R. Steven Norman III
The Southern Union Conference has chosen 2020 as the Year of Church Revitalization. This is part of the five-year plan for the Southern Union — to use many methods and forms of evangelism to grow the Union in a balanced way.
Eighty percent of the churches in the Southern Union are plateaued or declining. This is in line with churches across America. A plateaued church is one that the membership, tithe, and attendance have stayed about the same for several years or more. A declining church is one that the membership, tithe, and attendance have been declining for the last several years or more. There is a great need to revitalize our churches. All of our churches could benefit from church revitalization, because we all can be better.
What Jesus Sees
To bring true revitalization to our churches, we need to look at what Jesus told John to write about the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. We need to look at the situation of our churches and our needs through the eyes and heart of Jesus. If we look at what Jesus says to the seven churches, we can see what He is also saying to us. Jesus loves us with unconditional love, and He demonstrated that by dying for us “while we were still sinners,” Romans 5:8. He wants us to love Him with all our hearts for eternity in an everlasting covenant relationship.
Messages for All Churches
In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, there were seven churches in what is now Turkey. These seven churches had their own challenges, according to Jesus. These churches represented seven periods of time in Christian history, until Jesus comes again, and the challenges the churches face. Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” at or near the end of His message to all seven churches. Therefore, there is a message for all members of all churches until He comes again.
Promises to Overcomers
There is a promise to the ones who “overcome” in Jesus’ message to all seven churches. This promise is always applied to those who hear and do what the Holy Spirit says to the churches.
This shows there is hope for all the churches and all its members.
Left Your First Love
Jesus says in Revelation 2:4, “You have left your first love.” He says this to the church at Ephesus, which means desirable. This church is the closest to the time of Jesus and the apostles. The only fault that Jesus says to them is, “You have left your first love.” Therefore, it seems that the first step toward plateauing, and then declining, is a church that loses their first love, even while it is working and growing. It seems they are too busy to spend much time with Jesus personally. That’s why Jesus says, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works.” It is vital for a church and its members to keep that first love in their relationship with Jesus, and do their work out of love for Jesus, not just out of a sense of duty.
Jesus says “repent” twice to the church in Ephesus, and a total of six times to the seven churches of Revelation chapters 2 and 3. The first step of making our churches be what Jesus wants them to be, is to face the fact we are not there yet. There are things that need to change in our churches and their members. What needs to change is doing things Jesus’ way instead of our way. We need to, in our board meetings and committee meetings, ask, “What does Jesus want us to do ,and what would Jesus do?” As members, we need to ask ourselves the same questions. When we have that first love relationship with Jesus, He will show us what to do. Then we need to do things Jesus’ way, not our way.
Jesus says “hold fast” three times to the seven churches of Revelation. He points that Satan and evil men will try to take you away from Jesus and his truth. Therefore, he says hold fast to Jesus, His truth and doctrine, works of love, the promises to the
overcomers, and what the Holy Spirit says.
Lukewarm and Did Not Know
The church of Laodicea of Revelation 3:14-22, is the church that symbolizes the church in the time we live in today. The lukewarm works of the Laodicean church were nauseating to Jesus. This is the condition of plateaued and declining churches. The worst thing about their condition is they do not realize their true condition — that they were “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Jesus Says Three Things Needed
Jesus says they need three things: 1. “Gold refined in the fire,” a symbol of true faith in Jesus so they are rich, 2. “White garments,” a symbol of Christ’s righteousness, so they would not be naked, and 3. “Eye salve,” a symbol of the Holy Spirit Who shows truth, so they could see and follow truth.
Jesus Rebukes and Chastens Those He Loves
Jesus says those He loves, He rebukes and chastens, therefore be zealous and repent, in Revelation 3:19. In verse 20, He is knocking at our door. If we open our door, He will come in and dine with us. He wants a close relationship with us now and in Heaven, verse 21.
Maranatha Church in Washington, North Carolina, is a small church that had little to no growth for 25 years, and the youngest member was 62. That changed in 2018, and it is now a church actively growing and impacting the community in a major way!
In 2018, once a month on Sabbath, they started a service called “Community Saturdays.” This was a dressed down Sabbath with only an hour-long service; then they gave out large food bags for every family that came. Each family registered so that they could be on the mailing list. Every month they mailed out flyers and postcards that were tailored to meet several community needs. Community Saturdays allowed the Maranatha Church to meet a wide range of people in the community, and gain positive relationships with them.
With these relationships, it gave the members the knowledge of other needs in the community, which allowed them to expand their outreach methods. The needs include free job and resume training, free interview clothing, free haircuts, a homework assistance program, free family portraits, and much more. They wanted to do things in their church that the community would benefit from and was interested in. The free haircuts were huge for them because there were many single-parent homes in need of that assistance.
All of these different programs and services built trust with the people in the community, and eventually many started coming to regular services. This would have never happened if relationships were not cultivated with them first. Later that year, 10 individuals were baptized during their summer revival, the most baptisms that the church had ever seen.
In 2019, God continued to bless their efforts with successful evangelistic initiatives and programs. Their plan was to specifically target the young people in the community by starting a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Beaufort County in Washington. This partnership opened up the door for youth development programs, mentorship, parent empowerment classes, homework assistance, and a community-wide block party with more than 150 people in attendance.
In September 2019, R. Steven Norman III, Southern Union communication director, was the evangelist for the Abundant Life Revival. For two weeks we experienced powerful preaching of life-changing principles. God blessed with 12 baptisms (with more to come), and a brand-new children’s program called “Kids Zone.” This new program was significant because the church has not had children for many years, and now they have programming for children every Sabbath and Wednesday night.
They not only gained new people, but this increased their hunger to continue innovative evangelistic methods to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In February 2020, they will open their newly renovated family life center. The center will have a free community computer lab that will be a source for homework assistance, GED preparations, ESL classes, and much more.
Southern Union Plans
The Southern Union, working in harmony with the eight conferences and the churches in the Union, is planning to help apply the principles Jesus gave to the seven churches in Revelation by the following:
1. Encourage each conference to partner with the Southern Union by sponsoring one ReGenerate Church Revitalization Conference — a weekend event that inspires, trains, and equips pastors and church leaders in revitalizing their churches, and is tailored to the needs of each conference.
2. Hold revival/evangelistic meetings in each church, so all our members can regain that first love experience with Jesus.
3. Hold church growth seminars throughout the Union.
4. Train pastors and elders to use the 11 a.m. service to grow their churches.
5. Give elders the book Steps to a Vibrant Church – A TURNAROUND GUIDE FOR CHURCHES IN A PLATEAU OR DECLINE, by Brad Cauley.
6. Help inspire and encourage all the departments in the conferences and churches to be part of the revitalizing team.
7. Train elders to grow their churches through the Elder Certification Training.
is the director of church growth, evangelism training, and Jewish ministries at the Southern Union Conference in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, and the director of Jewish ministries for the North American Division in Columbia, Maryland.
Southern Union | January 2020