Church Revitalization: Turning the Church Inside Out

Do you ever feel like the world has been turned upside down? From our culture’s rejection of authority to generational, political and racial divisions, it seems that instead of striving for the American Dream, our society is living an American Nightmare.

Unfortunately, this not only describes modern culture but the Christian church as well. Today, perhaps more than ever, Christians have turned inward and are losing sight of their true missional purpose. While the “church” prepares for the next doctrinal debate, America is in crisis mode and finds the church too distracted to help the world it’s been called to rescue. It doesn’t appear that the average Christian is concerned about the lost anymore.

Consider these 2017 statistics from our 2,110 South Carolina Baptist churches. The annual report reveals that 24 percent of churches baptized no one in the past 12 months. That’s right! One of every four SBC churches in our state didn’t turn the water faucet on in the baptistery for an entire year. Worse yet, 100 of those churches have not baptized one new believer in three years. So after 36 months (156 Sunday morning worship services), there wasn’t one Christian who attended these 100 different churches who was able to lead someone to Jesus. To put this crisis in perspective, it takes an average of 100 Southern Baptists to lead five people to Jesus each year.

Yes, the world is turned upside down, but unfortunately the church is in no condition to help. I wish I could say our state is an isolated case, but, tragically, 36 of 42 state conventions declined in baptisms last year. American Christians are in a mess, and it seems that no one knows what to do about it. I want to suggest that the only hope for a world turned upside down is a church turned inside out. In my book, “Inside Out,” I explain what I believe has led us to where we are and what steps might direct us toward revitalization and renewal. Allow me to briefly introduce two of these steps here.

The first thing Christians must do is “Drop the Rocks.” You’ve heard the story in John 8:7, where the Pharisees accuse an adulterous woman before Jesus. Like many religious leaders today, these men intended to trap Jesus, but His response caught them off guard. “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” In other words, “Drop the rocks!” While this culture has made us all hungry for a fight, the church desperately needs a ceasefire. It’s easy to see why we’re not reaching the lost. Our hands are full of rocks, and our message is no longer the gospel. We’ve become culture warriors instead of gospel messengers. I’m not suggesting we compromise biblical truth. To the contrary, I want us to make the gospel the number one priority again.

Our fear of future demise is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Christians become more self-destructive everyday. The rocks in our hands are not just aimed at the lost. Friendly fire rains down on the church as brother turns against brother. How can the lost of our world possibly see the love of God for them when they can’t even see our love for one another (John 13:35)? In reality, these internal disagreements are far less important than the external mission.

Secondly, if we hope to turn the church inside out we must “Trade Suits for Boots.” Christians need to be reminded that salvation is not just a call to attend church, but to be the church. A biblical understanding of missions is not restricted to vocational missionaries living in foreign countries. We have geographically compartmentalized the mission of God, but every one of us has been called to be a missionary to our communities. So we must think like missionaries. Many Christians are not reaching the lost because they’re not sharing the gospel anymore. The news is still good, but it’s only good for those who hear it. We must put on our boots and work the fields (John 4:35).

Yes, we all see the problems that surround us, but sadly the average Christian stands silent on the banks of the muddy river of cultural confusion. We’ve constructed beautiful buildings on the land and posted signs declaring everyone is welcome in the comfort of our churches. All the while, people are drowning as the current pulls them downstream. Church leaders discuss the sad state of affairs, and Christians pray continually that God will save those who are hopelessly passing us in the water.

Yet our hands stay clean as we wave, and no mud gets on our Sunday shoes.

What’s wrong with us? Do Christians even care about the lost anymore? While many retreat into isolation, we are called to turn the church inside out and awaken to the mission to which we’ve been called. Believers must wade into the muddy waters to rescue the perishing. Wake up! They are calling for help, gasping for air, and reaching for a hand. There we stand on the banks, our hands filled with less important things. Christians must lay down our debates and distractions in order to jump into the river. Are you ready? Let’s turn it inside out!

— Wayne Bray is lead pastor of Simpsonville First Baptist Church and the author of “Inside Out: Christian Hope in a World of Contradiction,” soon to be released by Rainer Publishing. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @waynebray.