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 REVIVAL
I 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 DEFINED
As 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 DEFINED
A 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 DIE
Pastor, 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 CHURCH
ONE: 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 CHURCH
ONE: 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 CHURCH
Instead 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 SHIFT
In 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.”