Respondents were asked to identify the top three factors that led to their church being revitalized. Overall, the top three responses were “prayer,” “evangelism/outreach,” and “preaching.” These words were identified in 44.7 percent, 37.2 percent, and 25 percent of the responses, respectively.
At first, these responses can seem to be too simplistic. It is easy to think, “There has got to be more to it than that!” It’s easy to assume, “Well, that makes sense. After all, this is just a bunch of pastors giving the answers that they think everybody wants to hear. They’re just being spiritual.”
However, we can definitely find support for these practices in the Bible. Really, the whole reason a meeting was called in Acts 6 was so that a solution could be found to the problem of how to handle the early church’s benevolence funds so that the spiritual leaders could keep doing what the spiritual leaders were supposed to do—pray, share the Word, and lead the church in kingdom expansion: “Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, ‘It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to wait on tables. Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.’ … So the preaching about God flourished, the number of the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:2-4, 7).
It is also important to reflect on the nature of prayer as it was described in this study. Comeback leaders reported that prayer permeated many aspects of ministry within their churches. In addition, the survey pointed out that revitalization was impacted by strategic prayer. Many comeback leaders described that praying in their churches was systematic and intentional. Of course, systematic and strategic prayer leads to effective outreach: “Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah—for which I am in prison—so that I may reveal it as I am required to speak” (Col. 4:2-4).
Comeback churches also engaged in strategic outreach efforts. They didn’t just make evangelistic efforts; they made outreach efforts that connected with people in their communities. In addition, numerous comeback leaders reported that church members were methodically and intentionally trained to engage in outreach efforts, and events were planned that allowed people to reach out to friends and neighbors.
Also, when comeback leaders discussed their preaching, quite a few related that their preaching was strategic as well. They didn’t just preach the Word of God; they preached the Word in such a way that motivated people to action, and they cast vision regularly within the context of their preaching.
Therefore, identifying prayer, outreach, and preaching as the top three comeback factors for comeback churches may be a simple and spiritual formula for renewal, but that does not mean that it’s a simplistic formula. Making a comeback isn’t easy; comeback leaders made the effort to be strategic and intentional in prayer, outreach, and preaching.
Even though we have already discussed these three issues more thoroughly in the course of the book, we asked several comeback pastors to describe how these elements were emphasized and/or combined in their churches’ comeback processes. This might help you catch a vision for implementing these components in your church, if you have not been able to do so to this point in your ministry.
The Sumter Wise Drive Church of the Nazarene in Sumter, South Carolina, had grown through an increase in evangelistic zeal, experienced by Pastor William Watts and the members themselves. They conducted outreach events, weekly visitation, and evangelism training. Pastor Watts also emphasized the importance of the church’s weekly prayer meetings with prayer for salvation, healing, and other needs.1
Mark Hoult, of the Gaylord Church of the Nazarene in Gaylord, Michigan, explained the need to be sensitive to his congregation because he came on staff immediately following a split in the church. Hoult immediately set the church’s priorities as (1) prayer, (2) leadership, and (3) evangelism. Most often these priorities were conveyed through his sermons.2
This, of course, surfaces the spiritual principle we find in Revelation 3. When a church realizes it is poor, blind, and naked, and they need help desperately, then the church is ready for God’s renewal. In response to sincere repentance and a desire to stay in step with what the Spirit of God wants to do in their church, the comeback leaders took steps necessary for revitalization. “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (Rev. 3:20 NLT).
Living Hope Assembly of God in Camden, New York, established a relationship with three churches of other denominations. One major evangelistic event sponsored by the four churches was a joint showing of The Passion of the Christ. Living Hope has also participated in Assembly of God evangelism events. In addition to these large group events, the church conducted in-house witnessing seminars as well. One resource that helped Living Hope become more evangelistic was Contagious Christians by Bill Hybels, according to Pastor Aaron Gravett.3
Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned around and Yours Can, Too (Nashville: B&H, 2007).
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