The church in America has been given a failing report card. In the book, Churchless, George Barna and David Kinnaman take a look at the rising population of adults who do not attend church. Based on two decades of Barna Group interviews with thousands of churchless men and women, the book outlines a profile of the unchurched and the cultural context that has led to the trend away from church. According to the Churchless data, “in the 1990s, 30% of the American population was unchurched. Today, two decades later, that percentage has risen to more than four in 10 Americans (43%).”
This report on the church in America looks even worse in stark contrast to Jesus’ memorable and final command to his followers that we refer to as the Great Commission:
I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
So, the current report card points to failure and will likely continue unless something dramatic happens. Christians today are not only losing ground to Jesus' command to make disciples but the growing population of unchurched refuse to embrace our worldview and are growing more antagonistic to our beliefs about Jesus Christ. The friction is heating up between these opposite and competing worldviews by an antagonistic, progressive, and emboldened effort from popular culture to evangelize the church.
Is there an antidote to this failing report card for the church in America? The psalmist cried out to God with a similar question in Psalm 85:6, “Won’t you revive us again, so your people can rejoice in you?” In the formation of this question, the psalmist gives clear insight into the difference between a rejoicing, victorious church and a failing, defeated church. The difference between the two is found in the obedience quotient of the people of God to the command of Jesus.
Once when He was eating with the apostles, Jesus commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4, 5). Many failures of the modern church are rooted in all the wonderful things we are doing for God without first doing what Jesus said in these verses. Without prayer and worship, we are without the Holy Spirit’s power to accomplish the Holy Spirit’s work.
And then came the day of Pentecost and "all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:3). This passage makes it clear that these men and women weren’t just prayerful and worshipful but they were filled with God Himself! They were supernaturally changed from the inside out by the power of God who subsequently breathed His breath of life into His people and the church was born. God wants to do that again for His church today. He wants His church revived; fully alive with Holy Spirit power like He gave the early church to boldly proclaim the gospel of His love. How long has it been in many of our churches since God moved in supernatural power? Jim Cymbala, in his book, Fresh Power, writes,
“The church cannot be the Church without the Holy Spirit empowering it… If we downgrade the Holy Spirit – worse yet, if we ignore him… and even worse than that, if we grieve or quench him – we end up with a modern Church that it totally foreign to the New Testament.”
One of my favorite descriptions of revival is the simple but sublime statement given by Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones: Revival is the church returning to Pentecost. Whenever I think of the church returning to Pentecost there comes to mind a story of Billy Graham, who, as a young Youth for Christ evangelist, held a citywide tent crusade in Los Angeles, California, 1n 1949. Thousands of people came to Christ during that crusade, many of them Hollywood film stars. A minister of a liberal church in the city wrote in the local paper, “Billy Graham has put the church in Los Angeles back 100 years.” When he heard that, Billy Graham is said to have responded, “Oh dear – I was really trying to put it back 2000 years.”
The God who empowered the disciples is the same God who is waiting to empower us. Jim Cymbala says,
“God by his Spirit enabled ordinary men and women to do and say things beyond their natural abilities. There was no human explanation for what was taking place. This is the story, in one way or another, of every man, woman, or church that has ever been used in great ways for God’s glory.”
A.W. Pink said, “Most Christians expect little from God, ask little, and therefore receive little, and are content with little.” Leonard Ravenhill said, “If you are content to live without revival, you will.”
I, for one, am not content to live without revival. This is what I need most and what our churches need most today. I have set my heart toward God in prayer that He will come and revive His work in me as well as in the church. We must pray and work together, for His glory and honor, that the American church will regain its influence on both hearts and culture!