A couple of months ago, a retired minister filled in for our pastor. He began his message with a review of the differences he had seen between the 1950s and 1960s and now. He remembered how, during the ’50s and ’60s, people were being saved in most churches each week, and there was a lot of church growth. Today most churches see only a few people trust Christ each year, and there is little church growth, if any. Many churches see a decline in membership and attendance because the older generation of the ’50s and ’60s is dying off faster than people are being saved. “Why is the reality so much different than what we hope to see?” the minister wondered.
I trusted Christ as my Savior in 1958 when I was 13 years old. As I began my walk with Christ, I started attending prayer meeting services on Wednesday nights. Like most churches, the Wednesday-night group was considerably smaller than either of the Sunday service crowds. When we met, we began by singing a song and then broke off into separate groups for prayer. For the next 20-25 minutes, each person prayed for the things we had mentioned. Much of that prayer was for the salvation of people who needed Christ. After our prayer time, we would have about 30 minutes of Bible study. Our church was a growing church, and, within a few years, we had grown beyond our building’s capacity. A few years later, we changed our format and stopped the small-group prayer sessions, and our church growth began to level out.
Today I see our lack of prayer emphasis as the reason for our problems. We want to be an Acts 1:8 church, but we don’t want to do what the church in Acts did. Jesus told the disciples to go back to Jerusalem and wait: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NLT). How did they wait? They spent time in prayer and the study of God’s Word. Most of our lack of growth today, I believe, is because we do not spend time in personal Bible study and individual and corporate prayer. Prayer meetings have turned into a time of 30 minutes of Bible study and 5 minutes (maybe) of prayer.
Today we have books on how to become a welcoming church, etc., or some other program to promote growth, with very little emphasis on how to receive the power of the early church. I have heard some say, “We need to do something, even if it’s wrong.” Those are good intentions, but we are missing the secret of the early church. It was not their methods, but God’s power, that made the difference in the early church. We look to find a pastor and/or a program that will give us the magic touch, but we are looking in the wrong place.
Jesus said, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all men to me.” He took the responsibility of church growth upon Himself. He gave us the responsibility to wait for the power (His power) to come upon us. The question is, are we capable of changing to what works or will we continue to wonder why nothing is happening?
Cross Roads Baptist Church