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We live in the midst of one of the greatest mission fields the world has ever known. Unchurched people and nominal church members surround us. Every news report shows evidence of desperate fears, loneliness, and violence. So, what do our congregations need to do to address this opportunity?

George Barna, an evangelical Christian pollster, tells us what will not work:

Stirring worship music won’t attract them because worship isn’t even on their radar screen. More comfortable pews cannot compete with the easy chair or the bed that already serve the unchurched person well. Church events cannot effectively compete with what the world has to offer.

So much we know from sad experience. What does work? Barna again:

The only thing the Church can provide that no one else has is a life-changing, practical encounter—and on-going relationship—with the living God and with people transformed by similar encounters. Until such a connection is made, focusing on features, programs, and benefits other than such a life-shaping encounter is more likely to lose ground than to gain it.

Gemechis Buba, our Bible study leader at synod assembly (whom I have cited on other occasions), told of a dying Atlanta congregation he was asked to serve in order to close it and give the building to a thriving African congregation he also led. He asked how many people loved their church enough to gather every Tuesday to pray. Six older ladies came faithfully, and they fasted and prayed. The short story is that in a few years they had to go to the synod asking for a loan to expand their facilities to accommodate all the people.

Now, Pr. Buba is extremely gifted and brilliant, and that certainly was a factor. Most of us pastors lack his gifts. But we need to hear that in the end, the Church is about spiritual realities, and if we focus on worldly things we will utterly fail.

What would happen if a small group of people in each of our congregations would covenant to gather every week to pray for renewal of their congregations and communities? What if this included fasting along with prayer? I wonder if there is any limit to what God would accomplish through us.

If we aren’t willing to be God’s witnesses in this place, God will raise up others who will. His Spirit will go forth, and His love will triumph over the forces of darkness.

The church will not thrive when people only show up if they think their congregation is threatened. It will not grow by finding a pastor without faults. The most careful management of money or maintenance of property will not save us.

Because Jesus Christ lives and is Lord, our congregations have a marvelous potential. If we fail to realize that potential, it isn’t God’s fault.

Recently I was told that I was preaching to the choir. I responded that the choir needs to practice first in order to get the notes right. You and I have no control over how other people respond to the call of God, but we can choose how we will respond.

Are we prepared to take seriously God’s call to repentance, prayer, and yes, fasting?

Are we prepared to change our own attitudes and behaviors with regard to the churches we say we love?

We live in the midst of a mission field, and God will get His Word out to the world He loves. The only question is whether we will let Him use us, or whether He will need to raise up somebody else.

Pastor Steve Shipman, STS