to the core or they will simply run out the door. The fear of the Lord directly confronts neutrality and exposes all immorality.
A great majority of American churches have never actually experienced the fear of the Lord and it’s coming to this nation. Messengers with a hardcore message of repentance are arising who will enter into cities and regions with a mandate to break up the fallow ground of the hearts of men and usher the fear of the Lord back into the Church.
The sign to you that the fear of the Lord has arrived is when people only have two options: to either hit the floor or run out the door.
My friend Jeremiah Johnson also posted this recently:
When the offerings are down…
When attendance is low…
When the attacks won’t stop coming…
Will you continue to preach the gospel or go back to manipulating people?
If asked why they want their church to grow, pastors will offer some spiritual answers:
- We want to win the lost.
- Anything healthy grows.
- We want to impact our neighborhood.
While those points are good, and while there are many phenomenal pastors who are doing their best to serve God with obedience, I know there are other more honest answers to the church growth question we must consider:
- If the church grows, it’s evidence that people like me.
- I need the money a larger group will bring into the church.
- My reputation will take a hit if I can’t grow the church.
- If the church doesn’t grow, I’ll have to get another job.
- I’m being pressured by my board or overseers to grow numerically.
- We can only fulfill the vision if a lot of people buy into it.
- I’ll feel like a failure.
- My identity is tied to my performance in ministry.
- We have been seduced by the success of other ministries, and want to have the same success.
The pressure to grow numerically is insane. Pastors are falling into depression. Recently there have been horrible headlines of pastors committing suicide. The stress of leading ministries and meeting metrics can be too heavy to bear.
The allure and demand of church growth can be seductive indeed. If the Lord isn’t bringing increase (due to a failure to host the Holy Spirit and to boldly preach offensive truth), there is another spirit that is more than willing to extend a wretched, crooked hand. A demonic, wicked spirit of witchcraft thrives on control and manipulation. This spirit rebels against the methods of the Kingdom and against the purity of the Holy Spirit with tactics that will minister to the leader’s need for success.
Please understand me. I’m not saying all focuses on numeric growth are impure. I’m really not. It’s possible to possess an apostolic and prophetic spirit and to see through the eyes of God into a future of impact and explosive growth. It’s possible to discern a coming harvest. It’s possible to have the heart of an evangelist and to cry out for the lost and for a church filled with new, Spirit-filled, hungry converts. It absolutely is. In fact, a passion for the harvest, a cry for souls, must radiate out of every pastor and leader. Sadly, however, the allure of church growth is rarely born from such a pure desire.
Instead, an evil spirit is invoked, rarely deliberately, usually by default as an impure passion of the heart that demands satisfaction. Pastors souls are sold for the promise of a full house—a promise that is rarely delivered on. Further depression and failure is usually the result. Sometimes the church does explode, but not with burning zealots. Instead it’s a morgue, filled with people who are numb, cold and without signs of life.
The remnant church is wising up. While I have and always will teach that we must honor pastors and refuse to move in rebellion to God’s established authority, a disturbing shift must come to the church, and fast.
Pastors, we must stop using people to build our own kingdoms.
God forgive us for building kingdoms of man on doctrines of demons in your name. ~Brian Ming, as quoted in Pharaoh in the Church
The witchcraft necessary to coerce people to give financially, to serve the pastor’s vision and to build a ministry for impure reasons is extreme. It truly requires quite a few very powerful demons to anoint such a venture.
Please understand, I’m not talking about pastors who are intentionally evil and manipulative. I’m talking about pastors who have heart issues, those who try to spiritualize their ventures, those who are attempting to grow their church just like most every other pastor they know, those who have been seduced but don’t know it. They need to be shocked out of their deception and into the rest and peace that comes from allowing the Lord to bring the increase instead.
THE CHURCH WE ARE YEARNING FOR
Someone asked how I'd like to see church services go. Here's what I said:
Start with an hour of fiery intercession in the sanctuary prior to the service. Let it keep going as people show up for the service. Let the musicians play behind the prayer for the first 30 minutes or so of the service. Then, as prayer continues, let the musicians kick into some prophetic worship for a song or two. Open up the mic for decrees and declarations. Have the dancers and flaggers and others fill the altars. Encourage people to pace around the room or hit their face and contend. After a couple of hours or so, there might be a strong prophetic message, or just some declarations of the Word. Then flood the altars as people lead in prayers of repentance and reveal prophetic revelation that was received during the service.
Of course, that’s one model, but the point I’m making is that the coming remnant church simply isn’t interested in most of what is offered today—at all.
Pastors, when we realize the church service was never meant for assimilating seekers or evangelizing the lost, the stress of church growth falls off. The pressure to grow numerically can be replaced by the joy and passion of ministering to God.
Again, yes, we most definitely can believe God for numerical growth—if that’s God’s desire for our particular local expression of the church. And, also, there are those who will over-spiritualize their small congregation. They argue that their focus on holiness and revival don’t allow for numerical growth. Ridiculous. Remember, where the fear of the Lord, the power of the Holy Spirit and bold preaching exist, people will respond. Many will mock. Many will marvel. The city will be impacted. The local church may or may not grow numerically, but it will in spiritual depth and the church in the city will be impacted.
I’d encourage you to read my Charisma Magazine article, The Church We Crave But May Never See.
Here’s something to consider from that article. Keep in mind, the casual seeker won’t be attracted to a church on fire unless they are ready to surrender all. The church may shrink in number. However, the Holy Spirit will give leadership that will shock us to the core. Check it out:
For at least eight years specifically, and 23 years generally I've been teaching, writing articles, writing books, recording podcasts and posting videos about this very subject—extreme reformation in the church. Yet, the church service in nearly every Christian church looks the same (or worse) than it did decades ago.
I'm just about done. Finished. I can't stand the thought of additional years of church experiences modeled after a wine skin that's been outdated for years—yet, I acknowledge that it's all I may have to choose from while I'm still on the earth. Reformation seems to be far off.
The goal is not to hope for a more anointed old wine skin, but rather for such a radical reformation that it looks nothing like what we see today.
Simply, what's coming will look more like an extreme prayer meeting with people laid out all over the place with fire and tears in their eyes than the casual, tired and predictable worship and teaching services we see today.
Yes, the Sunday service will finally be the Upper Room experience that the burning, desperate remnant has been yearning for. Raging prayer, fervent prayer, passionate prayer will return to first place in the church.
We may need to choose: Grow a large church or contend for revival in a region.
God's world changers always favor being idealistic ahead of being realistic. They are dreamers, visionaries and supernatural theorists instead of analysts driven by logical data. They refuse to work within natural limits for the sake of quicker, more visible success. They would rather fail a thousand times contending for the impossible than succeed once at something that's humanly possible. These leaders won’t compromise the call to revival by seeking to fill the seats with the lukewarm. They are calling forth the burning ones. Their dream is to shock cities with a remnant army.
And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” Judges 7:4 (ESV)
300 was better than 33,000.
This truth is the focus of this article.
The Big Meeting
For as long as I can remember I have loved the large group atmosphere with innumerable zealous people worshiping God and going deep together. There’s something about the catalytic power and synergy in an atmosphere like that—if the majority are raging radicals for Jesus. A gathering like this most always takes place in the form of conferences or conventions. For example, for me, there’s nothing like the Onething conference that the International House of Prayer in Kansas City hosts at the end of each year. That Missouri city becomes the focal point for people who embrace the call to a life of prophetic intercession in the end times. People from all over the world converge there which results in the large group atmosphere I and so many others value.
Over my 25 years of ministry I have enjoyed many large conferences like this but have also discovered that such gatherings rarely exist within the construct of the local church. Understand, I’m not saying the local church can’t attract a lot of people, become mega in size and become influential in the community. Many do just that. We’ve just ventured through an era where seeker sensitive churches became some of the largest churches in the nation. What I am arguing is that it’s extremely rare to find a church that’s raging on fire by establishing a prayer-fueled, revival focused, region shocking, Upper Room level culture.
In fact, I wonder just how common it is to grow a church to more than one or two hundred people with such an approach. I believe it is possible yet extremely rare. With some exceptions, small revival tribes of 30-70 people are a much more predictable expectation—until revival actually breaks out.
120 in the upper room can quickly become thousands in the church of the city.
NINE REASONS GROWING A LARGE CHURCH AND CONTENDING FOR REVIVAL MAY BE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE PURSUITS
1. Muzzled Speech
It’s all too tempting for today’s church growth focused leaders to trade in their prophetic mantle for that of a salesman. Instead of cutting, bold, unapologetic truth being delivered with a prophetic edge, lesser, neutered messages are given in the hopes that there won’t be any kickback. Fear of offending the tithers overwhelms fear of offending the Spirit.
The prevailing question becomes, “What will the people respond to?” I’ll major on that. Then, “What will people resist?” I’ll avoid those topics at all costs—even the cost of revival.
The demands of revival include, at the most foundational level, God’s leaders refusing to be careful as they pierce with a sharp blade the sphere of influence they have been entrusted with. If leaders consistently communicate revival truths, only the remnant will remain. The masses that promised a mega-church experience would leave the pastor with but a handful to run with. Very few are willing to pay that price. The alternative is much more attractive—muzzled speech that the majority will enjoy.
This, friend, is not the call of today’s leader—not at this critical time in history. We must see troublers of Israel emerge once again.
When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals. Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 1 Kings 18:17-19 (ESV)
Elijah refused to be silenced. He wasn’t attempting to gain favor or approval. He had a message and he refused to be muzzled. The same was true of Micaiah:
And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.” 1 Kings 22:8 (ESV)
And the messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, “Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king. Let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” But Micaiah said, “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak.” 1 Kings 22:13-14 (ESV)
Micaiah was sent to prison because he refused to cower when ordered to only speak what is favorable. I wonder how leaders will preach against the sins of the day when it becomes illegal to do so if the fear of losing people is such a struggle. It’s shocking to me when people reveal they haven’t heard troubling, shaking preaching on holiness, sin and repentance in decades! We must have the prophetic mantle return to the pulpits again!
Consider the following:
“My aim is to agitate and disturb people. I'm not selling bread, I'm selling yeast.” ~Miguel De Unamuno
“If Jesus preached the same message minister's preach today, He would have never been crucified.” ~Leonard Ravenhill
Revival leaders will bring trouble, and people will leave when they feel the blade of the sword touch their flesh.
Today, we have leaders who refuse to speak on the troubles of the day, on politics and on other critical issues out of fear that they will divide the crowd and send some running with all of their resources in their pockets. The same is true with many itinerate ministers, evangelists and others who make a living from the Gospel. The more careful their speech, the more diplomatic they can be, the more appealing their focus, the greater the numbers and the more respected they become. Unfortunately, such an approach is an enemy to revival. Few will respond to those who trouble Israel.
The coming Church will be marked by those who will preach truth without moderation. I want to directly address fellow pastors and leaders with both brokenness and boldness—open your mouths! When people tell me that I have guts to say what I do in teachings, on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, I am shocked! Really? They can’t be serious! I barely reveal even a small percentage of what is burning within me. The messages are minor and obvious, yet somehow in our passive, ultra-sensitive culture they come across as sharp and risky. We have to open our mouths and deliver the troubling truth! No more messages designed to grow churches. No more sermons that result in us looking good, smart and polished. If we are out to save face, we may do just that—as we ultimately lose our soul in Hell. The raw, irritating, offensive messages of the Word of God must explode out of us with the full understanding that many of those under our care will revolt! That is true love-based preaching! We can’t even call people to prayer today due to the fear that they will leave our churches! My God! How can we presume revival is near? ~The Coming Church
One day God spoke clearly to me: John, when you pray for a remnant, don’t be surprised when the remnant shows up.
Personally, I’d much rather have a church of 30 devoted, burning, remnant revivalists than a church of several hundred people who will leave when the fire gets hot and the message cuts their flesh.
2. Visitor magnets
The primary purpose of the church is to be a gathering of Believers under apostolic authority with prayer and equipping being the dominant activities for all. Focusing on attracting visitors can quickly compromise that core church mission. The Bible tells us the church is to be a house of prayer for all nations. It is not to be used as an evangelistic tool, but rather evangelism should be a result of what happens in the gatherings.
In my book The Coming Church I highlighted several ways today’s church is going to drastically change. One is the move away from seeker style ministries. The church gathering is for Believers who are praying:
Even churches that aren’t identified as seeker sensitive tend to be intent on attracting visitors and they gear their ministry to do so. Instead of attempting to grow the church by focusing on visitors and seekers, the leaders will be fully devoted to a 2nd Chronicles 7 strategy of compelling God to show up in extreme, weighty power. The pillar of fire that connects Heaven to Earth is the new goal. In fact, an empty church is a better goal than a full church if we understand that passage of Scripture correctly! Many disgruntled people will leave the church as a more serious devotion to Holy Spirit activity is given, but the supernatural invasion will result in fire, smoke and earthquakes that will rock cities and nations. ~The Coming Church
As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house. 2 Chronicles 7:1-2 (ESV)
I made a significant transition in my own ministry many years ago regarding my focus on visitors and church growth. In the early days, I’d get frustrated when they didn’t show up and overly excited when they did. It was common for my wife and me to take visitors out for lunch or coffee to encourage them that there was definitely a place for them and their giftings in our church. While we did grow, our vision was compromised due to attracting people who were more excited about their own ministry than the mission of revival. Over time we had people who could lead worship, serve in children’s ministry, wave flags, dance and serve as ushers. The problem? The church is called first and foremost to be a house of prayer. We had a lot of activity, a solid group of people and an underlying resistance to going deep in intercession. Our visitors turned leaders were not invested in prayer.
I believe one of the most damaging things a pastor of a church can do is release people into ministries and roles if the they aren’t on fire, living in the Spirit and praying without ceasing.
We wouldn’t allow anybody to step into any role until they completed an intense three month internship that revealed our DNA, our focus and the cost of running with us. This approach resulted in a small army of burning ones locking arms together in the pursuit of revival.
Our transition from empowering visitors to warning and preparing visitors was key to our progress. We went from encouraging them that they would definitely fit in to being forthright with them. We let them know that they have stepped into an extremely challenging ministry. It would be hard, not easy, for them to connect. Everybody prays on fire as their primary function, we all rally around the vision of city transformation and we embrace radical holiness and a consecrated lifestyle. We stopped pursuing people, taking them out for lunch or attempting to sell our experience to them. The expectation was for the visitors to show up in the fire with us and to watch powerful relationships develop in that fox hole.
We made the decision to trade in being a large church with people who were merely intrigued by the vision with being a smaller church with people who are wrecked by the vision.
“…these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:7 (ESV)
3. Naturally Relevant
The coming Church will be marked by bold, Holy Spirit filled prayer warriors who burn night and day. They will be an explosive people who carry and release the fire of God into the cities of the Earth. There will be a regular tremble and a continual burn on them as they live in the supernatural realm in historic fashion. ~The Coming Church
Most people are much more familiar with their natural, predictable, tangible world than they are the invisible, supernatural reality of God. With that in mind, outside of actual revival, church meetings that allow supernatural manifestations and embrace a spontaneous, bizarre environment will be avoided by most.
When is the last time a Sunday morning service has erupted in a couple hours of groans of intercession as people go face down on the carpet? A friend of mine who is an extremely mature and seasoned Christian worked for a major prophetic ministry. During our services, she would regularly manifest with groans and violent shaking and other reactions to the Spirit of God. She kind of looked like a super intense, supernaturally possessed karate kid! That was not naturally relevant behavior! Most people would not visit a church again if that was a regular occurrence. The remnant would, though.
From my book The Coming Church:
I met with a House of Prayer network leader the other day who said that people leave churches when leaders shift time, energy and attention from them to God. I’ve watched that happen myself, and it rips me up! In our church in Colorado we shifted from potlucks to prayer meetings, and there was a mass exodus. We lost people and money. I had to get a part-time job. It was disruptive. It was heartbreaking that people ran from the call to pray. Where are the ones who aren’t looking first for human friends, personal affirmation or a sense of belonging but who are seeking after every available minute to minister to God in prayer? The prayer rooms must be full—and the main prayer room in the American Church is the Sunday morning sanctuary!
And don’t you even think of using the excuse that you need to create a non-threatening environment for the new believer! Every person, young or old, immature or seasoned must be in the prayer room—and it must be their primary focus! What if the Upper Room were toned down in the hopes of drawing a bigger crowd and interested seekers? We must absolutely refuse to tone down the activity of the Holy Spirit out of respect of those less hungry! God is a consuming fire, and he is about to consume what is unholy and compromised. Who are we to presume we know better how to facilitate a service? Is inviting the Holy Spirit to step aside as we give preference to human wisdom the way to go?
I’ve heard it said that the main Sunday service should be a toned-down meeting so as not to freak out visitors and seekers. Apparently the meeting where the Holy Spirit has liberty to move in freedom should be reserved for a night when there’s little risk of the unconverted showing up. This is humanistic religion at its best! Did those in the Upper Room tone down the Holy Spirit so as not to confuse and trouble the seekers in the city? Absolutely not! In fact, the power was so extreme and so unusual that the people were provoked to wonder and proclaim, “they must be drunk!” What was happening was off of their grid. When man moves, it’s naturally familiar. When God moves, it’s supernaturally shocking.
4. Prayer as a program
I commit to serve all, but I refuse to strategically align with someone who doesn’t embrace fervent prayer as a lifestyle, holiness as a principle and dying daily as a goal. ~The Coming Church
I’ve led life impacting prayer events in over 170 different churches, and while there was a lot to leave me in awe of God’s power, I was also left with disappointment. Sadly it was easy to see which pastors allowed room for a program of prayer in their church and which had established a culture of prayer. I was initially shocked when I’d see pastors show up, often alone with none of their staff or the people in the church, to pray in the Spirit for two hours on a Friday night. We were bringing anywhere from 30 to 250 people to their church, to pray with them and their people for the fire of God to engulf their church, and very often it was just us. I didn’t understand.
Time and again I’d see pastors engage for 20-30 minutes and then get distracted, bored or restless. While the sanctuary was exploding in raging tongues of fire, over and over again pastors would be uncomfortable. Often they’d open their Bibles and read or they’d go to their office or talk to people in the foyer. Frankly, I don’t see how these leaders are even qualified to pastor. It’s unthinkable to me that anyone would presume they can lead a supernatural church without living a supernatural life of prayer. The reality is they aren’t leading a supernatural church. They are leading one that will attract the spiritually numb and naturally invested.
Ministers who do not spend two hours a day in prayer are not worth a dime a dozen – degrees or no degrees. ~Leonard Ravenhill
Occasionally a pastor would show up, on fire, with all of his staff and a significant number of the people in his church. Oh, I lived for nights like that! I knew that prayer was appropriately primary in that church and that it was more than a program. They had nurtured a culture where prayer saturates every part of their ministry.
When every person in the church is called into the furnace of intercession as a lifestyle, you are going to be left with only those who are truly passionate about Jesus and ready to contend for revival with you.
Listen closely: the lukewarm, casual Church must be shaken! Yes, the true Church is one that is burning hot, in love with her Bridegroom. I risk off ending a lot of people when I deal with this issue of fervency and costly discipleship as it’s an assault against their theologies and lifestyles. It is NOT OK to be casually committed, loosely connected and given to the apathy that is destroying the Church. I’m calling awakeners to rise up! We must pray and burn non-stop! You can do this! There is no better way to live—and there is no other option!
I know this is why some don’t connect well in houses of prayer, or even in my own church—the call to burn hot is beyond what most are comfortable with. The call over the edge is unsettling for those who don’t even want to come near the edge. Listen—your eternity is at risk! Be fervent and radical in your love of God and commitment to his mission! The coming Church will be a burning hot crater of searing fire. It will be pure and it will be rejected by most in today’s culture. ~The Coming Church
I believe it would be more biblically normal to have everybody praying, decreeing the Word of God and crying out in intercession for two hours on a Sunday morning than to continue putting on the predictable, tepid, schedule driven services we have today. I often challenge pastors by asking them what would happen if every church in the city cancelled every program, every group, every service for six months and did nothing but hit our faces and prayed instead. Instead of worship and teaching on a Sunday morning, we’d instruct everybody to find a place and cry out to God. Instead of children’s ministry, the kids would be with their parents in intercession. Instead of small groups and youth ministry events we’d pray.
The pastors almost always answer by saying they believe revival would break out suddenly. I agree, yet I have not met one leader who had employed this strategy. Why? It threatens the goal of local church growth. People with money might leave. The less hungry will walk. This grieves my spirit.
If prayer is a program you will have the opportunity to pray with a handful of others during the week. If prayer is the culture, nobody in the church will be able to avoid the call to fervent intercession because it occurs at every meeting they attend. It becomes seared into their very identity.
When the call to the Upper Room was sounded, they didn’t tone down the prayer in the hopes that more than 120 would show up. They allowed hundreds to walk.
We must repent for forsaking the house of prayer. The primary ministry of every church must be prayer. This commitment to intercession is to be modeled and led by senior leadership. The primary purpose of the Church is not teaching, visitor assimilation or fellowship. It is undeniably night and day prayer for the nations. Lengthy prayer should be taught and modeled as the dominant activity of every believer. ~20 Points of Reformation, found in The Coming Church
5. Programs everywhere
It makes logical sense that we should have ministries available to attract the broadest group of people we can. This means programs, ministries and groups all over the schedule in order to draw every type of person is necessary.
On the contrary, churches that are pursuing revival are calling people into one primary meeting—the prayer meeting with apostolic leadership giving direction.
I’ve heard some wisdom over the years that I actually agree with to a point. It’s been said that if someone senses there’s a program or ministry that needs to be started in a church, the leader should thank them for their analysis and encourage them to be the ones to start it. After all, they are the ones with the vision for it. I can’t disagree that this is an effective method to diffuse accusation of lack in a ministry, but I do disagree that it’s an appropriate strategy across the board.
Over the years I’ve used this method and watched people start ministries and crash and burn due to a number of reasons, not the least being that they didn’t embrace the vision of revival. They simply wanted to lead something or be a part of something they affirm.
The better strategy I’ve employed in recent years is to simply say no. What they think is lacking is by design. What they think we need to add should not be added. Redirect people to the fire. Call them to refocus and to be calibrated with the unified vision of the church.
In latter years, instead of filling the calendar with programs, or even a variety of scattered prayer meetings, we would maneuver everybody to our primary meetings. In fact, we had 24/7 prayer for an extended period of time and had every slot filled. Over time we decided the corporate vision demanded corporate meetings. We had to be together. Scattering, even in prayer, was doing damage to our mission. I’d rather have 3 larger prayer meetings than a hundred smaller ones.
It also became less important to have youth and children’s ministries, small groups or various programs and much more important to gather people together for corporate intercession and apostolic instruction.
Yes, this will result in a smaller church, but people won’t be scattered. Am I saying there can never be supplemental ministries or events? No, but you have to be careful.
Mike Bickle initiated small groups at the International House of Prayer several years ago. From what I understand, they were “successful” but at a cost of their primary, corporate mission. People loved gathering together in homes each week, but these small group meetings negatively impacted the prayer room. Instead of everybody contending in prayer as the main thing, there was now another option to connect, and the prayer room suffered.
Mike then eliminated the small groups for many years and only recently reinstalled them again, with a new strategy that ensures those secondary programs supported and funneled into the prayer room.
Those focused on church growth want people in programs. Can those programs be good? Sure. However, the moment you start contending for revival don’t expect the strength, commitment or passion from the laborers to be there.
The pursuit of revival is a very narrow one. Revival churches aren’t called to meet every need. They are called to pray in the laborers, the remnant, to pray on fire and shake the city.
6. A quenched atmosphere
I want the prophetic spirit upon me or I want to die. ~A.W. Tozer
We live in a day when churches promote comfort and self-satisfaction. Coffee, personal ministry, blessing, programs and other lesser things are overshadowing the call to the cross. The alarm of the hour is not a welcome sound. Casual spirits are driving the culture. The problem? The message of the cross is not a casual message. The bottom line is this: A casual spirit will always reject a prophetic warning if it threatens their comfort. A prophetic spirit will always threaten something. ~The Coming Church
Above I mentioned how powerful it would be to shut down everything in the church for a season except for prayer. I asked this question on Facebook:
If your church cancelled everything for a year…cancelled children’s ministry, teaching, programs, pot lucks, small groups… and replaced those activities with prayer meetings, would you stay in your church?
One response rocked me. It encouraged me that the remnant is out there:
That’s when I’ll return to the church.
When we walk into the church we must be blown over by the unusual, overwhelming, otherworldly shocks of the Spirit of God. Simply, we need a powerfully prophetic atmosphere that causes everybody to respond by either running out the door or collapsing to their knees.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 (ESV)
A truly prophetic atmosphere will result in a never-ending charge in the room. People will be expressing themselves in many ways including cries of intercession, banners and flags flying, prophetic art, trances, encounters, repentance, dreams and visions and more. The goal isn’t the manifestation but rather avoiding restriction of Holy Spirit activity.
A prophetic atmosphere will repel the more naturally wired people, unless their hunger for God is greater than their resistance to him.
Revival churches absolutely must be driven prophetically in every service. We must hear the oracles from Heaven as we strategically advance day to day.
There is a rapidly increasing movement of people who are shutting their ears to any prophetic words that have any measure of alarm to them. The warnings are not wanted as they threaten the current structures of comfort and ease. These people are at risk of a catastrophe that will mercilessly hit them and those who have been influenced by their messages of peace and safety. There are true voices that must emerge and declare the word of the Lord in its pure form.
If we EVER temper a message in the pulpit, online or one-on one in the hopes of maintaining an audience, we’ve become a 2 Tim 4:3-4 false teacher.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 ~The Coming Church
Revival always includes the conviction of sin on the part of the Church. What a spell the devil seems to cast over the Church today! ~Billy Sunday
7. Teaching vs. apostolic instruction
Another shift we will see has to do with teaching. Teaching will be minimized while instruction is emphasized. Teaching is mostly for personal edification while instruction is mostly for corporate assignments. Today, most churches focus on teaching principles of Scripture, providing truths that will help believers navigate through their lives and on offering nuggets of biblical information. While there will still be important Bible teaching, apostolic instruction will emerge as a necessary new ministry.
The responsibility of prophetic leaders is to relay the messages of God and to instruct the people accordingly. Though teaching materials are in abundance, what is lacking is apostolic leaders, military commanders, who give instruction, assignments, to a ready army. Teaching is personal growth based while instruction is a call to corporate action for the sake of mission fulfillment.
It’s a corporate call to action vs. a simple biblical study. It’s mission focused vs. personal growth focused (though I can’t imagine a better way to grow personally than by being invested in a corporate mission!). Personal growth will be largely our responsibility between services so we can be ready to respond to the corporate instruction where we will receive our assignments. ~The Coming Church
When I was a youth pastor at a large church in the Dallas area, part of my job was to change out the marquee every week. The pastor’s sermon title for the upcoming Sunday was to be displayed for the many cars passing by on the busy road. It got to the point where I usually didn’t have to remove the two words of the previous week’s message: How to…
How to be an amazing parent, how to grow in God, how to prosper financially, how to walk in healing, etc.
Those topics are fine, but they represent teaching versus instruction. Teaching is showing someone how to fish. Instruction is telling them to go fishing.
Teachings are nuggets of truth that will help the people navigate their lives. However, I’m pretty certain if that large church of over 1200 people shifted to apostolic teaching unto revival, they would probably shrink to less than 100 people.
My instruction when leading churches in Michigan and Colorado was for everybody to arrive at every service full, not empty. I challenged them that it was their responsibility to grow aggressively, intentionally, through the week so they would be maturing, on fire and ready to move out into mission. When we gathered together, I had the freedom to share key dreams and visions, to prophetically reveal how we must pray and act in the current season, share warnings and national words to prepare people for what is coming.
for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:13-14 (ESV)
Those who refuse to mature and who really don’t care much about revival or national or regional prophetic revelation won’t want to connect in such a church. Growing a church this way is extremely difficult, but gathering a remnant is more powerful.
It was extremely common for people to arrive for prayer before the service and hear clear, specific revelation that I or other leaders received the night before. That would change the entire service as I’d preach from that place of prophetic activation and we’d pray and contend the rest of the night in our new direction.
That service would always be irrelevant to those who are simply showing up to gain some biblical insight (and especially those who didn’t arrive early for prayer). They would be disconnected. However, the revival minded would come alive and would be alert and ready to respond with great conviction.
8. Karaoke Worship
When in Colorado leading Revolution Church, I instructed our media team not to display the words to the worship songs on the screens for a season. I was grieved at how dependent on the screens people were as they simply sang along karaoke style to what was being sung on the platform. It was time for them to launch into a prophetic realm of worship and prayer!
In fact, we eliminated a worship team altogether in Detroit for a couple of years and filled the atmosphere with spontaneous, prophetic decrees, prayer and groans of worship. Music would sometimes play in the background, but we weren’t simply singing along from our soul. Our spirits were crying out!
Revival churches must facilitate an explosive, supernatural atmosphere, understanding that the high majority of people will not join such a thing.
As we become supernaturally changed in a place of extreme intercession, worship will change significantly. It will be supernaturally driven. There is a new sound coming to worship, and it’s not simply a new style. There is a supernatural, otherworldly groan of intercessory worship that will explode out of the entire body as a new breed of trembling worship leaders lead the way into the shock and awe of the glory of God. We will no longer simply sit in a pew or stand with a raised hand while a familiar worship song is sung. The prophetic, groaning sounds of Holy Spirit-facilitated worship will make it normal to shake and fall to our faces as we cry, “Holy!” The natural, logical sing-a-longs will be no more.
We will have a hard time standing as man’s karaoke gives way to God’s Shekinah and Kabod glory that takes up residence in his Church. Worship teams will practice less and pray in the Spirit with tears in their eyes more.
Today, along with most other expressions of church life, worship is at least slightly and sometimes extremely marginalized for the sake of the less adventurous attendee. Since most people tend to be adverse to more supernatural forms of worship, and many would leave if the atmosphere became too uncomfortable, the majority has been winning.
I’ve said it countless times, and have written before that I refuse to tone down the activity of the Holy Spirit out of respect of those less hungry. How is it that the naturally-minded majority has supplanted the supernatural remnant in the Church? How is it that burning, raging, intercessory worship that’s driven by the groans of the Spirit himself are not appreciated enough to risk losing people from our churches? For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:5-8 ~The Coming Church
9. The threat of regional focus
It was extremely important to me as a leader that everybody in the church was investing in the region. This means I wanted them to connect in other churches and ministries, to be ambassadors of revival and to become regionally unified. Growing a local church, to the contrary, focuses on having everybody in that church overly invested at that level, in the local setting. There’s no room for regional ministry.
In fact, even Spirit-filled, revival focused churches can easily become resisters when the pursuit of revival in a region threatens their own pursuits.
Pastors and leaders must have a clear vision not only for revival in the region, or only their personal part to play, but for the church of the city. How should everybody in the local army be investing in the regional mission? It’s important to not only encourage but also to lead people into regular regional events that are unto revival.
If we are trying to grow a large church, this becomes difficult because most people won’t share the passion for revival in the city. They want to come, grow personally and connect relationally to a spiritual family. But, when they are called into regional mission, they just won’t have the passion or energy for it.
The coming Church will be a regional Church, expressed on a city level. The local expressions will be important, but only as they are connected regionally. The regional Church will be important, but only as it is connected with God’s Kingdom government.
The coming Church will be a praying Church that understands its authority and responsibility in the region.
This is how the coming Church will function governmentally. As we focus on the region and the greater mission, we will be in step with God’s passion for the nations. Grace and favor will follow. Unusual interventions by God will become common. This is such an important point, especially with the state of today’s Church in mind. We no longer can sweat, bleed and burn out by trying to build our own local ministries. The vision absolutely must be a regional one as we give ourselves to true city unity, intercession for revival and Kingdom advance. This doesn’t mean all local churches will close (though many will), but it does mean that they will no longer be at the pinnacle of the priority list. Local church leaders will mostly give their attention to corporate advance regionally with the Church of the city instead of to local issues. ~The Coming Church
I’m sure I’ll receive emails from people who report that their church is large and contending for revival. I celebrate that! I’ve been to a few like that.
I would then have a few thoughts:
- Do they really understand the intensity of the new wineskin church that I reveal in The Coming Church?
- Is everybody in the church truly raging on fire in prayer and contending at an intense level toward revival or is there simply a great atmosphere and a focus on revival?
- This would be a remarkable exception and I absolutely want to visit! There are some brilliant, anointed leaders out there who can pull it off!
As I said, most churches that are truly revival churches will be quite small. 120 just might be a good goal! The majority will be less than 70 in number of soldiers in their local army.
Pastor, are you okay with such a shift in strategy? Trust me, 70 scalding hot warriors who can move mountains in faith filled prayer will do more for your city than two thousand moderates ever could.