March 2, 2016
by Rev. Jeff Lawson, Life Church (Alliance), Aurora, Indiana
In Ezekiel 37, the Lord asked an important question: “Can these dead bones come to life again?” This question remains relevant today.
In the book Preaching Towards Church Revitalization and Renewal, Tom Cheyney and Larry Wynn write that 95 percent of U.S. churches average less than 100 attendees for Sunday morning worship. Eighty percent of churches have either plateaued or are in decline.
There is a tremendous need for these lifeless churches—these dead bones—to come to life again.
Step of Faith
In the 1970s the Christian and Missionary Alliance church in Aurora, Indiana, consistently had 300 folks from its community come for Sunday morning worship. One Sunday the church saw more than 500 people crowd into the sanctuary for a worship service.
Over the years, things slowly started to change. The dynamics of the city of Aurora changed. Many people moved closer to Cincinnati, and the church’s attendance began to decline. Instead of focusing on the changing families in their neighborhood, church members longed for the ones who had left to somehow return. They hoped things could go back to the way they were.
By 2014, the once strong and vibrant ministry was a shell of what it had been. The church struggled to see 40 people come for Sunday morning worship.
In a major step of faith, the church voted to submit to the Midwest District’s leadership and come under a redevelopment plan the district superintendent constructed. In doing so, they agreed to hire a district-appointed pastor. They disassembled their governing board and relinquished their leadership titles and roles in the church. And they prayed that God would work to bring these dead bones back to life.
God Causes Growth
Knowing that all life comes from God, the Alliance church in Aurora changed its name to Life Church of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Revitalization is never an easy process and rarely a fast one, but the church in Aurora, Indiana, is beginning to see life return.
Our church is now focused on the families that live near our facility. We have restructured our Wednesday night children’s program and now see more than 40 children attend weekly.
The greeting ministry on Sunday has taken a new direction as well. Volunteers welcome people at the door with a smile and a handshake and offer them a fresh cup of coffee. No one is treated like a visitor but rather as an expected guest.
Attendance has gone from 40 to more than 60. There were nine first-time decisions for Christ in 2015, and four people followed the Lord in believer’s baptism.
Recently, an 82-year-old man began coming to church to bring his ailing wife, because she could no longer make the trip alone. When he got to Life Church, he was surprised to find a loving family who welcomed him with open arms. He immediately felt at home. In January 2016 he made a first-time decision for Christ and was baptized in February.
We at Life Church understand that this growth is not about new fads, a dynamic speaker, or even a great worship band. It is because we serve a good God who longs to see His bride flourish.
The Apostle Paul writes, “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6, NLT). We can plant seeds and be careful to water them, but we must remember our sovereign Lord brings growth. Old dead bones can come to life, and all things are possible with God.
“Fresh Start” is the process of restarting and strengthening churches by reinvesting the people and assets of a struggling and perhaps dying church. The purpose of the program, developed by the C&MA’s South Pacific District, is to forge a new congregation with the help of the team on the ground, the district, a healthy partner church, and an excellent coach. Learn about upcoming training events at www.freshstartchurches.org.